January 9, 2013
Esmil Rogers, Fantasy Sleeper
When a pitcher throws in the mid-to-upper 90s, teams tend to give that player every chance to succeed. In the case of Esmil Rogers, the Rockies gave him 184 2/3 innings before deciding it was better to accept cash from the Cleveland Indians for the services of the out-of-options flamethrower. The issue for Rogers in Colorado tended to be his inability to find the strike zone on a consistent basis. He had a 20 percent strikeout rate and just an 8 percent walk rate in 2010 but then went 16 and 12 in 2011 and 22 and 14 in 2012 before the Rockies pulled the plug on the live-armed hurler in early June.
Coors Field is not a forgiving place to pitch; it has some of the highest batting averages on balls in play and line drive rates in the league over the past five seasons. It is tough to pitch in that environment when one of your primary pitches is a breaking ball; you wind up being unable to throw it as frequently as you would like to because you’re behind in too many counts. Leaving Denver was one of the best things that happened to Rogers; he was able to put up very good numbers under the radar in Cleveland last season. His strikeout rate with the Tribe was 25 percent while his walk rate plunged to 6 percent—both better than league average. He held batters to a .233 batting average, and his 3.06 ERA nearly matched his 3.08 FIP, which bested his previous career-best FIP by nearly a full run.
If you watch video of him, it is essentially the same guy on the mound save for what appears to be a slight shift on the pitching rubber.
I always wonder about rumors of pitch-tipping, as sometimes it's thrown out there as confirmation bias when a pitcher gets ripped. I had not heard of Rogers' pitch-tipping rumors before, so I checked it out of curiosity. A Google search led me to his game against Atlanta on August 25, 2010 in which he got tagged for eight hits and seven earned runs while getting just five outs (triggering non-specific rumors of pitch-tipping). I watched the outing carefully and captured a series of GIF's to watch in quick succession while I "guessed" what was coming (ignoring the catcher, of course). It was a pretty fun exercise, and though it was tempting to be lured by my own confirmation bias, I could not come up with anything that was a reliable indicator of fastball vs. breaking ball (of course I'm also limited by the camera view). He had some mechanical inconsistencies and a few odd patterns but nothing that was consistently inconsistent that would provide a "tell" as to pitch type. I also didn't see any obvious "twitchy" indicators like flaring the glove or adjusting his grip; Rogers did both of these things on occasion, but he did them randomly. What I saw was a pitcher who was getting hit up for all of the normal reasons: 1) he's not hitting his spots, 2) he's throwing too many fastballs early in the count, and 3) he's playing in Colorado. He got hit hard once or twice by Atlanta's best hitters, but otherwise he was giving up bleeders (there were no homers).
The table below shows his work over the last few seasons with 2012 being split between Colorado and Cleveland:
Working mainly in low-to-mid-leverage situations for Cleveland, Rogers was able to put up fantastic numbers that were a complete turn-around from the frustrating struggles he encountered while pitching for the Rockies. He was able to get ahead of hitters and didn’t have to rely as much on his fastball, as he did in Colorado. When he was able to get ahead of hitters, he was able to get nasty, as he did in this relief outing against Tampa Bay:
For his career, Rogers’ BrooksBaseball player card says he has gone to his fastball at least 70 percent of the time when he is behind in the count, but despite its velocity, hitters have posted a career .347 TAv against the pitch. In 2012, he was still fastball-heavy when behind in the count but laid off it for his breaking balls a bit more. Finding the strike zone more frequently with the Indians than he had with the Rockies, however, put him in fewer of these situations, allowing him to use his breaking pitches, which have anywhere from a 7 to 14 mph differential from his electric fastball, more often. His PITCHf/x data shows a cutter, slider, and curveball, but the grouping is rather close together. Hitters have a career TAv of just .217 off his cutter, a .197 off his slider, and a .264 off the curveball.
Rogers was once again traded this offseason, landing in Toronto in the deal that netted Cleveland Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Rogers joins an already stacked bullpen that includes Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln, and a recovering Sergio Santos for late-inning situations. Rogers may start the season third or fourth in line for saves in Toronto, but if he can continue to build upon the success he found in Cleveland last season, he may jump up in that line rather quickly given the kind of stuff he possesses. The overall 4.69 ERA and 1.44 WHIP are going to throw many off the scent of what could be a profitable end-game reliever in 2013.