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Master of Funk

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Tyler Rogers was the cornerstone to the San Francisco Giants bullpen dominance in 2021. He was also unlike any pitcher in the Major Leagues.

Los Angeles Dodgers against the San Francisco Giants Game 5 of National League Divisional Series Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants bullpen has a good argument for being the best collection of relievers in baseball during the 2021 season.

They notched the lowest ERA mark in the Majors with 2.99, as well as the lowest WHIP with 1.13. Their FIP was second to the Tampa Bay Rays. They didn’t overpower hitters, but they kept them off the bases: Opponents hit .218 against them and the bullpen gave up a 2.73 walk per 9 innings, the lowest rate in the Majors. When it came to an arms race, the Giants generally had the advantage.

The man that led this unit: Tyler Rogers.

In 2021, Tyler Rogers led the league in limbs. He is 180 pounds taffied out in a six foot three frame. He is the definition of lanky. Watch this slow-motion video of his delivery.

If you pause it at the right moment he looks like an octopus. The next: a starfish splayed over a rock. A millisecond later: a game piece to a Barrel of Monkeys.

His mechanics are a joke to most people. Casual viewers of the game watch him throw a pitch and say out loud: That’s not normal…right? Kids playing wiffle ball in the backyard, attempt to submarine a pitch into the strike zone and laugh because throwing like that is too hard, too ridiculous. Even with a plastic ball weighing less than a pound with holes cut into it, getting the movement and rise Rogers gets on his slider is unnatural.

Yet, for all of his mechanical oddities, Rogers was anything but a joke. He was someone opposing hitters had to account for day in and day out. His funk had to be reckoned with. He pitched 81 innings over 80 games in 2021–both numbers led Giants relievers and were good for second and third in all of baseball, respectively.

He was always ready to be called on. Always loose. He brought new meaning to the term “rubber arm.” So how did Rogers work? There is inherent value to a relief pitcher staying off the IL and eating innings for a full season, but if you look at someone like the San Diego Padres Nabil Crismatt (who pitched a similar 81.1 innings in 2021), Rogers distinguishes himself as someone who can deliver quantity and quality.

The standard stats don’t really tell Rogers’s story. His 2.22 ERA is commendable, but was outshone by other relievers in the league. Opponents hit .240 against him, with righties doing most of the damage (.299 RHB AVG as opposed to .177 LHB AVG). His K% was in the 9th percentile. His Whiff rate was in the 1st percentile. His fastball average was a generous 83 MPH.

What made Rogers great was his ability to get weak contact from hitters. In games, batters have spent 7 innings swinging 34 ounce bats at 95 MPH fastballs–then all of sudden, Rogers takes the ball in the 8th and they have to adjust to 70 MPH frisbee pitches. He was essentially throwing a wiffle ball and batters were now swinging yellow plastic lightsabers.

In other words, getting the bat-to-the-ball was not the problem, it was being able to square it up. He was in the 97th percentile in average exit velocity of batted balls and owned the lowest barrel rate of all MLB pitchers. Not just relievers, including the likes of Corbin Burnes as well. (Fun reminder: Jose Alvarez is fourth on this list. Alex Cobb is sixth). His walk-rate was also the sixth lowest in the Majors.

With Rogers inability to get swings-and-misses, batters would make more contact and weakly hit ground balls away from the defense would inevitably find holes, thus opponents’ averages would skew high. But those kinds of batted balls have an extremely low chance of doing damage, and more often than not, they’re going to be outs. Eliminating free bases while limiting slugging was Rogers’s key in 2021.

After watching him pitch the last two seasons, it is still a little nerve-wracking when he enters a game. The scenario is already tense to begin with. The Giants are up, but the game is close. One swing could tie it, and we watch him calmly collapse his body, rear back his arm as he nearly dives towards the dirt and flings this wonky disc of a pitch towards a professional baseball masher. The fastball takes its time. The slider seems to linger in the zone. It just doesn’t add up, and then somehow Corey Seager’s knees buckle trying to connect with the dang thing and it all clicks: Oh, it’s like trying to hit a CD.

Next season, Tyler Rogers, along with Jake McGee and Camilo Doval, will be one-third of the cerberus awaiting opposing teams come game’s end. It’s a wicked trio that is as diverse style as they are in stuff. The San Francisco Giants bullpen in 2022 looks promising again.