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Player Review: Taylor Rogers

Don’t forget San Francisco’s big free agent signing!

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

2023 stats: 60 games, 51.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.58 xERA, 3.91 FIP, 11.15 K/9, 4.35 BB/9

On April 12th, tasked with preserving a 3-3 tie against the Doogies in the 6th inning, Taylor Rogers instead didn’t record an out. After walking the four batters he faced, he watched from the dugout as his ERA swelled from an unsightly 8.10 to a ghastly 18.90 as all of them eventually crossed home in an inning capped by a 3-run homer by Max Muncy.

Something had to change for Rogers. He was becoming a character in a narrative he wanted no part of, a protagonist along with Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea of new arms that initially boasted compelling pitching depth but were rather decidedly tarred and feathered by opposing bats a week into the season.

Rogers had given up homers in his first two appearances—including a truly devastating solo home run to Salvador Perez that sparked a Royals come-from-behind win—and allowed 7 runs on 6 walks and only 1 strikeout over his first 3.1 innings for the San Francisco Giants. The new club smell was dissipating fast. The charm of being a battery mate with his brother already wearing thin. Taylor Rogers was in real danger of becoming the scarred side of Harvey Dent’sTwo-Face, the ugly twin.

So, on April 12th, Taylor Rogers threw his glove into the trash.

It wasn’t a water-cooler bashing, or an over-the-top, kick-stomp-throw-stomp, expletive-laced de-lacing of the mitt—just a calm shirking of bad vibes. The season was still young and Rogers was still in control.

The seemingly superficial change—he didn’t even switch glove brands!—proved to be foundational.

Though he was stuck with the loss in his next appearance after allowing the Manfred Runner to score in the 11th against the Tigers (a bullpen meltdown that he could not at all be blamed for), Rogers wouldn’t be charged for another run until May 19th, making 11 scoreless appearances over that month long span. After that run, he’d author another impressive streak of 13 scoreless appearances (13 IP) that lasted until June 30th. He reached his season-low ERA mark of 2.42 on August 12th, and at that point both Rogers relievers had taken on the image of the two-faced Janus, smoothing the transition from the late-innings to Camilo Doval.

Though both brothers along with Doval had their problems in September—overwork brought on by a rotation marred by injuries and an anemic offense might be to blamed—fans should continue to feel good about Rogers, Rogers, and Doval in 2024.

I know that it’s a mammoth task to attempt to feel good in a world in which Shohei Ohtani will be a Dogger for the next ten years. Even in your fragile state, try to squeeze the tiniest ounce of comfort from the fact that he will have to face Taylor Rogers in 2024 and 2025. Why? Because Taylor Rogers is a lefty slayer.

He faced 103 lefties last season and only 9 of them recorded a hit. Of those 9 knocks, two went for extra bases (2 doubles). Their collective .124 slugging percentage and .101 batting average against was the lowest mark in the Majors, while their .206 on-base percentage was inflated to 6th lowest after issuing 11 walks and 1 HBP.

The instrument of torture? The sweeper. Since premiering the pitch in 2019, Rogers reliance on it has peaked around 57% usage these past two seasons. The slider variation is a pitch that frisbees horizontally rather than a more traditional tight break. Every sweeper has a character of its own: some break 20 inches horizontally while Rogers’ has always been more toned down (though that doesn’t mean it never takes off.)

The truncated break compared to the league serves him well because it plays better off his secondary sinker which he uses about 40% of the time. Watch Kyle Schwarber’s knees buckle in this video.

The moment of dubiousness causing the slightest hesitation is what wins the at-bat. Out of the hand it looks like a fastball coming hard and inside and then it slides solidly into the zone. Then if a hitter is looking for the sweep and served a fastball with a late wrinkle instead, though not excessive in velocity, the pitch can ambush the best hitters in the game.

It’s the classic 50-50 game of sinker-slider with a twist. Rogers hides his pitches well while his delivery is subtly funky. He’s got a bit of the southpaw sling with his release point and a motion that looks like it speeds up as it unfolds towards the plate. The tail on the sinker is deadly too.

Were you able to find some relief from these highlights? Did water pour forth from stone? No, of course not. The reality is Taylor Rogers, for as dominant as he was against lefties, faced Freddie Freeman twice and went head-to-head with Juan Soto four times. Even inter-division, these match-ups don’t happen often, and when they do, how often was it truly meaningful. Shohei Ohtani is a goliath and this isn’t Sunday School—a lot of things, big and small, have to break a certain way for David to be able to sling his consequential river-stone sweeper. The odds of a head-to-head match-up in which Taylor Rogers lefty prowess gets him the edge over Ohtani in a season-defining game are so low I feel slightly ridiculous even considering it, let alone typing them up to make you, dear reader, do so as well.

And since my mood is souring, let’s just pile on and mention that Taylor Rogers was also really bad against right-handed batters. As lefties starved, righties feasted. The slash-line: .313/.407/.573 (113 total batters faced). It does dull your impact when you can get the real Freddie Freeman out, but Kike Hernandez just elevates to a Freeman-type hitter from the other side of the plate. Looking back on 2022 and 2021, Rogers’ splits have never been as stark. Allowing six home runs, all from righties, can skew the numbers in a relatively small sample size. Another culprit: Rogers faced LA bats more than any other (22 PA) and they cashed in a 1.079 OPS.

The Empire is expanding, and they just flexed their planet destroyer. Of course, the wonderful thing about sports is that nothing is predetermined. Let’ not forget the entitlement of certain fans that a team is so good it should be allowed a Disneyland FastPass to the championship. 12 hours into the Ohtani decade and the Doogers still haven’t won a baseball game. Other than that embarrassing stat, there’s a pretty valid argument to the fact that this free agency signing proves that Los Angeles has won everything that has to do with baseball in these past ten years but a legitimate World Series.

The Giants room to operate in this toxic Doghair universe just got a lot smaller and no one can deny or escape their reach. Including Ohtani in the conversation about Taylor Rogers is insane and comedic and sadly relevant. LA’s past four seasons have seen them pick up three generational talents to long term deals while padding their supporting cast and developing prospects; San Francisco nabbed a bullpen arm and a bunch of wild cards. Rogers is a puzzle piece, Ohtani is the puzzle. That’s not Rogers’ fault—all he can do is his job which he did for the most part in 2023, which also just got a lot harder now that the best offensive player on the planet is in the division. He has proven that he’s up to the task, but if the head-to-head match-ups are to actually mean something every other disparate element of the Giants roster has to be operating at capacity.

Even then, what does that get them? The privilege of trying to destroy the Death Star.