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Player Review: Tyler Rogers

2023 was another solid year for our favorite side-armin’ twin, but some late-inning hiccups during the dog days did the struggling club no favors

MLB: SEP 27 Padres at Giants Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2023 stats: 68 G, 74 IP, 3.04 ERA, 2.69 xERA, 3.76 FIP, 7.30 K/9, 2.31 BB/9

Maybe the best way to cope with free agent disappointments is to appreciate what you already have. A designated hitter/starting pitcher is a unicorn the dilettantes can fawn over; a submariner workhorse reliever who floats rather than throws is for the scholars.

Tyler Rogers is for the nerds, and most importantly, Tyler Rogers is ours. He’s a mustache and a book of poetry away from being halfway to Dan Quisenberry, which is a lot further than most of us will ever get.

Rogers’ 2023 was par for the course in many ways. Anything to do with limiting hard contact, the right-hander has and will excel in. Average exit velocity, Barrel %, Hard-Hit%, xERA, xISO — all Statcast categories he was ranked in the 96th or higher percentile last season. In terms of Fangraphs quality of contact, his 27.6% Soft% was 0.1% behind San Diego’s Tom Cosgrove to lead all of Major League Baseball. His 21.3% Hard% was second lowest in baseball after Colorado’s Brent Suter.

Hitters tend to look a bit silly against Rogers because they’re trying to be hitters against him. Subborn beasts, hitters, and they often don’t like to make adjustments. They look for a certain pitch in a certain location, they have their swing paths, they try to replicate their ideal swing, and they can do so because, though every pitcher has their quirks, they’re all throwing from a similar release point at a similar velocity. Most of their swings are calibrated to drive a baseball that’s coming towards the plate at 95 MPH, then a couple innings later with Tyler Rogers on the mound, they uncork the same swing to hit a baseball that’s 20 MPH slower and appears to be rising from the pitcher’s ankles.

Of course, they swing out of their shoes,

or swing without their lower body,

or are so in their head about trying to get out of their head, they just miss a pitch they hadn’t missed since high school.

Rogers is a pitcher like Picasso’s “Seated Woman” is a portrait—yeah, the resemblance is there, but usually the head doesn’t jut out of the torso. It makes one pause, and that hesitation is what gets them into trouble.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

His style isn’t about chasing the swing-and-miss but getting hitters discombobulated and out-of-sync, so that when contact is made it’s with a paper towel roll instead of a baseball bat. That’s not to say his sinker and flying saucer slider are lob jobs, but I think there is an element of pitching against another’s ego. The opposite of a I-dare-you-to-hit-this-fastball, or face-melting breaking ball because I’m the hottest arm on the planet. There’s a humility to it. Rogers genuflects, scraps his knuckles on the ground and presents his offering. He didn’t grow up throwing from the laces—it was an adjustment he made, and now he’s forcing hitters to make that adjustment too.

Obviously the adjustment happens. A swing gets recalibrated and suddenly a 73 MPH slider leaving a baseball field looks like the easiest, most obvious thing. It didn’t happen a ton against Rogers but his 3.76 FIP (a stat that measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at outcomes independent of defense) was the highest of his career, while his 0.9 HR/9 was double that of last season’s (0.4). It feels like a hair statistically, but in the narrative of the Giants’ season, Rogers did let up some dingers of consequence.

Justin Turner lifted a lead-changing 2-run homer for the Red Sox off Rogers in the 8th inning on July 30th. Eddie Rosario jumped on a first pitch sinker and added another for the Braves on August 19th. Christian Encarnacion-Strand extended the Reds lead in the 8th inning of a consequential Wild Card scrap on August 30th, and in Rogers’ next appearance on September 5th, Seiya Suzuki erased a 2-run deficit with a homer of his own in the 8th inning of a game the Cubs would eventually win 11-8.

It was the 5th pitch of the AB, and in a tight game with a runner already on, Rogers had to get something over the plate. The problem was it stayed there and much like the slider to Turner, it stayed down. Even with the poor location you can see Suzuki stumble over the plate after the swing, as if it took every ounce of muscle in his body to stay back and wait on the slider, and even then, how far his hands were out in front, wrapping around the ball to yank it over the ivy.

It was the Giants’ 5th consecutive loss. It felt like a nail in the coffin—maybe not the final one, but certainly a nail. A tough stretch for Rogers that couldn’t have come at a worst time for the team. Obviously there were a myriad of problems with the club that can’t be blamed solely on a reliever who pitches every second or third day, but crooked number dingers in the late innings of close games is hard to ignore.

But that is the nature of the beast. The tightrope Rogers walks with his delivery gets even thinner with his role. In 47 of his 68 appearances the past season, Rogers entered the game in a tie, 1 run, or 2 run lead. 6 of his 7 home runs allowed came in the 7th inning or later of a game. 6 of the 7 came with runners on base.

In just over a month, between July 30th and September 5th, and a span of 12 appearances, Rogers allowed 4 two-run homers. All of them came in a high-leverage situation, the difference in score being no more than two runs. Three of them lost San Francisco’s lead (only one was recovered), and two of them came against direct competitors for the National League Wild Card at a time when the shadows of tough losses tend to stretch over many games.

Rogers didn’t sink the season with his sinker to Rosario, nor did the bad slider to Suzuki eliminate the Giants from postseason contention. They were just clear opportunities for him to perform and give the team a needed boost, and he didn’t. A similar critique could be levied at numerous players on the Giants roster.

Like many, Rogers struggled in the second half of the season. His stellar start—a 2.17 ERA over 45.2 IP—spoiled after the All-Star Break. It did start out on a high with his pick-off of Elly de la Cruz, opposing hitters went on to produce a .759 OPS against that contributed to a 4.45 ERA over his last 28.1 innings pitched. Though his 74 innings pitched last season was the most from a Giants reliever, a pace he also set for the club in 2022 and 2021, I can’t imagine there was much fatigue on his arm as the year wore on. The workload was small enough that a handful of flat sliders to the wrong guys can really play around with the numbers. Could that explain the bizarre pattern he’s developed with his platoon splits from year-to-year? In ‘21, right-handed batters had an OPS of .746 against him while left-handed batters logged a .456 OPS. In ‘22, the trend swapped: .567 OPS for right-handers and a .845 OPS for lefties. Now in ‘23, a .733 OPS for RHP and .557 OPS for LHB.

Rogers continues to mystify.