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Taylor Rogers: A good and bad option out of the ‘pen

Taylor Rogers has some of the better numbers among the Twins relievers this season, yet has still played with fire in many of his outings.

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

In this terrible 2016 season, there have been very few bright spots. Brian Dozier is certainly one of them. We also enjoyed the emergence of Eduardo Nunez before he was traded to the San Francisco Giants. As for the pitching side, Brandon Kintzler has done a solid job filling in at closer despite not being a prototypical shutdown relief ace. Likewise, Fernando Abad was pretty good even though he also lacked the stuff to put away an opposing lineup’s best hitters. One other reliever that should be tossed into the mix is Taylor Rogers, the rookie lefthander that trails only Kintzler and Ryan O’Rourke for best reliever ERA in the current bullpen.

Rogers had been a starting pitcher in the minor leagues but his ability to retire lefthanded batters convinced the Twins to try him out as a reliever upon his promotion to the major leagues. It certainly has been a success for Rogers as he has stifled the opposition with a running fastball that can break a full foot into lefties and a slurvy curveball that leads to a foot and a half average difference of horizontal movement between the two pitches.

In spite of his success though, it’s been frustrating to see suboptimal usage of Rogers this season. You see, he’s shown the ability to dominate lefthanded batters this season as he’s held them to a .190/.256/.269 triple-slash while striking out 30% of them. However, those numbers change to .295/.348/.466 and a much more average 20% against righties.

Okay, no big deal, just avoid letting him face righties, right? After all, he only throws a fastball and curveball so there’s no real weapon to retire those pesky opposite-handed hitters. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case though as Rogers has faced 158 righties this year while seeing just 86 lefthanders. Not only that, but there have been times over the past month or so where Paul Molitor has had Rogers face righthanders in a critical spot even though the evidence suggests that’s a poor decision.

In some ways, you can’t blame Molitor. Kintzler is the closer. Michael Tonkin has been a lot worse in the second half (I suspect from overuse). Ryan Pressly can’t pitch every single high-leverage inning. The trio of J.T. Chargois, Alex Wimmers, and Pat Light have yet to demonstrate the command to be trusted in key spots over and over. Thus Molitor defaults to Rogers because he has the best numbers and the best control/command out of the alternatives. Nevertheless, it’s still setting him up to fail if he faces nearly twice as many righties as lefties.

Additionally, it’s almost been an organizational philosophy to avoid situational relievers and position players. The hitters have rarely been platooned; the pitchers rarely get fewer than one inning. For better or worse, the Twins want their players to succeed both with and without the platoon advantage. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall a true LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) the Twins have employed since Dennys Reyes, though I suppose the disastrous waiver claim of Randy Flores in 2010 counts as well. It would not surprise me if the Twins were trying the same thing with Rogers, where they want him to learn to get righties out while he’s still young.

After all, though Rogers was impressive with a .499 OPS allowed to lefties in his minor league career, the .712 number against righties isn’t horrendous even if it’s far worse in comparison. But, much like Tyler Duffey with a fastball/curveball combination of his own, Rogers won’t have much of a chance against the opposite-handed batters unless he figures out a change-up or some other weapon to retire them. Until then, it’s a conundrum: Do you stop letting him face righties to maximize his effectiveness, or do you keep letting him face them knowing that the results won’t be as rosy? I know I prefer the former, but it’s a matter of finding out if the Twins feel the same.