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The Rise of Taylor Rogers

It’s time to recongnize the lanky lefty as one of baseball’s best firemen.

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins
Taylor Rogers is establishing himself as one of the top relievers in the MLB.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Taylor Rogers might be the most underrated reliever in baseball. But that isn’t a new concept for the Twins lefty, who has exceeded expectations since getting drafted by the Twins back in 2012. Here is a look at Baseball America’s draft scouting report on Rogers nearly seven years ago:

“At 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, Rogers is more skinny than projectable, so his stuff isn’t likely to get much better. He’ll touch 90-91 mph with his fastball early in games but usually settles in at 87-88 mph. His curveball and changeup are effective, and he compensates for his lack of a plus pitch with outstanding command of his offerings. He has sound mechanics and repeats them well, though at times he’s around the strike zone too much.”

Picked by the Twins in the 11th round out of Kentucky in the 2012 MLB draft, Rogers signed with Minnesota for just 100,000 dollars. The lanky lefty’s numbers in the bluegrass state weren’t all that impressive, as he went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA in his collegiate career. However, his “pitchability” and the fact that he was a southpaw helped his profile, though he was likely considered a bit of dart throw in the 11th round.

Rogers outplayed his projections in the minor leagues with the Twins, creating a reputation down on the farm as a durable lefty who kept the ball in the ballpark but didn’t miss many bats. He posted a 3.33 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP in 541 minor league innings, starting all but a handful of games throughout his minor league career. While he struck out just 7.0 batters per nine innings, his quality numbers made him into a legitimate prospect for the Twins.

Even with his solid numbers in the Twins farm ranks, Rogers was often ranked in the 11-20 range in Minnesota’s farm system by most publications. The Littleton, Colorado native was was viewed as a number 4-5 starter if he was able to reach his potential. His fastball sat between 90-93, and his breaking ball and change-up were viewed as just average. Things started to change when Rogers made his debut with the Twins. But instead of continuing his previous role as a starter, Rogers began his time in Minnesota coming out of the bullpen.

After starting the season in Rochester in 2016, Rogers made his major league debut on April 14, 2016 as a 25-year-old. Averaging around 93 miles an hour on his fastball as a reliever, Rogers pitched well for most of the year, carrying a 2.77 ERA into the month of September. Unfortunately, Rogers posted an 8.53 ERA in the final month of the season, finishing the year with a mark of 3.96. His K/9 did jump up to 9.4 as he appeared 57 times out of the bullpen. He also was much more effective against left-handed batters, as righties had an OPS of .811 against him while lefties were at just .547.

Rogers improved those numbers in 2017, quietly establishing himself as one of the better and more reliable bullpen options that the Twins possessed. While the skinny southpaw’s strikeout total were down that season (7.9 K/9), he was more effective, posting a 3.07 ERA. The numbers showed that while he was a great relief options against lefties, he was still about an average pitcher against right-handed bats.

The breakout for Rogers came in 2018, specifically in the latter part of the year. A big part of his success came from breaking balls, including a slider that he introduced for the first time on May 16th. That pitch was one of the biggest keys in Rogers’ development into a dominant pitcher against batters from both sides of the plate. In 2018, he limited righties to just .643 OPS and was even nastier against lefties, as they sported an OPS of just .428 against him.

Along with the implementation of the slider, Rogers’ curveball became nearly unhittable as well. With some help from bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, Rogers shaped the pitch into one of the best in the league. His K% on the pitch was an incredibly-high 47.8%, up from 29.7% in 2017. Rogers also held hitters to a .150 wOBA on the pitch in 2018, compared to a .284 mark in 2017 (which is still pretty good). To put that in perspective, light-hitting infielder Ehire Adrianza has a career wOBA of .285.

The spin rate on Rogers’ curveball also ranked third best in the league (in 2018) among left-handers that had thrown the deuce 200 times or more, finishing behind just Walker Buehler and Caleb Ferguson of the Dodgers. Baseball Savant’s comparison tool indicates that Rogers’ pitch mix most closely resembles that of Buehler and Phillies righty Aaron Nola, both budding young aces with top-notch stuff.

From June 2018 to the end of the season, batters hit just .147 against Rogers, and the southpaw struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings. He posted just a 1.34 ERA over that stretch, and concluded the season on a 26-inning scoreless streak. He also was in some elite company with his season wOBA numbers, and finally started to gain some national acclaim.

Rogers has picked up where he left off, sporting a 1.84 ERA with a 12.9 K/9 in 14.2 innings in 2019. He has gotten the Twins (and himself) out of some tight spots with some big-time strikeouts, and his stuff has looked pretty great.

Rogers has also developed a little more heat on his fastball, now topping out around 96 MPH instead of 94 or 95. This has resulted in higher K% on his fastball, a lower xwOBA (expected wOBA based on quality of contact), and a lower average exit velocity. Here’s a look at the southpaw’s velo charts from 2017 compared to 2019.

Taylor Rodgers velocity chart - 2017
Graph by Baseball Savant

In 2019, Rogers has hit 95 MPH 11.4% of the time, doubling his mark from 2017. He has also got up to 96 MPH over four percent of the time in 2019, and most of those instances have come recently. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number grows with the success of the pitch, especially with new pitching coach Wes Johnson’s reputation for helping his pitchers add velocity.

Taylor Rogers velocity chart - 2019
Graph by Baseball Savant

While Rogers has allowed a few more baserunners so far this year, he has also been a bit unlucky. His actual wOBA allowed of .316 is 63 points higher than his expected wOBA of .253, the 14th biggest positive difference in the league. Based on quality of contact numbers, Rogers should allow less baserunners as the season goes on if he continues to pitch similarly. His BAbip against of .405 is significantly higher than his career marks and should fall towards his 2018 mark of .280 sooner rather than later.

However, he hasn’t allowed an uptick in baserunners affect his performance too much, as he currently sports an incredible strand rate of 92.6%. While he likely won’t be able to maintain this mark for the whole season, it shows how good he has been pitching with runners on base in 2019.

Coming up as a pitch-to-contact starter throwing in the low 90’s with average secondary offerings, many fans may have filed Rogers away as another AAAA starter that the Twins seemed to have a bevy of within the last decade. He has quickly become much more, a reliever that boasts some of the betters numbers in the league and is the best of the Twins bullpen bunch.

With a heater that continues to improve and nasty breaking pitchers, Rogers isn’t a fringe major league starter. He’s not just a situational lefty who can get a few outs here or there. Nor is he just a decent set up man or average closer. He is a bona fide bullpen ace, and it time he is recognized as one.