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Why has Taylor Rogers struggled in 2020?

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And is it as bad as the eye test has shown?

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins - Game One
The size of the text doesn’t matter when the pitcher is the loneliest player on the field.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

In a span of mere weeks, Taylor Rogers has become the whipping boy for a vocal subset of Twins fans.

After blowing two saves (including Kenta Maeda’s near no-hitter) in his last six appearances, also giving up a tiebreaking home run against Milwaukee for a non-blown save loss, some fans are calling for Rogers to be moved out of the closing role into a setup job. His 4.82 ERA and team-low minus-0.85 WPA support the idea that Rogers is outright struggling.

However, other statistics suggest Rogers is pitching better than the eyes initially suggest. He sports a more than respectable 2.32 FIP and has struck out 30.0 percent of batters faced, a percentage higher than any season in his career save 2019 (32.4 percent). Opposing batters also sport an uncharacteristically-high .423 BABIP against him.

But there is one telling stat that explains most of this variance: barrels and hard-hit percentage. (Okay, two stats.)

While in a smaller sample size, Rogers has allowed three out of 27 batted balls to be barreled, an 11.1 percentage, while 11 of 27 have been hard-hit for a near-career-worst 40.7 percent.

Additionally, Rogers’ fly ball percentage has decreased from 31.3 percent to 25.9 percent, while the percentage of line drives hit off Rogers has increased (18.1 percent to 22.2 percent). Coupled with the increase in hard-hit balls, this explains Rogers’ high BABIP. BABIP increases the harder the ball is hit, while line drives have a significantly higher BABIP than other balls struck in play. If Rogers is giving up more hard-hit balls and more line drives, more of those balls are going to fall in.

That said, I would not dismiss his 2020 as lost. Rogers started his season with three straight saves and is still striking out batters at a good clip. If the Twins can keep winning and Rogers can start inducing weaker contact — quite feasible given the small sample size of balls struck into play — there will be no need for lack of confidence in the ninth inning.