Taylor Rogers Could be the Twins Best Reliever

Jim Mone, Associated Press

The Twins’ bullpen is a bit of a mess. Trevor May will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his UCL, Glen Perkins is still recovering from labrum surgery, and no moves were made in the offseason to improve the bullpen at all. Right now, Brandon Kintlzer is slated to be the closer, with set-up support from Matt Belisle and Ryan Pressley, which certainly does not look promising. Kintlzer, a pleasant surprise in 2016, took over the closer role after Glen Perkins suffered the previously mentioned labrum injury. He had some success, saving 17 games with a 3.15 ERA. That being said, he only struck out 15.6% of batters he faced. If the 2016 season taught us anything, it’s that the elite relievers in the game strike out almost every batter they face. Andrew Miller – 44.7%. Aroldis Chapman – 40.5 %. Kenley Jansen – 41.4%. Granted, all those guys have ridiculous skills, but it just proves the point that Kintlzer is bound to regress, and there was a reason he has bounced around between the majors and AAA for the past 5 years. The Twins have a few relief prospects (if there is such a thing) that could make an impact this year, such Nick Burdi and J.T. Chargois. Burdi sits mid 90’s with his fastball with a sharp, downward biting slider. He struck out 30% of batters he faced in 2015 after sitting out nearly all of 2016 with a bruised humerus. Chargois got called up last year and struck out 30% of batters last year. He also has an upper 90’s fastball and a hard slider and could contribute a lot to the Twins bullpen in 2016, potentially as a closer. Despite some of these promising arms, the Twins may already have their answer right in front of them.

Taylor Rogers started in the minor leagues as starter, but began transitioning into a reliever at the beginning of the 2016 season in AAA. He got called up for a spot in April, then again in May. He then stuck with the Twins for the rest of the year, and looked very impressive. During his time in the minors, he was a starter that struggled with righties, and was essentially a LOOGY that started games. These trends continued in the majors. In 2016, Rogers continued to struggle with this, he gave up 1.38 HR/9 with a .811 OPS to righties. It wasn’t all bad news though; Rogers had the highest K% among qualified relievers on the Twins last year, striking out 24.2% of batters he faced. He also kept his identity as a LOOGY, holding lefties to a .499 OPS. All this left him with a 3.95 ERA and a 3.47 xFIP, making him a very useful piece of the Twins bullpen. Rogers is basically a two pitch pitcher, throwing a sinking fastball and a fantastic curveball. His curve had a whiff rate of 16.8% last year and held batters to a .298 SLG in 2016. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Rogers in 2016, but there is a lot or room for improvement. With both May and Perkins out indefinitely Rogers has a change to become the best reliever in the Twins’ bullpen as long as he can improve against righties. Rogers struggled when he left his fastball in against righties, but succeeded when pitching to the outer third of the plate. His fastball on the outer third had a whiff rate of 9%, compared to a .07% whiff rate when pitching to the inner two-thirds of the plate. His curve got smacked around against righties when he hung it, which is something that happens to all curves when they’re hung. He succeeded when he buried his curve to the back-foot of the hitter, Andrew Miller style. If Rogers can continue to pound the outer third of the plate against righties while locating his breaking ball well, he could easily be the best reliever for the Twins in 2017.

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