Trevor Rogers: Overlooked, or Over-Performing?

When the Marlins beat the Mets on April 10th, most of the post-game focus was on Jacob deGrom. The Mets’ ace had pitched a gem: eight innings, five hits, 14 strikeouts, and no walks, with the only run coming on a towering Jazz Chisholm homer in the second inning. And while the indignation on deGrom’s behalf was not unwarranted, it ironically created a smaller, secondary injustice in its wake, obscuring from view the other stellar pitching performance of the day.

Miami’s starter that afternoon was Trevor Rogers, making his second start of the 2021 season. In his outing, he allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out 10 batters over the course of six scoreless innings – a pitching line that undoubtedly would have been the headline story from the game, were it not for deGrom’s dominant, yet unsupported performance.

But being overlooked is nothing new for Rogers. Skepticism has been a running theme in his career since even before he was drafted, when he was an old-for-his-class high schooler (he graduated at 19) in New Mexico, an area of the country that doesn’t always get the same robust coverage of other parts of the Four Corners region. Could scouts really trust the dominant numbers of a player who was so much older than anyone else on the field?

That skepticism carried over into the 2017 draft, where Rogers was eventually selected with the No. 13 pick. At the time, the Marlins were owned by Jeffrey Loria, who had a reputation for being overly involved in the goings-on of the front office and making unilateral decisions while undervaluing or disregarding the input of other, more experienced people. That summer, he pushed for the Marlins to draft Evan White, a first baseman out of the University of Kentucky, over Rogers. Miami’s then-director of scouting, Stan Meek, was able to convince Loria to take Rogers instead, but the rift created within the organization was big enough that several pro-White members of the front office did not show up on draft day as a form of protest.

During his time in the minors, Rogers maintained solid numbers, with his strikeout rate never dipping below 25% and his walk rate never rising above 9%. But as he rose through the ranks of the Marlins’ organization, the skepticism persisted. Even after striking out more than five times the number of batters he walked in A-ball in 2019, questions continued regarding whether Rogers’ seemingly average secondary pitches would continue to complement his four-seamer as the level of competition improved.

In MLB’s 2019 Prospect Watch report, Rogers ranked eighth in the Marlins’ system, and was described as follows:

Rogers has an imposing presence at 6-foot-6 and a better fastball than most left-handed starters, working at 92-94 mph and touching 96 with deception and command. His advanced age for a high schooler and his lack of feel to spin a breaking ball concerned some clubs in the 2017 Draft, and the latter remains an issue because he has trouble staying on top of his curveball and it tends to blend together with his slider. His tumbling changeup also lacks consistency but could be his best secondary pitch in the long run.

Rogers has plenty of raw talent but is only scratching the surface of his potential. He throws strikes but will have to refine the rest of his repertoire to keep hitters off his fastball.

Additionally, he entered 2021 as the No. 6 prospect in Eric Longenhagen’s ranking of the Marlins’ farm system. In line with MLB’s assessment, Eric is skeptical that Rogers’ curveball will ever be better than average, but he does think the young lefty has a plus changeup and command to go with good velocity and an elite frame. “Once a very risky, old-for-the-class high schooler, Rogers is now a stable 2 WAR starter prospect,” he concluded.

Like many pitchers this year, Rogers has seen across-the-board increases in his velocity. In 2020, his fastball averaged 93.6 mph and was thrown 54.2% of the time. Over his three starts so far this season, Rogers is throwing his fastball harder, and more frequently: It’s now at 95.2 mph and a 62.2% usage rate. Having seemingly abandoned his so-so curveball, his arsenal now features a low-80s slider and an upper-80s changeup, and though neither is particularly head turning, they pair nicely with his fastball when he’s able to command them.

Additionally, he combines an imposing, athletic frame with an unusually low arm slot from the left side and an ability to create length in his delivery. That makes for an awkward angle that allows his four-seamer to play well against hitters on both sides of the plate, especially at his newly increased velocity. On the whole, he is at his best when he can command his slider and changeup well enough so that he doesn’t have to go fastball-heavy, as hinted at in that 2019 report. On a good day, you’ll see Rogers racking up the strikeouts in a number of different ways, and his outing against the Mets shows just that.

He missed bats in the zone:

He froze guys on the paint:

And he fooled guys with offspeed stuff they couldn’t reach:

Rogers’ pitch mix has played well this year: He’s in the 93rd percentile in whiff rate and fourth overall in CSW%. Much of that is thanks to his dazzling start against the Mets. His other two starts this year (April 5 against St. Louis and April 15 against Atlanta) were solid in their own right, though to a noticeably lesser degree than his duel against deGrom. But that game wasn’t Rogers’ first time reaching double-digits in the strikeout column at the major league level. He matched that total twice previously: once in 2020 against the Rays, and once this spring, also against the Mets.

If we take a look at his two regular-season 10-strikeout bouts and compare them to his other two starts from this season, it may help us determine what is contributing to his dominance during the games when he’s been most effective. Let’s start with the whiff rates and CSW% for each of his pitches (I’ve removed the three sinkers he threw in these games for the sake of clarity).

Trevor Rogers’ 2021 Whiff% and CSW%
Date Opp FB% FB Whiff% FB CSW% SL% SL Whiff% SL CSW% CH% CH Whiff% CH CSW% Total Whiff% Total CSW%
9/6/20 TBR 56 21 43 22 43 27 20 43 35 33 38
4/5/21 STL 66 54 37 21 57 50 13 0 0 47 35
4/10/21 NYM 52 48 39 27 43 32 20 42 31 46 41
4/15/21 ATL 67 28 28 20 38 32 13 11 8 28 26

Rogers’ dominance against the Mets this year and against the Rays last year was characterized by effective use of his secondary pitches. In both of the 10-strikeout games, the whiff rate on his changeup was over 40%, and the subsequent CSW% was above 30%. Conversely, his less dominant outings have featured a much more hittable changeup. It also seems he’s most effective when he’s able to keep his fastball usage under 60% and utilize a more varied arsenal.

But there is an important human element in all of this. Rogers is in a unique class of prospects whose major league debut season came in an empty stadium; his first outing of the 2021 season was his first ever in front of a major league audience (with his family also in the stands for the first time in his big league career). It’s hardly surprising that he issued two consecutive four-pitch walks to start the game. Indeed, his first inning was 38 pitches long and accounted for all four of his walks that day.

After that inning, Rogers eased up a bit on the velocity of his fastball, letting it sit comfortably around 94, and relied much more heavily on it, throwing as many as nine four-seamers in a row. But that didn’t mean that he was entirely afraid of challenging batters with his secondaries. In the bottom of the third, Rogers faced Yadier Molina for the second time that night, having given up an RBI double to him on a first-pitch changeup in the first. After starting the at-bat with a fastball up at Molina’s eyes, Rogers threw three consecutive sliders in virtually the same place — inside at the knees — to get three swings and misses to end the inning.

Rogers’ most recent start didn’t match the high standard set by his duel against deGrom, and his pitch mix more closely resembled that in his outing against Cardinals. But even though his whiffs and CSW% dipped to a level more on par with league average, he struck out seven batters in his five innings, and the only runs he allowed came on a two-run homer by Ronald Acuña Jr. — and it was no meatball either.

Rogers has perhaps already outperformed what those 2017 draft day no-shows may have considered his potential. Whether his command of his slider and changeup will improve to the point where he can rightly earn a spot at the top of a rotation is an open question, but his impressive early outings have earned him the right not to be overlooked.





Tess is a sports video editor and contributor at FanGraphs.

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Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

I think we’re at a point we just have to realize the Marlins are realy good at developing pitching. Maybe he didn’t have this much potential but somewhere along the way, they unlocked him. They’ve got an impressive group of young arms already there and more on the way.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L

They might, but they might not, have some magic. It’s entirely possible this is due to random variation in the development of pitchers, and has nothing to do w/ Miami’s coaching. Looking at results without insight into the process is a bad way to make a decision.

Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

True, but look at their MiLB and current rotation. They just happened to be right this many times, or they developed impressively? Truth is probably somewhere in the middle.