Esmil Rogers Needs To Feature His Sinker

That better be a sinker Esmil. - Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

When Esmil Rogers first arrived as a starter in 2013 there was a lot of buzz about his new sinker. If he wants to be successful in 2014 he'll need to go back to relying on that pitch.

In 2013 Esmil Rogers emerged from relative obscurity to start 20 games from the Toronto Blue Jays. The fact a guy like Esmil Rogers started 20 games for a team that thought it was a World Series contender going into the season is pretty indicative of how last season went. Rogers ended up having a season that had a very Carlos Villanueva flavor to it. He was brilliant at times, usually not great, and had some trouble as the season wore on. Unlike Villaneuva, Rogers had a bit of a rebound in September suggesting being out of gas wasn't the source of his issues. At the end of the day he put up numbers that were not good, but could have been worse, with a 4.77 ERA, a 4.73 FIP and a less than fantastic 0.4 WAR in 137.2 innings.

Approaching the 2014 season it's hard to say exactly where Rogers fits with this team. The Blue Jays have tendered him a contract and he is out of options so they definitely see him as a big league caliber player. The smart money would be on Rogers working out of the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter, but there's a chance he'll get the opportunity to compete for a starting job. After all, it doesn't hurt to have as many guys competing as possible. Additionally, the Blue Jays will likely want Rogers stretched out in case he is needed due to injuries. Even if it is near the bottom, Esmil Rogers sits somewhere on this team's starting rotation depth chart. It would not be altogether surprising to see him take the hill in the first inning at some point in 2014. The question is, how likely is it that he can be effective if he does so?

Esmil Rogers certainly had flashes of brilliance in 2013 but he was not consistent. If we look at his numbers month-to-month while he was a starter, they look like this:

Month

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

xFIP

June

5.68

2.27

1.14

2.27

4.18

3.53

July

7.07

2.89

1.29

7.07

4.41

3.77

August

6.45

2.82

3.22

7.66

7.35

4.34

September

6.75

3.38

1.01

3.71

4.25

3.91

The ERA numbers there show the extreme volatility of sample sizes as small as a single month, but even by FIP Rogers had his best months in June and September. The reason this is interesting is because that's when Rogers was using his new sinker the most. In June before joining the rotation Rogers added a sinker to his repertoire and it was often given credit for the successes he had early on. As the season wore on Rogers struggled and that sinker stopped getting any attention. Rogers new go-to pitch became an afterthought, but perhaps it shouldn't have. The following chart shows his sinker usage by month compared to his four seam fastball:

Rogers went to his sinker much more frequently in the months where he was most successful. That in and of itself doesn't prove anything, but it did pique my interest. In order to find out more about the link between Rogers success and his sinker usage I dug a little deeper. The following zone profile from Brooks Baseball shows the location of sinkers thrown by Esmil Rogers during the 2013 season:

It's clear that Rogers did a great job of a burying the sinkers down in the zone, a prerequisite for success with the pitch. Location is one thing, but results are another entirely. You can have a perfectly placed sinker, but if opposing batters are driving it in the air it's not an effective pitch. The picture below shows how often Rogers was able to induce the ground ball with his sinker:

That's some pretty impressive stuff. We're probably not looking at the next Brandon Webb here, but a sinker that is well placed and gets ground balls is a valuable tool.

In order to see if there was a link between the quantity of sinkers Rogers threw and his effectiveness as a starter, I looked at his game logs in order to see in which starts he used his sinker the most. In the course of the season I found 6 starts where Rogers used his sinker more often than his traditional four seam fastball. The following chart showed how Rogers performed in those starts:

Game

Sinkers Thrown

Sinker Percentage

Innings Pitched

Hits

Runs

Earned Runs

Home Runs

Walks

Strikeouts

6/13/13 @ TEX

36

38.7%

7

5

1

1

1

1

1

6/18/13 COL

34

38.2%

6.2

4

3

2

0

1

5

6/24/13 @TB

36

37.9%

6

7

4

4

3

3

2

6/29/13 @ BOS

44

44.4%

6

6

0

0

0

1

6

9/2/13 @ ARI

34

41.0%

6.1

1

0

0

0

1

5

9/8/13 @ MIN

34

36.6%

7.2

3

0

0

0

1

4

There are 5 quality starts on this list, though the other start with three home runs allowed against Tampa is particularly ugly. If you add up the total of these starts you get the line below:

Innings Pitched

BB%

K%

BABIP

ERA

FIP

39.2

5.4%

15.6%

.196

1.82

4.06

The ERA is artificially low because of the BABIP number here, but even the FIP is respectable. Although there is no way the BABIP is remotely sustainable, Rogers did allow a less dangerous batted ball profile against in the starts he used his sinker the most:

Split

Ground Ball%

Fly Ball%

Line Drive%

Heavy Sinker Usage Starts

57.4%

25.2%

17.4%

2013 Totals

47.2%

29.6%

23.2%

It's hard to be too definitive given the small sample size of six starts but it appears that there is something here.

Esmil Rogers isn't a great starting pitcher, or even a good starting pitcher. When we are talking about Rogers we are shooting for adjectives like fringe-average and feasible. However, it does appear that the sinker that he developed last year is an effective pitch and that he has more success when he throws it more often. If he were to reinvent himself as a purer sinkerballer he might be able to improve upon his numbers from last year. In all honesty, Toronto Blue Jays fans don't want to see very much of Esmil Rogers as a starting pitcher in 2014. Unfortunately, a situation may arise where they have to. It's comforting to know that if that day comes Rogers has a quality weapon in his arsenal.

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