Mark Rogers is finally back in the majors for the first time since 2010. The 26-year-old former top prospect was called up following the departure of Zack Greinke to assume a rotation spot. Rogers had been pitching well recently in Triple-A after a rough start.
Now, he has made two starts under his belt at the major league level this year. He hasn't had a chance to relax as he has faced two of the best teams in the National League, the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. He has had one very good start (against Washington) and one not-so-good start (against St. Louis).
Here is Rogers' pitch location from his first start, against the Nationals:
And here is Rogers' pitch location from his second start, against the Cardinals:
It's obvious that Rogers has been trying to work inside. With these charts being from the catcher's perspective, all the pitches charted on the left side of the plate would have been in on right handed hitters.
However, notice how much more he focused his pitches to the inside against the Nationals, when he had better results. There were only a small handful, maybe nine, pitches that were thrown on the outside half of the plate.
When you get to the Cardinals, you see him throwing to the far side of the plate somewhere between 20-25 times. In addition, when you look at the two graphs you see a lot of pitches well out of the zone. Those out-of-zone pitches look more centralized in the game against the Nationals. You see them clotting on the left side of the plate and above center. There's no rhythm to the out-of-zone pitches against the Cardinals. They're everywhere except high and outside.
The Nationals had two switch hitters and three left handers in their lineup when Rogers pitched while the Cardinals had two left handers and two switch hitters. So the difference shouldn't come from there being more lefties to whom he tried throwing inside.
I can't imagine that the Brewers and Jonathan Lucroy (who caught both games) would have gone so far away from what worked against the Nationals. No, considering how far he missed and where he missed, I would guess that Rogers was missing his spots. That's further proved by him trying to over-correct.
Against the Cardinals, Rogers threw 49 of 72 pitches for strikes, a 62% strike rate. Against the Nationals, Rogers threw 98 pitches, just 52 of which were strikes. That's a 53% strike rate. Oddly enough, the game where he threw more strikes was the one where he struggled.
Look at those graphs again, though. All those strikes against the Cardinals were down the middle of the plate, more or less. He wasn't hitting his spots on the outside and had a few pitches get away some, so he started just trying to throw strikes. Instead of trying to hit the corners, he just threw the ball down the center of the plate and let the Cardinals hit it.
It's not that Rogers' results his last start was so bad. He gave up seven hits in five innings while walking just one hitter. Five earned runs obviously isn't good at all, but he didn't have a start that would make you think "Wow, that was really bad." He just struggled some. Four of his runs came in one bad inning with the fifth coming on a solo home run to Carlos Beltran.
Still, it was clear that Rogers did not have his best stuff against the Cardinals. He had a great start against the Nationals, and I think we can see why. He was controlling all his pitches and putting them right where he wanted. I remember one pitch very clearly, with two outs in an inning, where he had a hitter with two strikes. Rogers threw what looked like a change-up high and inside and got the hitter to swing and strikeout to end the inning.
He didn't miss his spot. He actually wanted to throw a change-up high and inside which is something you just don't do with that kind of pitch. There's too much potential to miss your spot and get hit hard. But it completely fooled the batter. Rogers must have had supreme confidence in his pitches that night to even try throwing that pitch.
He didn't have that much confidence in his pitches on Saturday. This is why I find that start, despite the results, to be encouraging. He realized that he wasn't hitting his spots, so he just threw strikes and let the Cardinals hit them. For the most part, that worked pretty well. He had the one rough inning which derailed his day. If Rogers had continued to try and paint the corners or throw inside, he ran the risk of giving up many more runs, or hitting several batters.
I think that Saturday shows that Rogers is smart enough to work with what he has when he is having an off day. I think that his first start against the Nationals shows that he is fully capable of being a very good pitcher. Combining those two, I am pretty excited to see what Rogers can do over the rest of the season.
It's always been a matter of staying healthy for Rogers. He has always had the talent. He missed two full years of development in 2007 and 2008 due to injury and has had all sorts of injuries and ailments that have kept him from truly fulfilling his potential.
Two starts is too small of a sample size to make any certain conclusions. Still, I think we can certainly be encouraged by that sample. It will be fascinating tracking how Rogers does as a full-time member of the rotation the rest of the season. Hopefully the Brewers will have a bright future with him in their rotation.
Pitch f/x data courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.