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Giles: Looking at Jason Rogers’ Role With the Pirates

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As Jason Rogers spent the last couple weeks having no trouble in the International League (.366/.435/.683 through 46 PA), I tried to reflect upon my informal analysis of his acquisition in December.

At the time, I wondered why the Pirates would part with Keon Broxton, who had a solid year and seemed to be heading toward a fourth outfielder role with some good speed and base running skills. This is to say nothing of Trey Supak, a prep pitcher whom they had committed $1 million to in the draft — the same amount they gave Mitch Keller, who is currently running roughshod over the Sally league.

John and Tim’s article in December echoes this confusion, and it certainly seemed like Rogers was a player that the Pirates would not have put such a high price on in recent years.

We obviously aren’t privy to the Pirates’ scouting notes on Rogers, so with his torrid start at Indianapolis and call-up for the Arizona series, I took a look at his performance last year to gain some insight into how the Pirates might deploy him in 2016, and perhaps beyond.

(It’s worth noting that all of the following analysis comes with the usual caveats about small sample size. Paraphrasing Joe Sheehan here: the farther you get from home plate, the bigger samples you need, so I tried to keep my thoughts limited to what Rogers seems to be doing in the batter’s box.)

Rogers was used as a late-game substitute quite a bit in 2015, but he got more than 60% of his 169 PA as a starter, almost exclusively at first base in a limited time-sharing agreement with Adam Lind. This would seem to indicate that the Brewers thought of him as a match-up guy against lefties, but he actually had a reverse platoon split (108 wRC+ vs. LHPs, 133 wRC+ vs. RHPs), and his minor league numbers are a little too random to really indicate a huge difference in either direction.

Rogers’ foremost skills at the plate seems to be his ability to control the strike zone and, to a lesser extent, make contact. He posted solid walk rates throughout the minors with a decent strikeout rate as well.

That plate patience has carried over into Rogers’ short major league career as well. His swing rates and swing-and-miss rates compare favorably to the NL average for non-pitchers last season:

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 11.50.22 AM

In terms of the quality of his contact last season, there are somewhat mixed messages. Consider the following table:

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 11.48.53 AM

Rogers hit the ball harder than the average NL non-pitcher in 2015, which is a good sign, but he had an above-average share of ground balls (which most often become outs), and thus a lower share of line drives and fly balls. Though to be fair, this is what you might expect from someone getting his first real experience at the major league level.

For what it’s worth, Rogers did manage to hit the ball hard last night (106 mph in his first PA), but Jean Segura made a great play to get an out and save a run. He also drew a walk before being removed as part of a double-switch in the 6th inning.

Defensively, Rogers has spent the majority of his time at first base, but the Pirates had him play some third base with Indianapolis. This fits with the organizational value of positional versatility, but there is cause for doubt that a player of his frame would be able to excel defensively at third base on a daily basis.

He posted middling defensive numbers last year in a limited sample of innings, with a -1 DRS and 0.9 UZR (5.1 UZR/150) at first base. Since the Pirates’ defensive strategy seems to rely on positioning more so than range (though it certainly involves both), the opportunity cost on defense could easily be outweighed by the value he can provide at the plate.

Given how John Jaso and David Freese have played so far, it’s not surprising that Rogers didn’t get an opportunity until the Pirates faced a lefty starter. While he’s on the roster, Rogers should get opportunities later in games to pinch hit or get appearances at first or third when they need a bench bat against left-handed pitchers in particular. Otherwise, I think it will take an injury to Jaso, Freese, and/or Kang for him to see significant playing time.

I would expect to see Rogers get optioned to Indianapolis in the coming days when Jung-Ho Kang emerges from his rehab assignment. That said, Huntington’s point about depth from our original transaction analysis is well taken, and Rogers certainly fits with the offensive approach the Pirates have been executing so far this season.

As we know, depth can be useful to give opponents different looks during actual games, but it also gives the front office a position to work from when addressing unexpected needs during the season. Whether due to injury, trade, or other circumstance, it seems reasonable that Rogers could see a more extended opportunity with the Pirates at some point in 2016.

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