Giles: Looking at Jason Rogers’ Role With the Pirates

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.

  • I’m not sure that I prefer Freese to Rogers, not that Freese has played badly he has played well. But Freese is near the end of his career and Rogers has several more years to give. Why not develop him now. They bat should play up compared to Freese and you may not lose too much in the field.

  • sean rodriguez now leads the team with 3 homeruns……wtf

    • Fans will be HATING!! Maybe Mercer and him had the same batting coach this offseason! Keep it up boys!

  • Rogers has a definite skill – he can hit the damn ball and get on base. Bucs get his peak years at pre-arb price. Supak is a lottery ticket. Broxton maxes out at 4th OF when there will always be Matt Joyce types — professional hitters — available cheap each spring for that role. (Not to mention the prospects coming down the pipeline.) Even if he’s up and down on the short end of a 1B platoon or pure bat bench Rogers should have his value.

    • Kathleen Clements
      April 24, 2016 12:54 am

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    • Well said!

    • Jason Rogers is a tank! Offensive guard playing 1ST Base! Your assessment is good. Broxton was the extra man in this deal, not Supak!!

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  • The only problem with sending Figueroa down is that SRod is our backing SS. And starting tonight. That makes me a little nervous lol.

    • He just hit a homerun, so he can now make an error to offset this and we are still at least even most likely…….miracles do happen

  • BallHeadWonder
    April 23, 2016 6:11 pm

    From what I am picking up, NH is just loading this farm with tons of talent!! Trying to fill all the holes and having trade bait when a move is needed!! Pirate fans have been hammering this guy to produce!! And he has everytime!! You can’t hit on every move!! But 7 or 8 out of 10 ain’t bad!!! We got to give this guy a break!! #LetEmWork

  • Which brings us to the conclusion why Pay so much for a player who’s future is limited?

    • I like Jason, and Supak may never amount to anything, but I completely agree. Too high a price.

      • That’s what happens when you trade with A DIVISIONAL OPPONENT!! YOU OVERPAY!

    • At the time, we had absolutely 0 good options to stand at 3B and pretend to be a ML hitter.

      Overpay, but an overpay from spots of depth at least. Personally, i think people really overrated Broxton. I really dont mind throwing him into that trade at all.

      Supak was a bit much to give up, but it was a glaring need and he’s not so elite that i went “ah crap, how will we replace him”. Would have been much more mad if we waited and hoped we figured out 3B.

      • Agree on Broxton. At best he is a AAAA outfielder – probably not even that. It didn’t take the Brewers long to send him back down – even with their weak OF. Also agree that Supak was a bit much to give up, but there was a need. It’s too bad Freese wasnt available in the winter.

        • Technically he was available, but the rumors were that he was asking for an amount/number of years that no one gave him. He tried to wait out the market, and obviously ended up taking what he got on a 1 year deal.

          I actually was happy we decided to move Supak over a guy like Keller.