Coming in to 2011, Esmil Rogers had his detractors among fans. It is hard to blame them, given the 6.13 ERA he put up in 2010. As I explained last offseason though, Rogers' rookie season wasn't really as bad as it appeared. He got hit hard in a couple select starts, but his strikeout, walk, home run, and ground ball rates were all in great shape - better than your league average in fact. The .385 BABIP he had allowed belied the quality stuff he possessed, indicating Rogers' issue was possibly related to tipping his pitches. So despite a 6.13 ERA, there was reason to be optimistic for 2011.
Rogers had used up three options from 2008-10, but due to minor league service time, he was awarded one more option year, which would prove important. When Aaron Cook started the season on the disabled list, Rogers took over the fifth starter role. His quest to prove his worth started phenomenally. In his first start of the season, the tiny Dominican kept a consistent pace to dominate the Pirates, striking out seven, walking one and allowing one run in 7.1 IP. Perhaps the 2010 demons were fixed.
It didn't last long. Rogers walked four and served up three runs against the Mets in his next start. In his first home start, the Giants clobbered him for eight runs including three long balls, exactly the type of implosion that sabotaged him 2010 season. Rogers was sent to the minors until late July two starts later.
The battering at the hands of the Giants was a theme. His worst start came September 23, when the Giants launched four home runs and notched nine runs against him. It wasn't just the Giants. Every team that saw Rogers more than once teed off on him (see table to right). I certainly cannot say for sure that Rogers continued to tip his pitches, but if he did, this is the exact evidence we would expect to see if he was.
Aside from the physical fix, Rogers seems to be in need of a mental fix. Momentum carries with him more than even an average rookie. When he controls the pace and things go well, he has the confidence to dominate. When things go poorly, he melts down in a hurry. The pitch tipping isn't likely fully to blame.
When everything is added up into his 2011 season, it becomes a quiet trainwreck. His strike out rate went down. His walk rate went up. His home run rate increased by 250%. His ground ball rate plummeted. His ERA increased. Absolutely nothing went right for Rogers after that first start, and he ended up being below replacement level by any WAR you choose.
For an emergency starter, Rogers' performance last season was barely passable. But Rogers wasn't your basic emergency starter. He was a former top five system prospect fans hoped would grab hold of a rotation spot long term. With that in mind, Esmil failed miserably. He allowed four or more runs in 7 of his 13 starts, and again in two relief appearances. By any measure, Rogers was a punching bag deserving of nothing more than an F.
Last offseason, I advocated the Rockies' trade Esmil Rogers and Eric Young Jr. for one year of Josh Willingham. It was a gamble with Rogers' years of team control and talent. Oakland snared him weeks later for a competitive package of Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown. A year later, that Rogers/Young package would have been a steal.
Going in to 2012, Rogers is a favorite to land a guaranteed roster spot, even without merit. He has been optioned to the minors four consecutive years and can be claimed off waivers if the Rockies try to send him back to AAA. After two straight poor seasons, the Rockies are most likely to hide him in the bullpen, where he will have very little chance to reassert his value to the organization. He will likely follow the same route as a very similar Rockies pitcher last season:
Rogers has already pitched more innings in a Rockies uniform than Franklin Morales did. Morales was a much more ballyhooed prospect and had more MLB success than Rogers has had, and Morales was unceremoniously sold to the Red Sox for a stack of benjamins. With the stable of young pitching Dan O'Dowd has collected, it is hard to envision a scenario where Rogers avoids the same fate as Franklin Morales.