It’s easy to get nostalgic during the Minnesota Twins’ annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The memories of yesteryear come rushing back faster than Willians Astudillo chugging his way around third base.
This year was no different, as the team honored the great Justin Morneau with grand festivities and a touching video tribute. Seeing the incredible highlights with Morneau right in the center makes you wonder how things could have been even better, but it also reminds us to appreciate great players while they’re still donning the Twins logo on their caps.
Not only that but watching scenes from his great Twins’ teams of the 2000s brought up an interesting quandary.
Are there any current Twins who could one day warrant induction into the team’s Hall of Fame?
Players such as Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, and Nelson Cruz have shown flashes of greatness, but their sample size is just too small at the moment to say they deserve the honor. Miguel Sanó finds himself climbing the franchise leaderboard for home runs and slugging percentage, but his downfalls drag his case down too far to be seriously considered.
One name stands out as somebody who could be in the mix if the next few seasons continue on their current trajectory: Taylor Rogers.
It may be hard for fans to think of Rogers as one of the all-time great Twins, but his performance since taking over as the team’s “relief ace” has been pretty spectacular. His numbers at this stage of his career match and even outperform some of the relievers who have been inducted in previous years.
What he brings to the table
Rogers has been dominant in a few key areas over the past few seasons, and while his future is uncertain given his absence over the last two months, it’s not a stretch to say he’s in the upper echelon of current relievers. Among qualified relief pitchers since 2019, Rogers ranks fifth in fWAR, third in FIP, and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. So how does he do it?
First, he has shown that he is elite against opposing left-handed hitters. Sure, lefty-on-lefty crime is at an all-time high right now, but his numbers stand out above the rest.
Since 2019, Rogers has struck out 42% of the left-handed hitters that he’s faced. The only player with a higher rate is Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, a three-time All-Star and certified bad man. Rogers can get to this point by getting two strikes early in at-bats. He has gotten at least two strikes in the first three pitches in a whopping 80% of his at-bats against left-handed hitters.
When lefties get ahold of one of Rogers’s pitches, they tend to do very little damage, as evidenced by their collective .061 well-hit average against him (also good for second-best among qualified relievers).
He’s also shown a tendency to get his opponents to chase his nasty slider, leading to many strikeouts against righties, as well. Over the last three seasons, Rogers has thrown that pitch for a strike 70% of the time. It’s his bread and butter. It gets lefties to chase a pitch that starts at their knees and finishes in the opposite batter’s box. It gets righties to start their swing when it looks like a low fastball, and then it breaks toward their shoelaces.
So just like Joe Nathan was able to mow down the competition with his slider from the right side, Rogers has been able to continue that legacy for Twins’ relief aces.
How he compares
Speaking of, Rogers has a few numbers working in his favor if we use Nathan’s Twins career as a barometer for making the team’s Hall of Fame.
So far, Rogers has pitched for the Twins in his age 25-30 seasons. In that time, he has a 3.15 ERA with a stellar 1.15 WHIP and a 10.33 K/9. In Nathan’s age 25-30 seasons, he had a 3.22 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and 9.3 K/9.
Those numbers are pretty comparable and even give a slight edge to Rogers. Of course, Nathan pitched effectively through his age 39 season and had some of his best seasons in that span. He made four All-Star teams in his age 31-39 seasons and had an ERA under 3.00 in five of those years. Case in point, Rogers has a long way to go before earning what Nathan did in his career.
But who’s to say that he can’t do that in the second half of his career? It may not be likely, but his numbers thus far show an accurate comparison to a beloved member of the team’s Hall of Fame.
Even if Rogers’ career ended today, he would be 15th in franchise history in terms of Win Probability Added, just behind Eddie Guardado (another Twins Hall of Fame inductee). He’d be fifth in career WHIP (1.15) among all Twins pitchers, and he’d be first in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.75). If he keeps up this pace for a few more seasons, it wouldn’t be a shocker to find his name all over the franchise leaderboards for pitchers.
Sure, it’s a big if. Given that he’s been out of commission since the trade deadline with a strained muscle in his finger, there are no promises that Rogers will pick up right where he left off. But if his statistics have taught us anything, paired with the nostalgia effect from Morneau’s highlight video at his induction ceremony, it’s the fact that sometimes we don’t know how good somebody is until we look back at their career retrospectively.