After being drafted in the 10th round of 2013 draft by the San Francisco Giants, Tyler Rogers spent five years in the minors before being called up on August 27th, 2019. Five years in the minor leagues before making it to the show is pretty standard in the baseball world. However, while it might be the norm, it is not the ideal path, especially with how the collective bargaining agreement is set up (or was set up before recently expiring).
The Old Arbitration Rules
Under the old guidelines, a running service clock would begin as soon as a player made their MLB debut. The first two years of a player’s major league career were under control by the team. After that, the team can decide contract parameters, and the player does not have a say to make any negotiations. Once those years are up, the player can enter the arbitration process for three years.
The Sparknotes version of arbitration is basically that for three years (assuming the player and the team cannot come to an agreement), the player and the team sit down and pitch to the other why they think the player is worth what he is asking. The two sides then have to agree to terms before each of those three seasons. If that does not happen, the player then becomes a free agent. Now, where does Tyler Rogers come into this?
Rogers by the Numbers
To be clear, I am not saying that the Giants manipulated Rogers in order to mess with his service time; this is just the way his timetable is up. Because of his debut date, Rogers is under team control through the 2022 season. After that, he becomes eligible for arbitration, which lasts for three years. Negotiating a contract for a relief pitcher in his age 32-34 seasons is challenging, especially for one who led the NL in appearances in 2020 and 2021. Rogers can say that he has been a top-10 reliever in consecutive seasons. On the contrary, the Giants could argue that his age is a huge factor in not offering him another contract.
Rogers is one of the few pitchers who throws from a submarine arm slot, specifically a 5:45 arm slot. This leaves his arm just a few inches from being perpendicular to the ground. This low arm slot gives his pitches an average release height of 1.2 feet off the ground. For reference, the MLB average for release height is about 6.1 feet. Rogers throws his fastball at an average of 82.4 MPH, which, according to Baseball Savant, puts him 194th in MLB for average fastball velocity. He throws his slider at 71.4 MPH (ranked 159th in MLB) and his sinker at 82.9 MPH (148th).
With a submarine pitching motion, the ball’s movement is affected in ways that most hitters are not accustomed to seeing. It is important to preface that Rogers was not one of the pitchers affected by last season’s foreign substance crackdown. From 2020 to 2021, Rogers’ fastball saw an 80-RPM decrease, his sinker a 90-RPM decrease, and his slider a 20-RPM decrease. Those are relatively standard changes in RPM that can change for various reasons unrelated to the use of foreign substances.
The pitch that really took Rogers to the next level this year was his slider and the adjustments from last year helped to solidify this. In 2019, Rogers’ slider had 43 inches of drop with gravity as well as 11.8 inches of horizontal movement. In two years, Rogers worked on minimizing drop and adding horizontal break to make it more of a sweeping slider. This adjustment resulted in a slider with 40.1 inches of drop and 13.1 inches of break. That change, along with increased usage, gave his slider a run value that went from -5 in 2019 to -13 in 2021.
The New CBA Proposal
As shown above, Rogers is a unique talent that has been one of the best relievers in the National League and even all of baseball. Before the work stoppage, the owners proposed an idea that included players becoming free agents at 29.5 years of age and all arbitration-eligible players splitting from a pool of $1 billion. The problem with this is that players that enter the league before the age of 23.5 would be under team control longer than they are currently. A good counter for this is having players become free agents either at 29.5 or after the six years of service, like in the current system. Guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kris Bryant are two examples.
Something must be done to force owners’ hands to play their young stars instead of holding them back longer to manipulate service time. I, for one, want to see some sort of compromise because Tyler Rogers becoming a free agent for the first time in his career at age 35 just doesn’t sit right with me.