Late Friday night, as I listened to Vin Scully call a rather exciting (but somewhat slow paced) extra inning game, the Diamondbacks put Brad Bergesen in the game. Bergesen went on to throw 93 MPH fastballs over and over again versus the Dodgers and was having a lot of success.
When the Diamondbacks claimed Bergesen off waivers from the Orioles after being designated for assignment, most of the world yawned (I included, I remember sitting in a movie theater reading about it). After a really solid rookie showing, Bergesen threw 394.1 innings for the Orioles and posted just a 2.2 bWAR with a 92 ERA +, and striking out just 12.1 % of batters. The Diamondbacks decided to use him in the bullpen, and so far it is working quite beautifully. So far this year in Arizona, he is striking out 17.5% of batters, still not a high number, but he is only walking 4.8% of batters and has seen a slight decrease in his career home run rate. It is a small sample size (17.1 innings), but he has a 3.79 FIP and 3.82 xFIP. His velocity has seen an uptick, averaging 91.1 MPH on his fastballs, nearly two miles per an hour faster than it was when he first came up (and slightly up from the last two years). He has also seen an uptick in velocity and effectiveness of the slider, a pitch he is now using almost 40% of the time now. Due to below average velocity on his fastball, a hard slider (averaging just south of 85 MPH) can be an extremely effective pitch for Bergesen. It is a pitch that has always been a ground-ball pitch for him (getting him about 2.5 grounders for every fly-ball), and is now getting him even more whiffs (over a quarter of the times hitters swing).
Bergesen isn’t the only mediocre to bad starting pitcher showing promise as a reliever for another team:
Esmil Rogers is now throwing 95-96 MPH with a little bit of movement and tail for the Cleveland Indians. He actually began the year averaging 96 MPH on his fastball with the Colorado Rockies. Used as a reliever by the Rockies, Rogers had a solid strikeout rate (22.1%) but walked too many batters and had serious problems with the home run ball. He was a slightly worse than average reliever according to FIP -. The Rockies then straight up sold him to the Indians after 25.2 2012 innings. In previous seasons, the Rockies used him as a starter 22 times and it was a disaster, as he gave up an OPS of .884 and had a K/BB ratio of just 1.60. Of course, Coors Field is known for being a disastrous place to pitch, and Rogers showed some awful splits there. In 77.1 innings at Coors, he had an ERA of 8.15 and WHIP of 1.901 despite a 8.7 K/9IP and 2.34 K/BB. The Indians must have seen this, and knowing that he wouldn’t have to pitch at Coors, picked him up. Since joining the team, Rogers has thrown 40.2 innings, is striking out more 26.7% of batters and walking just 4.9%. His FIP – with the Indians is 82, which is as good as Ryan Cook (an All-Star) and better than Boone Logan and Alexi Ogando.
The big question is: why is Esmil Rogers walking so few guys? He has always been a guy who has struggled with walks, but hasn’t been walking hardly anyone since joining the Indians. There are a few different ways one could answer this. Perhaps this is just small sample size, 40 innings is too few statistically to decide who a pitcher is. The walks could come back and the value could come back down. Perhaps the move away from hitter friendly Coors Field has given him the confidence to throw strikes. Without being in Rogers’ brain, there is no way to know whether this is correct. There could have been a mechanical tweak that the Indians coaching staff used to get Rogers to throw strikes. Right now, we don’t know. As the sample sizes grow, we will see whether or not Bergesen and Rogers are for real.