Starting Pitchers That Need An Opener (Part One)


Givanni Damico | June 17th, 2019

Some pitchers are absolutely dominant to begin a game. Many even carry it into the middle and later innings. Unfortunately, there are those guys who just can’t get through the opposing batting order more than two times. Today, we will focus on these players who specifically can’t get through the order for the third time. You won’t see names like Edwin Jackson on here who is bad no matter how many times he has gone through the order.

For those who don’t know, the opener is a pitcher, usually a reliever, who starts the game and pitches an inning or two to allow for the starter to only have to face the lineup two times. Let’s get into it.


J.A. Happ, NYY

As a Yankees fan, J.A. Happ was the inspiration for this article. After a great campaign last year where he went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA, this year has just seemed off. Especially since he shined even brighter when he joined the Yankees, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in his 11 starts with the Yankees in 2018. This year, he is 6-3 with an uncharacteristically high 4.66 ERA. Since I watch every single game, I know that Happ isn’t pitching as poorly as his ERA reflects, so I had to look into this.

In the first time through an opposing lineup in 2019, Happ has pitched to a 4.40 ERA. This is not ideal, but it is also not anything that is extremely alarming. He has figured teams out the second time around, where his ERA is just 1.72. He has given up six runs this year when facing a lineup for the second time, every single run coming via a home run (four solo shots and a two-run shot). He has made a few mistakes but that’s it.


When it comes to the third time around, he is scary bad. His ERA is second-highest in the league at 12.15 behind only David Hess of the Baltimore Orioles. He has given up 18 earned runs in 13.1 innings when facing the opposing lineup for the third time. He has surrendered five long balls and 18 hits while his HR/9 is at a career-high 2.0 right now. He is surrendering hard-hit balls 50.0% of the time the third time through.

This will definitely contribute to an increase in hits which leads to more earned runs. Last season, his ERA when facing the opponents for the third time was 6.47. This is still bad, but nowhere near as terrible as this season. The Yankees have experimented with Chad Green as the opener, but that has exclusively happened when they go to Nestor Cortes Jr. or someone else in long relief. They haven’t used him to open for one of their rotation pieces. It’s time, Aaron Boone.

If the Yankees want success when Happ takes the mound, they have to get someone out there for the first inning or two.

Kyle Gibson, MIN

Gibson had a solid season last year, finishing 10-13 with a 3.62 ERA and 8.2 K/9. This season, the Twins have experienced more success than they did last season, especially in the first half. With a team that is surging offensively as much as they are, the Twins need their pitchers to back up their hitting.


For the most part, they have. Kyle Gibson is 7-3 with a 3.70 ERA this year, which is, once again, solid. But the Twins need more than solid right now. People still doubt that they can make a deep postseason run because of their pitching, so they need the rotation to be good from top to bottom.

Unlike J.A. Happ, when Gibson faces the opposing lineup for the first time, he is dominant. He has pitched to a 1.52 ERA while opponents hit just .189. He has allowed just five earned runs and 20 hits in 29.1 innings facing the lineup for the first time. When he goes through for the second time, he is still very good. Hitters figure him out a bit more, as his ERA jumps to 3.10 and the opponent batting average jumps to .250. A 3.10 ERA has won pitchers the Cy Young award before, so this jump is not at all alarming.

What is alarming is when he faces batters for the third time. His ERA takes a massive jump to 8.64. He has allowed 16 earned runs in 16.2 innings pitched and opponents are hitting .324 against him. He also starts to allow the long ball more often, allowing 5 in 16.2 innings. This is a 2.7 HR/9 rate which is not good at all. His HH% against him (Hard Hit percentage) is almost identical to what his overall HH% is at 37.9%, which is just too high as is.

Having an opener would greatly benefit Gibson’s success and I believe that Ryne Harper is the perfect guy for the job. The 30-year old rookie doesn’t give free passes very often, allowing just 1.9 BB/9. He throws strikes and has pitched to a 1.93 ERA thus far. Rocco Baldelli has managed this team almost flawlessly thus far, so hopefully, he realizes that Gibson just isn’t fit to face the opponent three times.

Julio Teheran, ATL

Oh boy, this is a slippery slope with how bad the Braves’ bullpen is. Julio Teheran is already having one of the best seasons of his career so far, so it may seem odd to say that he “needs” an opener, but allow me to explain.

Like Gibson, Teheran is dominant when facing the opposing lineup for the first time through. He has pitched to a 1.57 ERA, while opponents hit just .186 against him. He has given up 22 hits in 34.1 innings while his WHIP is right at 1.00 due to the 12 walks he has allowed. He doesn’t ease off of the gas too much when going through the lineup for the second time. In fact, the opponent batting average stays around the same, only moving up nine points to .195. His continual problem is the walks. He has walked 19 batters in 31 innings which equates to 5.5 BB/9. Other than walks, he has still been almost unhittable through the second time.

I’m not quite sure what it is with Teheran when he goes through three times. His ERA jumps to an even 6.00, but the opponent batting average is still just .217. His BB/9 actually goes down to 4.5 BB/9 the third time through. Obviously, the batting average jumped up by a decent margin, but .217 is a great OBA for a pitcher, especially when it’s the third time through. His HH% against him actually goes down five percent from what it normally is, so this lack of success seems to mainly come from the free pass.

This ERA isn’t the worst, considering the circumstances, but if someone opened for him, he could have even better numbers and the Braves could have a few more tallies in the win column. I’m not even sure who could open for the Braves, considering their bullpen is already in shambles, but my pick would be Luke Jackson. He’s not fit for the closer role, as he has blown six saves in 16 attempts, but his ERA is a very strong 3.09. He strikes out 12.6 batters per nine and could be very valuable in this role.

Trevor Richards, MIA

I’ve been meaning to do a deep dive into Trevor Richards, but I thought this would suit him better. Richards has a similar situation to J.A. Happ where he is decent the first time through a lineup, then dominated the second time, then absolutely brutal the third. When he goes through an opposing lineup for the first time, Richards pitches to a 3.03 ERA and an OBA of .245. This is better than decent. As I said earlier, pitchers have won the Cy Young Award with an ERA like this. The OBA is a tad higher than I would like to see, but he has been able to keep the runs allowed under control. He has surrendered five long balls, but for the most part, he’s gotten the job done. When he goes through the lineup for the second time, he is nearly flawless. He has allowed six earned runs in 33.1 innings pitched, including just one long ball, while also striking out 33 batters. Opponents only hit .158 when they face Richards for the second time. This is the kind of potential that Richards has. He can pitch like this more consistently, but the Marlins need to work with him more. He is a key piece of their future in the rotation. Putting aside the praise, Richards has been atrocious when going through a lineup for the third time. In 15.1 innings pitched, he has allowed 16 earned runs which equates to a 9.39 ERA. Opponents figure him out and hit .328 against him with a whopping 1.046 OPS. He has allowed four home runs, seven doubles, a triple, and nine singles. His issue is that he loses command. His pitches aren’t doing what he intends them to do. The opponent’s HH% jumps up to 50.0% when he faces the order for the third time because of this loss of command. Richards won’t be a guy that needs an opener for an extended period of time, maybe just the remainder of this season, but it could greatly benefit him. The obvious choice for the Marlins’ opener would be Sergio Romo who opened a few games for the Rays last year, but he is just moving deeper and deeper into regression. He has also been serving as the Marlins’ closer for much of this season. If they’re not planning on using him in the rotation, Elieser Hernandez would be perfect for this role. He had a sub-2.00 ERA in the minor leagues this year, but unfortunately, his first start didn’t go well. This move could help develop both Richards and Hernandez.

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