State of Baseball: The Opener

Givanni Damico | August 10th, 2019

The Opener

In the last two years, a few teams in Major League Baseball have been experimenting with what is now termed “the opener”. The opener is a high-leverage reliever that a team uses to start the game. He will usually throw one or two innings at the max. The goal of the opener is to get through the top half of the lineup so that the starter who takes over, later on, will not have to face the top of the opposing batting order more than twice in a game. The Tampa Bay Rays were the first team to experiment with the opener using relievers, Ryne Stanek and Sergio Romo (now of the Minnesota Twins).

Ryne Stanek has started 56 games since the beginning of 2018. When he starts a game, his career stats are much better than when he enters the game as a reliever. Stanek has a good pitch mix that includes a high-velocity fastball and a nasty splitter. Over the 56 games that he’s started, Stanek is 0-3 (impossible to get any wins unless he goes five innings) with a 2.71 ERA and 11.1 K/9. He also walks 3.4 batters per nine in games that he starts. Combined with his 6.2 H/9, Stanek has recorded a WHIP of 1.06 in games that he’s started. In games that he’s entered as a reliever, Stanek is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA and strikes out 9.2 batters per nine. He walks 3.6 batters per nine as well and gives up 7.4 H/9 with a WHIP of 1.23

Not only does this show that Stanek is a better pitcher when he starts the game, but it shows that hitters have more trouble with him to begin a game compared to when they’ve already seen a lot of pitching throughout the game. Opposing hitters’ wOBA when Stanek is a starter is just .271 (in Stanek’s career). When he enters the game as a reliever, that number jumps up to .328. Stanek’s strikeout percentage is also eight percent higher when he starts games.

I used Stanek for all of my examples because he has the biggest sample size. If properly utilized, the opener could be a huge advantage. Let me be clear that the opener should only be used to start ahead of pitchers who struggle to go through a lineup three times. I did a separate article on pitchers who need an opener and explained why they need it. Baseball is evolving. Some people love the idea of the opener and others hate it. The truth is, it’s been effective so far. There’s no rule against it and it is just another strategy that is being thrown into our game. If you start telling me the mound should be moved back, then I’ll have an issue. But the opener? I love the idea!

The opener could affect fantasy baseball in a positive way too. People tend to avoid stacking too many relievers on their team because there’s no guarantee that they will play. Well with the opener, you will know ahead of time when your reliever is scheduled to pitch if he is an opener. Plus he’ll come in for late relief as well which increases said pitcher’s value. I did an article on a few openers that are worth picking up right now as well.

Check out our other State of Baseball articles: Prospect Hoarding | 50 Shades of Bland | The Trade Deadline | Free Agency

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