Yusei Kikuchi as Opener
win, loss or push?


Q.  In my day, they used to do something real simple.  It was called "skipping a turn."  Is using a guy for one inning better?

A.  The M's want to control Kikuchi's innings, and nominate the Opener strategy as their solution.  According to Dipoto, once every 5 Kikuchi starts they will use him for the first inning, and then bring in (probably) Erik Swanson or Justus Sheffield or somebody they can send back down after the game.

According to Servais, once every 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 Kikuchi starts they will use him for the first inning, and then bring in (probably) Erik Swanson or Justus Sheffield or somebody they can send back down after the game.

Two big advantages (over merely skipping a turn, the old-fashioned way):  (1) Keeping Kikuchi sharp.  (2) Using Kikuchi to mow down Trout and two other TOL hitters.

One big disadvantage:  It's a lot more work to go into the gym for a reduced workout, then to stay home and sleep in.


Q.  Are the 2019 M's going to benefit or lose out from Openers spreading through baseball?

A.  In the bottom half of a T-Mobile game, they should be better-than-average, because they have a balanced lineup and their #3 hitter could easily be one of their worst.  ... if Tampa or Oakland is blowing along full steam with Closers, what would you think of dropping Mitch Haniger to #4 or #5 in the lineup that day?  

In that event, the other guys might actually go backwards; they'd burn a closer on a low-leverage inning with (very possibly) three lesser hitters at the plate.


It's hard for me to think of a way to make "Openers" work for this pitching staff, which is 90% starting and 10% relieving.

(1) If you used a blue-chip hotshot to pitch the first, you'd be giving him an awfully Hard Landing.

(2) If you used Nick Rumbelow to Open, then Marco Gonzales would start the game with a lot of 4-0 deficits.

(3) If you used Hunter Strickland to Open, then not only is he less than overwhelming, but your late innings ... :: clutching hair, runs screaming into the night ::

You'd have to trade for somebody to open.  Or maybe once you got Erik Swanson up here, and got him acclimated (6-8 weeks), you could try then.  Boy, would I love to see Felix follow an Opener .... supposing he wasn't deep-sixed already, and supposing he didn't take it as even further insult.


Q.  WOULD Felix "accept" an Opener?

A.  Following Divish ... 

Ryan Divish wrote a couple of days ago that Felix may pout, but he's not a back-biter, not a pot-stirrer.  That you don't have to worry about him poisoning a clubhouse.  But he also pointed out that Dipoto and Servais were not here for Felix' glory days ...

Felix feels, writes Divish, that all those years of stardom have "earned" him royalty status, earned him a standing with the club that should transcend a few years of tryin' to figger things out now.  I guess I can kinda empathize.


Q.  DO Japanese pitchers need a break from MLB usage?

A.  The idea is that in Japan, there's 1 day off and 6-man rotations, ergo once-a-week starting; the more frequent starts are tough on their arms.

I'd always heard that they throw far more between starts and that their pitch counts, especially in high school and the minors, were much higher.

It would be interesting to go through and list the NPB pitching stars who have come over, and how many have "burned out" through American usage.  To even begin to answer that question, you'd need to know how likely it is that any two seasons of 200-IP usage was going to result in a year-3 decline and my guess is, "most of them."


But a list of NPB star SP's who have come over:  

  • Hideo Nomo
  • Hideki Irabu
  • Dice-K
  • Koji Uehara
  • Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Yu Darvish
  • Masahiro Tanaka

Shohei Ohtani* and Yusei Kikuchi now

Were Ishii and Kawakami major stars in Japan?


Anyway, taking that little list of 7 Cy Young candidates ... Nomo had 2 great years at 26-27 and then became an innings eater for about 7 more.  So yeah maybe.  Irabu was a washout anyway.  Dice-K had 2 big years at 26-27 and then flamed out, so yeah maybe.

Uehara came over at age 34 and was used as a reliever immediately,* lasting until his early 40's.  No specimen here.  Iwakuma came over at 31, was a minor star at ages 31-32-33 and then had a pretty tender shoulder after* that; ages 34-35-36 he was effective when healthy.  

Yu Darvish ripped off 7 big years (11 K / game) and finally was dinged up last year; he's expected to pitch well this year.  Tanaka came over at 25 and is at 5+ years of stardom and counting.

Main thing I notice is that 6 of 7 starters, I'd be glad to have going for me Opening Day :- )  

Nomo and Dice-K are the main guys I'd say you could use as examples of guys who burned out in America; Darvish and Tanaka, as counterexamples.  Iwakuma sits in the middle, as a guy who was limping along before he got here, and then nursed his way to several years of effectiveness.

So that's not a study, just a quick flyover -- my impression would be that those 7 pitchers were at least as durable as a random 7 pitchers of that quality born in America.


Q.  Leaving us where?  Does the Mainframe like the strategy of "skipping starts" by using Kikuchi as an Opener?

A.  IN A VACUUM it's an intelligent way to give yourself the best chance of 4-7 smooth, non-Paxtonesque years worth of top performance by Kikuchi.  They can "calibrate" the frequency of the skipped starts by how Kikuchi's feeling.  It's kind of cool, and I could /cosign.

If they were to get into a Wild Card chase, it would be awfully tough to stick to the plan.  Last year, with the WC hanging by a game or two, were you going to skip James Paxton starts in August?


NOT in a vacuum ...  If they use the slot to get Justin Dunn up here for soft landings -- and then back down again -- I love it.

Justus Sheffield I want in Felix' place, period, not limited to a monthly five innings.

Erik Swanson I was wanting in the bullpen, but if he's following Kikuchi that's a push.



Mojo, in the Liam Hendriks thread,

"The Mariners starting pitching is better than last year!  If the bullpen isn’t a bunch of pyros, a wild card hunt should ensue."

I'll buy that.  In ST, anyway, the rotation unquestionably looks improved once you spot me Sheffield for Felix.  The lineup looks fine given only an Edwin Encarnacion redux (and a smidge of faith in the Denizen swoon over Domingo Santana).  And how in the world do you not trade for a stabilizer arm down there?  Is it 'cause the cost of those RP's has become too Healyish and Narvaezish and offputtingish?


Dr D

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