The Opener Strategy
join Liam or die, Dept.


One time David Letterman had a Top 10 list of Reasons To Acquit O.J. ... like Johnny Cochrane's silly "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," all of Letterman's reasons ryhmed.  One of them was something like "If you look at Fuhrman, it'll / make you vote for an acquit'tl."

Heh.  In baseball, each year there's a major new strategy taking root -- shifting, or launch angle, or whatever.  This year, it's the "opener."  Madison Bumgarner was asked about the opener and responded something like "Try to give somebody else my first / right out of the park we'll be disbursed."  Way to put team first, Mad Bum.  Glad Kyle Seager didn't moonwalk off the field the first time he was asked to move over to RF.


BaseballHQ opens its discussions of "Openers" by asking you to compare pitchers A and B, one with an ERA of 2.71 and all the peripherals and another with an ERA of 5.80 and asking the incisive question, "Which would you rather have?"  Thath high-quality writin', son.  But HQ rallied from its inane question with "A has #2 SP skills and B will be lucky not to be sent to the minors."

A and B were the same pitcher, of course, column A the stats from his first 2 times through the lineup and column B his third time through.  (Jake Odorizzi.)  They go on to offer tons of evidence that industrywide, the third trip is a toughie.  ... Well, Dr. D was used to Craig Wright's Rule of 28 but it hadn't really occurred to extend this to a Rule of 19.

Admittedly, it had occurred to Tony Larussa, who tried to get buy-in for a 3-3-3 innings system once but couldn't make the battle work against the resistance of the sportswriters and pitchers.  Whatever is new is bad, or that's the way it was 10 years ago.  Nowadays "old is good" has lost a lot of its audience.


In the ideal world, an "Opener" who pitches just the first inning will give your starter (or, "Bulk Pitcher") the platoon advantage.  If the opposing manager stacks lefties against a scheduled "starter" of Hunter Strickland, then when you bring in Yusei Kikuchi he's in some pretty deep-n-yuck.

But as HQ also points out, you don't need a single hitter's worth of platoon advantage to make the Opener work.  Last year on May 19, the Rays started their best* pitcher at the time, closer Sergio Romo, against the LA Angels.  The first IP is obviously the highest-scoring anyway, it being the only one with the lineup set the way you want it.  But especially against the Angels, the 1-2-3 hitters are RHB's Cozart, Trout, and Upton.  

As a group that is a monstrous Big Three (admittedly, Trout, Dr. D and SABRMatt would be a monstrous Big Three).  But Romo has a K% of nearly 30% against RHB and he mowed them down -- 

-- Leaving "Bulk Pitcher" Ryan Yarborough with a zero on the scoreboard for the 2nd inning and a far easier 2.5 times through the lineup to navigate.


I can't find the specific website right now -- here is one similar -- but using an "Opener" the Rays' ERA went wayyyyy down and their W-L went wayyyyyy up.  Minnesota and Oakland also started using Openers, and Minny uses them up-and-down the minor league system.

If you're smart -- and having hit this bookmark you necessarily are -- you don't need another word to convince you of anything.  "Opening" will be the way things are done in 50 years, and when there is a Technological Imperative, the only question is whether you wanna be smart & early, or dumb & late.  There was a time when relief pitchers, at the other end of the 9 innings, were unpopular too.

If you used HAL-9000 to run pitching matchups, I'm sure we'd see something verrrrrry sophisticated every series.  But it wouldn't be a 5-man rotation the way we're used to it now.



Jonez put a guest article in the "Home" subdomain.  Look there for it or here's the direct link:



Dr D



be explored in coming years. It *seems* like such an obvious move to make given the premium being placed on relief pitching these days.

I'm afraid Bumgarner's attitude will be the norm, which in a way is good but in another is obviously sub-optimal. You *want* those guys chomping at the bit to get out there and dominate, but on the other hand you also want them to do what's best for the team even if it results in a little less glory for them personally.

Glad to see you back, Doc.


Are not the guys they're talking about when they talk about Openers.  I've read about a dozen places and *all* of them presume that the Chris Sales of the world transcend the idea.  I would think so, too.  :: wry smile ::

Good to 'see' ya Jonezie!  :- )


Running 3 "long" pitchers (starters) per game always seemed like a great idea to me.

Toss in a variation of using an opener and/or a closer in certin situations.

It seems pretty hard to see how it could not be a good thing. Sadly, it destroys all baseball starts for Starting pitchers. Granted you'd still see total innings and stuff but of course no more "starts". If a guy who is currently a "starter" realized all his other stats were going to look WAY better because he was only pitching 3 innings an outing. How could that be a bad thing for a guy?


That may be detrimental is in logistics.  It could be great if they're going 3 every other day so your bench is deeper.  3 pitchers one day, 3 the next, repeat.  Works out to 243 innings each if all games were 9 innings.  So it's probably necessary to have 9 of the 3 inning type.  That's 162 innings each with the same parameters, no extra innings.  It doesn't look like you're opening 1 bench spot.  Once you fill in 1 inning guys you may find you've just reduced your bench.

And you need 9 guys capable of 160 innings?


as giving their 3 best hitters another single time facing a tough matchup for them (if such exists) then it's great.  But it is also a sport that people watch for entertainment gained beyond the wins and losses.  As long as aces aren't being brought into the game in the 2nd I don't know how detrimental it will be beyond the numbers.

I do mourn complete games already, but it's not guys viewed with much potential to go the distance who are losing the possibility.

I don't really like using openers superficially but can't see a reason not to use it at times when the matchup difference is logical.

On Felix excelling in any role, he has to embrace the role.  If he doesn't buy in he's not going to succeed.  You can guess how much faith I have in him adjusting at this point. 


Here's an argument against having openers.

1. The SP doesn't always start the game with a clean slate.  While the opener idea sounds good on paper for a platoon advantage, I can imagine that if the opener were to labor, or give up a run, then it could be greatly detrimental to the psyche of the SP who is then tasked with cleaning up the game.  Imagine calling in the SP with bases loaded to get out of an inning he didn't pitch.  This seems like it could lead to resentment and infighting amongst pitchers.

2. The SP doesn't start the game when he expects to.  Every game that I have watched live has the SP in a protracted bullpen session before the game starts.  If there is an opener, the SP's bullpen work will be longer or shorter than expected, leading to a possible distraction.

3. The Mariners have had no qualms about doing weird reliever experiments, such as TBD or Johnny Allstaff Day.  Not even Servais or Tony Larussa his ownself has platooned the first inning for a competent SP. There has to be a reason this hasn't been done before.

4. Sports gambling will be seriously disrupted if teams regularly use relievers in the first inning.

5. Weird baseball experiments are a turnoff to the casual fan, especially those that result in a delay in the game.  Fans have been complaining about the over use of relief pitchers for years.    Commissioner Manfred usually rumbles about fixing such things. Relief pitchers in the first might put him over the top and compel him to actually do something.  This could lead to the end of the shift and other strategies beloved by the baseball illuminati.  Remember, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.   A serious baseball nerd is viewed by the general public as being on par with someone who might speak Klingon or enjoy a Quidditch match in his spare time.  While the opener might make good sense to him, it might alienate quite a few casual fans, whose money is just as important.

I'm a serious nerd.  I've read the Silmarillion twice.  I've been reading SSI for 14 years.  I think the opener sounds weird.  This should be alarming.

6. Teams that employ the opener will tell their best starting pitchers that they will have no chances to pitch a perfect game, a Complete Game Shutout, or a Maddux.  These are the highest pitching achievements.  If you mess with baseball's highest achievements, it may be disruptive to the point of curse inducing.  Imagine, the curse of Felix, where he pitched a perfect game, except for that double allowed by George Sherrill in the first.  "Los Marineros nunca mas tienes lanzadores supremo."  That sort of thing can mess up baseball mojo for decades. Also, pitchers are very competitive, and free agents may steer clear of a team that robs them of their favorite stats.  The usual SABR offenders, Tampa Bay and the Orcs don't worry about this sort of thing, because they can't afford free agents anyway.  The Mariners should worry as they have the money for an upper tier payroll. 

All I'm sayin' is there might be unforseen consequences of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest Orc defilement. 

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.