Monday, September 3, 2018

Opening the opener

Well, that didn't go well.

Opening pitcher Gabriel Moya gave up a two-run homer in the first. I like Moya, and I expect him to be a quality relief pitcher, but he has now surrendered five homers in a bit more than 25 major league innings this year, and that's too high a rate. (He's not alone in this in the Minnesota bullpen.)

Primary pitcher Zack Littell didn't fare much better at the end of his stint. The key theory behind the "opener" tactic is that the nominal starter will begin his third trip through the batting order somewhere in the second, weaker, half of the lineup. On Sunday he entered to begin the second inning against the No. 6 hitter, and in four innings allowed one unearned run. His fifth inning began with that feared third trip through the order, and he gave up a double and a homer. And that was all for him.

And then Tyler Duffey was completely ineffective, and Matt Belisle got ejected, and the whole contest got out of hand.

The opener isn't a cure for bad pitching, and the Twins had too much of that on Sunday. The tactic is -- as is true of baseball tactics -- an attempt to achieve a marginal advantage. One game, one example, doesn't truly determine anything.

One thing I heard Dick Bremer say during the telecast that I wish to dispute: He said that Tampa Bay has used slider specialist Sergio Romo a lot as the opener. The Rays did use Romo five times in that role at the beginning of the experiment, but he hasn't opened since May 27.

What happened? Two things:

  • The Rays traded then-closer Alex Colome to Seattle and shifted Romo back to the late innings;
  • The Rays used Romo to open against two specific clubs (Angels and Orioles) that had no left-handed hitters at the top of their lineups.
The most-often used opener for Tampa Bay has been Ryne Stanek, with 22 "starts" in 46 appearances.

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