Carleton: The surprising evolution of the starter

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on July 24, 2018:

We now live in the world of “The Opener.” When Sergio Romo took the mound in the first inning of a May game between his Rays and the Angels, it started a very small revolution. It’s not that the game was suddenly over-run with Openers, but despite the fact that it was weird, it made sense. And someone else had done it. So why shouldn’t our team do it if the same set of circumstances arose?

I have to admit, the Opener had been discussed for several years prior to its actual use, and at first I wasn’t much of a fan.


The point of the strategy wasn’t what Romo did in the first inning. It’s what Yarbrough was able to do in the seventh inning, which was to stay in the game, as he began his third time through the order facing Albert Pujols. Had he needed to go through Mike Trout, his manager Kevin Cash might not have been so comfortable.

My concern about the Opener came from a slightly different place, and in examining it I realized it came from an assumption about how the modern pitching staff worked, or more to the point, how the modern bullpen should work. It’s widely assumed—to the point that people, myself included, don’t realize the assumption any more—that relievers should be viewed as tactical assets. Teams need to fill (at least) nine innings per game and do so six times per week. And so, the model has been to start with a pitcher whose task is to deliver bulk innings, and then in the sixth or seventh inning, as the game has begun to reveal itself, to begin matching the reliever to the situation, usually over a short outing. The majority of relief outings over the past few years have lasted exactly three outs.

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Originally published: July 24, 2018. Last Updated: July 24, 2018.