Ring: There’s a downside to the Opener

From Sheryl Ring at FanGraphs on December 19, 2018:

The 2018 season brought with it a number of unexpected developments. The Braves won their division! The Athletics were good! Max Muncy hit 35 home runs! But those sorts of developments are why we watch baseball: the unexpected and the fun. There was another development in the 2018 season, though: the return of the opener, a baseball strategy that isn’t novel, but had mostly fallen out of fashion. It started with Tampa Bay and Sergio Romo, then spread through the rest of the league. Even teams like the Dodgers, who always seem to have more competent starting pitchers than available rotation spots, employed the strategy. The Athletics even used an opener for their playoff game against the Yankees, though there it was borne more from necessity.

The baseball logic for the opener is pretty straightforward. We know that pitchers, especially starting pitchers, face a times-through-the-order penalty. In general, the more times a hitter faces the same pitcher in a game, the worse the results will be for the pitcher and the better the results will be for the hitter. This makes intuitive sense. Pitchers get tired; batters adjust. Pitchers make more mistakes when they get tired, and hitters gather more data the more they see of a pitcher’s repertoire. An opener can help mitigate that. Having a reliever, especially one with a handedness advantage, face the top of the order in the first inning means that the pitcher who comes in afterwards won’t face that third-time-through-the-order penalty – at least, in theory. A pitcher who begins his night by facing the middle of a team’s order instead of the top can go five innings and face the top of the order only once – again, in theory.

Read the full article here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/theres-a-downside-to-the-opener/

Originally published: December 21, 2018. Last Updated: December 21, 2018.