The Use of The “Opener” in MLB

(Baseball Prospectus, Bryan Grosnick)

The Tampa Bay Rays changed the future of the game of baseball in the 2018 season.

Chart showing starting pitcher length trending downward
(The Ringer, Zach Kram)

The Rays were the first team to bring the idea of an opener to the actual field. An opener is a relief pitcher who is used as a starting pitcher. Depending on the relief pitcher used, they can stay in for five to 23 batters. Starting pitchers have proven to be less efficient later in games, especially now with teams figuring out tendencies the third time around in the lineup. By not allowing the best hitters in the lineup to see the same pitcher three times, you are limiting potential hits and runs allowed.

The first time the Rays deployed an opener was against the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels first five hitters were all right-handed batters. This played in Ray’s closer Sergio Romo‘s favor. Romo threw one perfect inning to start the game and then handed the ball over to the young lefty, Ryan Yarbrough. Yarbrough went on to throw 6 1/3 innings giving up one run leading Tampa to a 5-3 win.

After seeing how successful the Rays were in this method, many teams are now beginning to look into using an opener. After a survey of the league, it was reported that a sixth of the league will use openers in the 2019 season. This number is expected to go up as teams face injuries in their starting rotation or towards the end of the season to keep pitchers healthy in the playoffs.

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