Ask Gary: Are openers bad for pitchers?

by Gary Shelton on April 6, 2019 · 5 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Rays

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The opener strategy was effective for the Rays last year, but it's not been popular with pitchers across MLB. Some players have even gone so far as to suggest Rays pitchers should stand up to management and not go along with that strategy as it's not beneficial to their careers. It worked for the Rays because they had a lot of unproven guys who were happy just to be pitching in the majors and didn't mind how they were being used. However if guys like Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough continue to pitch very well but aren't allowed to start games, at what point does use of the opener no longer make sense? Could we see a backlash by the players if the Rays continue to keep them in that limited role?

Larry Beller

And how are they any different from a backup catcher who plays when it suits the team?

In an ever-changing game, there may come a time when the opener strategy doesn't work. But for now, those pitchers have zero leverage. How popular will an unproven pitcher be on the market if he whines his way out of his role? That's pro sports; the guys in charge are the guys in charge. And whining from pitchers on other teams is like an empty can rattling down the road. It's just noise.

Last year, Yarbrough won 16 games. How many might he have won in a traditional starter's role. I'd say about half of that at most. The opener strategy, once again, is about matchups. It puts a pitcher in the most advantageous position imaginable. Yarbrough seems like a nice kid, but I don't think he can do anything that Tyler Glasnow can't. And as a regular starter last year, Glasnow was 1-5.

Doubtless, the Rays will lose a lot of these pitchers who want to be regular starters in the years to come. But they turn over a lot of pitchers as it is.

I'm sorry. I have zero patience for an outsider whining about the way another team uses its players. No one is promised a starting position. When all of the measurables are analyzed, a pitcher will start when he deserves to be a starter. Just because he might be 8-10 for some other team doesn't matter a whit.

You know why pitchers care? Because it affects the money they make. If teams can keep payrolls down, then you don't have a lot of average pitchers making a superstar's salary.

The Rays are trying to win baseball games, not sooth egos or match up to someone else's idea about traditional starters. For once, I agree with them. Their matchup game has worked. That's all that matters to me. When it doesn't work anymore, I'll suggest they go back to the drawing board.

So far, this is the list of new MLB players’ $100 million or greater contracts that begin with year 2019:

1. Patrick Corbin - 6 years, $140 million
2. Manny Machado - 10 years, $300 million
3. Nolan Arenado - 8 years, $260 million
4. Bryce Harper - 13 years, $330 million
5. Alex Bregman - 6 years, $101 million
6. Chris Sale - 6 years, $160 million
7. Jacob deGrom - 5 years, $137.5 million
8. Xander Bogaerts - 7 years, $132 million
9. Ronald Acuna, Jr. – 8 years, $100 million

In your view, which is the best contract? Which is the worst contract?

Scott Myers

A lot of teams are playing with Monopoly money, aren't they? Sometimes, it seems as if they're bidding agains themselves. They'd do better handing out a blank check and hoping for humility by the player?

The worst contract? I never liked Manny Machado's numbers. He's a player who admits he doesn't alway hustle. I don't think a fat wallet is going to make him play any harder. The runner-up? How about Corbin, who entered this season with al 56-54 record and a 3.91 ERA.

The best contract? Usually, I respond with "who's the best player." We eventually forget about the numbers. So I'd say Harper, reluctantly. Acuna only has one great year. But he could end up being a bargain.

Comparing the time of games for the Ray first seven games of the 2019 season to the first seven of the 2018 season, not including the extra inning games, shows that the average game time is quite a bit less in 2019 – 2:38 vs 3:07, which is 29 minutes (16%) less! Is this just an early season anomaly, or is there a logical explanation for it?

game # 2018 2019
1 3:00 2:38
2 2:46 2:38
3 3:21 2:40
4 3:24 2:12
5 3:29 2:54
6 2:44 2:50
7 extra innings extra innings

Scott Myers

I've been to a couple of Rays games, and it does feel as if the pace is a little quicker. Have you noticed that? I've wondered if players are preparing for the pitch clock.

I mean, there are the same number of outs per game, and the same number of strikes and balls. Why should it be so drastically different.

Of course, we both know we're talking about a small sample size. But when there are games that hover around being played an hour faster, that isn't a coincidence. Frankly, you could argue that the early-season games should be slower, because the pitchers aren't stretched out yet.

I'll say this. I like a game that is played in less than three hours. I've said before that I've never left a greatly played game and griped about the time it took to play it. But I've been to a ton of sloppy games where I'm ready for a nap after seven innings.

I think it bears continuing to watch. Are the umpries hurrying players along better? Are the batters stepping out fewer times? Are the pitchers throwing at a faster pace?

All I know is that I like it. Even if someone skips the sixth inning.

There is talk about some NHL GM's writing in Steve Yzerman's name for GM of the Year. What is your take on that idea?

Have you heard any speculation about where Stevie Y is headed next season?
Jim Willson
The world seems to expect him to end up in Detroit again. I keep hearing he isn't that close to the Ilitch children though, so we'll see. If I were Yzerman, I might take a year off. Maybe do some studio work. But it'll be hard to say no to the Red Wings, won't it?

As far as Yzerman being considered for the GM of the year award, I think it's just silly. Yzerman isn't the Lightning general manager any more. Julien BriseBois is. As far as anyone knows, BriseBois is the guy in charge of the moves, and the extended contracts, and the day-to-day operations of the team.

Hey, I like Yzerman. I hope he stays. If the Lightning want to give him a fancy title and let him work with BriseBois, I say fine. But when he stepped down, he removed himself from consideration for the GM of the Year Award. It isn't a lifetime achievement award, you know.

Look, if the Bolts win the Cup, we should all salute Yzerman for building this roster. He did a fine job. He should get a nice bonus.

But his rewards shouldn't include an award for a job he used to have.

If you were Jason Licht, who would you draft in the first round?

Can he draft a general manager? You know, someone who won't bump against the cap while winning five games? Someone who won't draft Ronald Jones or Roberto Aguayo or Noah Spence?

Oh, you're serious?

If I were Licht, I would not draft a quarterback. I would not draft a receiver. Even if you aren't opposed to taking a running back, there are no running backs with a high enough grade. The tight end room has enough talent.

So what does that leave us? Defensive end, offensive line, linebacker, the secondary and kickers.

You've just spent a fortune on offensive linemen, who rarely help in their first seasons. It's too high to take a guard. So let's say no there.

I'd love a good defensive end if Bosa or Allen fall, but they won't. You probably don't want to add a defensive tackle so soon after taking one a year ago (because of the cap).

Now we're going to the secondary and linebacker. I don't know what Bruce Arians thinks of the secondary. He drafted well at the position while in Arizona, and Greedy Williams is a good player. But the Bucs drafted M.J. Stewart and  Carlton Davis last year and they get Vernon Hargreaves back.

That leaves linebacker. I know the Bucs keep saying they're thrilled with who they have, but that might be a smoke screen. After losing Kwon Alexander, I'd be scouting the dickens out of Kevin White.

Make sense?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Ford April 6, 2019 at 11:22 am

Regarding the Rays use of “openers”: On the White Sox telecast yesterday, the announcers mentioned that the Mariners starter, Kikuchi, had never pitched over 150 innings in Japan, so the team might occasionally use him as an opener to keep his work load down. Seems the Rays are ahead of the curve, once again!

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Gary Shelton April 6, 2019 at 11:50 am

Necessity and invention, right? They can’t afford to compete in the conventional way.

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Larry Beller April 6, 2019 at 5:45 am

Speaking of backup catchers, I like the Rays backup better than the starting catcher but we digress. Of course money is at the heart of this complaining about the opener. But there are other factors as well.

I’m not saying the opener should discontinued because the Rays have used it effectively at times. My point, and the reason for my question is, why shouldn’t a guy who pitches lights out for 5 innings or more be allowed to start?

Chirinos is there already and Yarbough may be close behind. If the Rays are smart, and I think they are, eventually those 2 guys will become traditional starters if they continue to pitch well. If they falter then the opportunity will pass them by.

If Blake Snell had come up a year or 2 later than he did, he may have got caught up in this opener trap and we would have never seen him develop into the pitcher he is today. That would be our loss.

Don’t you think Kevin Cash communicates with his players to find out how they are thinking about different things on a daily basis? Of course he does. The management style of my way or the highway is out of fashion. It doen’t mean he does exactly what the players want all the time but I believe their input is taken into account.

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Gary Shelton April 6, 2019 at 11:58 am

I’m sure it is. But the decision of starters and openers isn’t up for discussion. Most of us in the media are used to traditional starters. But the Rays are a team that believes in matchups. A pitcher who goes five innings has already thrown 70 or so pitches, and the hitters have had a chance to adjust, and Cash believes fresh arms are good. This isn’t your grandfather’s (or mine) strategy where a pitcher threw as long as he was doing well. This is the era of back end relievers designed to slam the door and lefties on lefties.

I was there the day Chirinos threw, and one of the first questions anyone asked Cash was whether he could develop into a starter. Cash shot it down immediately in the name of versatility.

Pitchers will get their chances. The team likes Glasnow as a starter. It once liked Beeks.

But this is a grand blueprint by an entire organization. If a player disagrees, the club isn’t changing. Not after a 90-win season. The Rays like what they’re onto with the opener. They’ll continue it, and they’ll ignore what guys from other teams say.

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Larry Beller April 6, 2019 at 11:14 pm

Good discussion Gary. The Rays are doing a lot of good things. I just don’t happen to agree on everything they do but that’s ok. Like you said they are thinking more than more organizations and a lot of their ideas are working.

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