Tuesday, April 23, 2019

2018 MLB Year in Review Part 2: Greetings From "The Opener"-The Next New Strategic Innovation In MLB

Sergio Romo made history in 2018 as the first ever "Opener."

Photo Courtesy Of:
Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA
CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

At the beginning of the 2018 MLB season Shohei Ohtani was among the biggest story lines due to his success in Japan as both a pitcher and a hitter. While he continued to be one of the biggest stories as the season went on en route to taking home the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, there was another developing story that probably had an even bigger impact on the overall strategy of the game. That would be the arrival of "The Opener" out of the bullpen.

During the 2018 season the first team that was brave and bold enough to put this new strategy of "The Opener" in play was the Tampa Bay Rays during a four game series in May against the Los Angeles Angels. In this particular series "The Opener" proved to be successful enough that soon after there were other teams such as the Athletics, Brewers and more who would follow suit in utilizing this new strategy.

While there would ultimately be more than one team that would make use of "The Opener" in 2018, no team would have as much success with it as the one which pioneered its usage in the Tampa Bay Rays. During the 2018 season the Rays win-loss record when using "The Opener" was a surprising 44 wins and 34 losses during that time.

The pitchers that the Rays used most often in this new role were closer Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek and Hunter Wood. While both Stanek and Wood remained in the role of "The Opener" for the remainder of the season, Sergio Romo soon returned to the closer's role later on.All things considered, even though they fell short of securing a playoff berth during the 2018 season, the Rays ended up having a very nice season overall surprising many of the fans and so-called experts with a final record of 90 wins and 72 losses at the end of the season.

As I mentioned earlier, it wouldn't be long until some of the other teams in the league would follow suit start employing "The Opener" on their own such as the Oakland Athletics and the Milwaukee Brewers. Not only did both the Athletics and Brewers use openers during the regular season but they also used them once both teams made the postseason. For the Athletics they unfortunately were only given one opportunity to use an opener during the 2018 American League Wild Card game against the New York Yankees. That's because Liam Hendriks and the rest of the team in green and gold lost to the Bronx Bombers by a final score of 7 to 2.

The second team from the 2018 postseason that utilized "The Opener" was the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers also added a new name for this kind of strategy by referring to their opener as the "Initial Out Getter." Compared to the Athletics, the Brewers experience in using the "Initial Out Getter" turned out to be quite a success since they made it all the way to game 7 of the 2018 National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The team's most noteworthy use of with an opener in the series came during game 5 in Los Angeles when Wade Miley was used to face just one batter to start the game. After that one batter only match up Miley was brought back to start game 6 in Milwaukee on short rest. That strategy paid off for them in the sixth game as they ultimately beat the Dodgers to force a game 7. The Brewers good fortunes unfortunately ended though after the conclusion of that series as they lost to the Dodgers in the seventh game by a final score of 5 to 1.

The last team to put their own twist on "The Opener" during the 2018 MLB Postseason was the Boston Red Sox. When the Red Sox implemented it for the playoffs, they decided to do things a little differently than the previous teams who had experimented with openers. What the Red Sox did was to start a game with one of their traditional starters during the playoffs and then when it was time for a pitching change, they would then use one of their other starting pitchers in the role what manager Alex Cora called "The Rover."

The pitchers that the Red Sox used in "The Rover" position included Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale. During the 2018 postseason, some of the noteworthy performances that the Red Sox had with "The Rover" included game 5 of the 2018 American League Championship Series in which David Price helped to beat the Houston Astros to advance to the 2018 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. There was also Nathan Eovaldi's performance out of the bullpen during game 3 of the 2018 World Series in a losing effort. Lastly, Chris Sale appeared out of the bullpen in what would be the fifth and final game of the World Series to give the Red Sox their 4th World Series victory in the last 15 years.

Of those three rover performances, the one that was undoubtedly the most noteworthy and important was that of Nathan Eovaldi's. In that game even though the Red Sox lost it, Eovaldi put together a quality performance out the pen with a total of 97 pitches thrown. By the end of the game, the Red Sox lost the only game they would lose in the World Series thanks to a walk off solo home run by Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Overall the introduction of "The Opener" in 2018 proved to be very successful for the teams that chose to implement it. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, it will be interesting to see if any one of those same teams will continue to make it a part of their game plan. As the season rolls along it will also be interesting to see what other teams if any might follow in the footsteps of those who were the pioneers in year one of "The Opener."

Tim Musick
Copyright 2019
All Rights Reserved


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