A few years ago, you would never hear the phrase “baseball opener” to start a MLB game. Now in 2020, you will see teams use a baseball opener for the first inning to start a few games each year. The MLB opener is a reliever (relief pitcher) who usually pitches to the first few hitters of a baseball game. The Tampa Bay Rays made this practice famous, so let’s dive into why teams are incorporating this strategy in 2020.
Tampa Bay Rays Began the Tradition Of the Opener
In 2017, the Tampa Bay Rays had an “opener” relief pitcher start some games at Tropicana Field. The idea was to put their best pitching against their opponent’s best batters to start the game. Most hitters perform better the third time they see a starting pitcher, so the idea was to get past an opponent’s top hitters to start a game with little damage. The opener strategy was a bit weird during the regular season, but more teams saw the data that it was working, and it is now part of the 2020 plan for many organizations.
One of the most used openers on the Rays was Ryne Stanek in 2018. He made 42 starts, but did not last more than two innings. The WAR (wins against replacement) saw a six-tenth increase (.91 to 1.53) for Ryne Stanek when he made starts. Another key player for the Rays was Sergio Romo, who made many starts as well as an opener. The Rays grew on this strategy and the MLB league took notice both in the American and National League.
The New York Yankees in 2019 Began Using an Opener
Last year, 2019, saw the New York Yankees use Chad Green as an opener fifteen times. Chad Green had impressive numbers when he began the game, and even got into the second inning for certain games. Chad Green did not have a set pitch count to throw, so the only goal was to get outs.
More Major League Baseball Teams in 2020 Will Use their Bullpen Pitchers as Openers
The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees had regular-season openers, so you can expect more teams to incorporate this plan in 2020. The Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Red Sox have all indicated they will replace a traditional starting pitcher for a reliever throughout 2020. Now whenever you hear the question of “what is an opener in baseball”, you will know that it refers to starting a relief pitcher in the first inning.