The most recent development in baseball this year has been "The Opener". I can already tell how most of you feel about it (I read your tweets and more importantly the junk you retweet and favorite into my timeline).
For the uninitiated, "The Opener" is basically having a reliever (possibly your closer or your second best reliever) open the first inning of a game. Then the usual starting pitcher comes in in the second inning to pitch their four/five innings before giving way to the bullpen again.
The idea has been out there for a few years now and here in the era of a "rebuilding teams" some teams have begun trying it out to mostly positive results.
There are two things at play here. One is very smart and one is very sleazy.
The smart aspect is that you start the game with one of your most effective pitchers to go up against the other team's 1st, 2nd and 3rd (at least) batters. In turn allowing your starter to potentially begin their outing by just facing the cleanup batter and then the weaker second half of the lineup. When the Opener was tried out this season, it didn't work. Since then it's shown itself to be capable of producing very good results. As we get a bigger sample size we'll have a better idea of whether the idea actually works or not I'm sure.
That said the sleazy aspect is that you're taking away starts and stats from your pitchers who are going to have weaker cases (less Games Started stats for the arbiter to see for example) for raises in arbitration than they otherwise would've. The second pitcher still puts in the same number of innings, only for the team to take away a pay raise that's rightfully his.
So of course the Rays were the first to put this idea into practice. The Rays are smart and good at two things. The first is constructing a competitive ballclub with mainly pre-arb players you'd know as the fake players in video games. The second is finding every way to suppress the salaries of their players up until they're too expensive for the club to keep around (which is basically the second time through arbitration). They deserve credit for trying something new and scorn for being cheating their players out of money. Make no mistake, the Rays have money, don't be fooled by their "we're a small market team in Tampa" bullshit. MLB's revenue sharing system has been funneling millions into Stuart Sternberg's pockets for years now. The fact that he can own a team at all means that he's got enough money to make shit happen. But he won't because he's a cheapskate and will do what the New York Mets do where they cry poor like we're all morons.
The Opener also signals that the starting pitcher's role is slowly but surely diminishing. Regardless of if starting the game with a reliever stays within the game, the teams using any method they can to keep their starting pitchers healthy and effective will continue.
A good number of people I talk baseball with (both online and offline), don't like how starting pitchers rarely go past five innings anymore. A development that seems to be getting more and more common as teams catch on to methods to keep the pitchers healthy, and keep the game competitive by passing the baton to the relief corps. And I get it. I started watching baseball in 2010 where starters would usually try to go about six innings while allowing maybe one or two runs for a quality start. Nowadays some starters don't even make it out of the fourth because of their strict pitch count. On top of that, this is all incredibly taxing on the bullpen. Defeating the whole purpose of keeping pitchers healthy.
At the same time, I have seen trends and all sorts of things being tested in the minor leagues. I personally think it's inevitable that the starting pitcher's role is going to end up further diminished and a fraction of what it once was. The old "let him finish what he started" mentality is giving way to "get him out of there before he hurts himself and more importantly loses the game for us!".
If I had to guess the future pitching contingents are probably going to have starters pitching around three, maybe four, innings on 50-80 pitches before the managers hand the ball to their relievers.
So what does this all mean for offense? I can't imagine teams getting craftier with pitching will do much to help the offenses which seem to be going down year after year. I mean The Opener itself is made to make sure the starting pitcher only has to face the heart of the order two times as opposed to three if they had started normally, don't think that that doesn't make a difference. Hitters usually learn and adapt quickly by being better around the third time through the order, especially the hitters that are good enough to hit at the top of the lineup. Only problem with that is that they usually never face a pitcher a third time unless they're the best pitchers in baseball like Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander who you could face infinity times and never get a hit off of.
If you're not a fan of low run games and starters barely pitching enough innings to qualify for the win, you might not like baseball in about 10 years from now.
We'll see what happens though. First thing's first, we're due for a pitcher to die because he took a 100+mph comebacker off his head that sparks an immediate and more serious discussion about safety equipment for pitchers (no goofy looking hats this time). Because in this sport someone needs to die before the league decides to take any sort of action.
As always thanks for stopping by and take care :).