Friday, September 14, 2018

The Coming Tide

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 :).

14 comments:

  1. I think it's interesting. I don't have any issues with stuff like this, defensive shifts, etc. Maybe less fun to watch, but I also don't think you can't prevent teams from doing these kinds of things.

    Unrelated, but pitchers hitting is still and will always be stupid.

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    1. Your comment made me realize that I never gave my input (other than the Rays rant). I'm in a similar boat, I'm neutral.

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  2. They were talking about Liam Hendriks on the radio a few days ago and explained the whole batting order thing and how it helped out the depleted A's starting rotation. Never once mentioned the fact that they're taking away starts and it could affect salaries for starting pitchers. Thanks for pointing that out. Great post!

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    1. Arbitration is a very ugly process, every little bit counts (for both sides).

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  3. I like seeing starters go deep into games, but if you're a team with a weak rotation (like the Rays aside from Blake Snell), I don't know why you wouldn't at least try this. It makes a whole lot of sense -- plus you're not letting those opposing hitters get two, three looks against a single pitcher.

    One thing I don't like about baseball (specifically, some of its fans) is the immediate and unrelenting bashing of any even slightly novel concept. It seems to have gotten worse in recent years.

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    1. My main (and probably only) gripe with this is that this is also a clear salary suppression tactic. Something I'm not cool with as someone with morals and someone who knows just how much money the MLB is making (even the small market teams like the Rays).

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  4. Great Game-In-Real-Life post!
    I really haven't been watching baseball at all this year, so I haven't seen this trend.
    I'm old school in that I miss complete games and think they're making players soft by coddling them on pitch counts. Plus the fact that they rest for several minutes between pitches.
    And I've also wondered, (though I was never an athlete, so maybe I'm way off with this) why can't pitchers spend a little time in batting practice like everyone else and be able to hit over .095?

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    1. Regarding the first half of your comment, the coddling as you'd call it is a result of pitchers being different from the pitchers who came before. They're all throwing at velocities never recorded before and it takes a toll on their bodies.
      As for the second part, it's actually a topic I'm going to address in another post. My answer for now is that pitchers are so good now that no one can hit in general. So what chance to pitchers have against pitchers?

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  5. Great post. The thought of a pitcher dying from a comebacker is scary as hell. I definitely think there will be a realization that the 3 outcome scenario (walk, K, HR) will isn't a good way to win games and you will see more teams emphasis on line drive gap to gap hitters in future with high OBP% as teams build up their "specialized" bullpen of relievers.

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    1. I don't want anyone to get hurt (let alone die), but given how insane exit velocities have gotten in recent times it's inevitable.
      As for three true outcome hitters, it's nice to think of players hitting for contact and getting a rally going, but pitchers are just too good nowadays to do that. Throw in things like shifts making most hard hit balls find their way to a glove and it's even worse. The only sure fire way to do anything is either swinging for the fences, or talking the walk nowadays.

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  6. Nice call on the stat suppression thing.

    I've always tended to view this as more about number of times trough the order as opposed to innings. Starters now get limited to twice through before the hook comes out. Relievers though are often used on a per-inning basis. I'm mainly surprised that we haven't seen once-through-the-order guys become more prominent in the bullpens

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    1. You know me Nick, I'm pro-labour as they come.

      Yeah that struck me too. As time goes on I think we'll see more of those three-innings and you're done types emerge. Right now there's just so much more value in having starters be capable of going 4-6 innings but when that goes away in a decade or so teams will probably be more willing to just let their sixth/seventh starters take those roles.

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  7. I don't know why people didn't notice how this strategy deflates pitchers' stats (and their earning power), it practically hit me in the face the first time I heard about it.

    As you know, I don't like this idea because one of my favorite parts of baseball is watching a starting pitcher do their thing over the course of several innings. Imagine every hitter being replaced after one at-bat. That doesn't sound like fun at all.

    People like to lump those who crab about changes in the game as old-farts who simply don't like change but some of us have real reasons why we don't like it beyond "it's not the game I grew up on." We've thought about it. I have no problem with defensive shifts, teams can do it all they want. But this pitching thing I hope disappears almost as quickly as it came.

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    1. The salary suppression aspect is probably for people who pay a lot of attention to other equations in the great big formula that is baseball operations (ie the financial portions).

      If MLB ever expands its roster to 100 slots like I've always joked about, that might become a possibility. Imagine the infinite number of matchups and infinite number of hours each game would go on for.

      As for your last point, I think it's a bit unfair to lump everyone with issues about developments as crabs. I'm sure there are grumpy cranks out there, but you are right in that there are cons to go along with the pros with each new idea. And some are going to be more con-heavy than others. At least that's how I look at it. I genuinely prefer defensive shifts to this because at least there, you have the potential to boost salaries for people who can flaunt their defensive prowess. With this though, unless you get an arbiter who values innings more than games started, it's going to go very poorly for the players involved.

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