The opener is a new phenomenon that hit Major League Baseball in a big way during the 2018 season. In the last month of the season, the Rangers tested the concept. While the experimenting got frustrating at times, in the end, it gave the organization some clarity in a few of their young pitching prospects. The question this season is will the Rangers use this concept, and if they do for how long? Let’s break down the positives and negatives if the Rangers decide to use the opener.
Why the Rangers should consider using the opener for the season
The Rangers are in a rebuild and the biggest thing they are missing is young starting pitching talent. The best way to give these young minor leagues big league experience is to bring them to the big leagues. The opener concept works out because these young pitchers will face the best of the best early in the game. It also will prevent these young guys from exhausting that 70-80 pitch limit. This also gives the organization more ammo to develop. The projected rotation has a lot of experience, but these five guys are not the long-term solution for this club. What better way to get these young pitchers experience against big league hitters than putting them on big league mounds in situations where it matters.
The biggest goal of this rebuild is development and experience. The Rangers could use this from the get-go since most of the high-class players don’t use their full potential in spring training. Last year, the Rangers posted their second-best ERA month in September, when they used the opener (4.55 ERA). The only month that got better results was in June (4.27). All of the pitchers used in the opener tactic posted an ERA under 4.60 for the month of September. This stat calculates based on either the starter or the first relief pitcher in those September games.
Why the Rangers should not consider using the opener for the season
Utilizing the opener concept has some drawbacks. The Rays last year had a couple of times where their young starters in a small rotation (they had two or three main starters) had to just eat innings and take punishment. The reason was that Kevin Cash already lined up his pitching plans for the week. If he changed that plan, then the Rays potentially could have lost a player through waivers or send them down to the minors.
Using the opener taxes the bullpen and if there’s an injury, it sets a team back for possibly a week. It could haunt the club even longer depending on when the next off day occurs for the Rangers. This could become even more problematic in the summertime when the heat wave comes to an already taxed bullpen. It also puts pressure on the roster because there are only twenty-five spots from opening day to August 31st. Not only would there be little room for error but then the organization has to deal with a short bench.
Given that the club is trying to develop position players, if the Rangers want to use this tactic, they would more than likely have to decide between position player development or pitcher development. The Rangers could set up their plans like last year and use the opener for the last month of the season as rosters expand to forty. This will obviously fix the roster issue and the Rangers can develop their young pitchers. However, in this case, the Rangers would only be utilizing one-sixth of the season, thus only giving the young prospects a couple of opportunities.
At the Winter Meetings, Chris Woodward didn’t confirm what the pitching plans are or if he’d use an opener. That makes sense considering all five projected Rangers starters have a history of Tommy John surgery within the last five years, and three within the last two years (Drew Smyly, Edison Volquez, and Shelby Miller). It’s unsure whether or not these guys would be healthy and ready to go in late March. However, Woodward did not rule it out and kept an open mind to the Rangers pitching plans. Honestly, a clear answer won’t occur until the end of spring training when the team finalizes the pitching staff. One thing is for sure, everyone is keeping an open mind.
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