Point/Counterpoint: Starters vs. Openers

Oakland Athletics pitcher Liam Hendriks delivers against the New York Yankees during the first inning of the American League wildcard playoff baseball game, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in new York (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

During the 2018 postseason, the Milwaukee Brewers have begun to implement a system of using “openers” instead of the traditional starter. An “opener” does exactly that, opens the game, but only pitches a few innings before giving way to another bullpen pitcher. Is this new age of bullpenning good for baseball? Is it the way of the future or not? We will discuss.

Mike Mavredakis: While this idea is intriguing, I do not think it’s good for baseball. It creates too much confusion and will make the games even longer than they already are. Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it his dying goal to make these games shorter. It seems the managers already change pitchers every batter once the game gets into the 7th inning; adding extra pitching changes throughout the entire game would make the sport unwatchable. Not only that, but it would pretty much throw away the talent of the game’s best hurlers. How good would Max Scherzer really be if he only pitched three innings at a time? Sure he would give up fewer home runs, but he would also be robbed of the potential to strike out over 300 hitters in a season like he did this past regular season.

Moving into the analytical age, television analysts like Brian Kenny have suggested bullpenning as a way to get ahead in today’s game. It has become very evident that the way managers use their pitching, specifically in the postseason, has changed. The Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora pulled 5-time All-Star David Price after 1.2 innings on Saturday night against the Yankees. Come playoff time, managers are no longer sticking with their horses deep into games. This is a problem. We have created a culture of distrust within the game. I can see no reason why a manager would not want their second starter, who sported a 3.58 ERA in the regular season, to go out and pitch more than two innings. He only gave up three runs, and had time to settle in. No team is out of a game in the 2nd inning when they are down by only three runs. Give the guy a chance to show up.

Neil Simmons: I’m all in on the concept of a Bullpen Day. At first because it seemed like a funny gimmick that teams like the Rays would pull in an effort to stay cutting-edge and ahead of the game, but over the course of the season I’ve learned about some of the interesting advantages it can have.

First off, it gives teams with poor starting pitching depth an option to fill the rotation every fifth day without burning out their other starters too much. If a manager feels his team will have a better chance to win if he rolls out a parade of bullpen arms rather than a struggling fifth starter, he should have the ability to do so. Second, constantly bringing out new relievers makes it harder for hitters to adjust to them every at-bat. Also it mitigates the worry of pitcher fatigue with a fresh arm every inning or two. Would you not want your team trotting out 97+ gas every inning?

As for the David Price situation, Cora made the right call to pull him when he did. Given Price’s history of struggles in the postseason and against New York, getting him out of there before things could get even worse was the right move in order to keep the Sox in the game. Otherwise it could have been a four, five or even six run deficit by the 3rd inning.

Mike Mavredakis: Exactly my point, it feels gimmicky and forced. I am all for innovation within the game and doing whatever you can to get ahead, but this just does not sit well with me. The analytics age takes this one too far.

All it does is tax a bullpen unnecessarily when there are guys who have trained their whole lives to throw 100+ pitches in a game. As the season progresses, the bullpen will have more innings than they normally would. This means the relievers in their bullpen will be more likely to run out of gas at the end of the regular season and into the postseason. Also, even if it’s only once every fifth day, that puts more pressure on a team’s top two starters to perform. Give that start to a young kid who’s trying to make a name for himself in the league.

In game two of the ALDS, the Red Sox brought out Eduardo Rodriguez for the 7th inning. Eduardo Rodriguez is a starter, being forced to come out of the bullpen. The Red Sox were within reach of the game before Rodriguez game up a moon-bomb to Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez that put the game away. That is what happens when you try to force starters to come out of the bullpen.

Neil Simmons: Not all innovations are well received at first.

It wouldn’t be taxing a bullpen too much if it only happens every five days, and it’s not uncommon for relievers to go unused for weeks at a time. A Bullpen Day would keep them from getting rusty by giving them consistent work. With teams now placing a higher emphasis on stockpiling bullpen arms, it gives them more options to work with and more innings to spread around, ensuring that the relievers will not get burnt out too early in the season. If a team has a strong enough bullpen to consider a Bullpen Day, it wouldn’t put more pressure on the top two starters because the bullpen would give them just as much a chance to win games as the top two starters would.

Rodriguez was brought out of the bullpen because he had been in the bullpen for the bulk of the second half after returning from injury, and then the plan was for him to be a reliever during the postseason anyway. He had time to warm up prior to coming in and came in at the start of an inning, so it wasn’t like he inherited a jam to work out of. The home run was unfortunate, but given the way the Sox bullpen has performed recently any other reliever would’ve let up that bomb.


Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.quinn-mavredakis@uconn.edu.

Neil Simmons is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at neil.simmons@uconn.edu .