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Buxton: "Pissed" at Twins for No Call-Up Decision...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 01:29 AM
According to the Star Tribune, Byron Buxton is displeased with the Twins after not being called up in September of 2018. According to Byr...
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Article: Twins Trying to Sustain Excellence

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:41 AM
If you’re feeling a bit underwhelmed at the close of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, I’m sure you’re not the only Minnesota Twins fan i...
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Article: Official Rule 5 Draft Day Thread

Twins Minor League Talk Yesterday, 11:51 PM
The Winter Meetings in Las Vegas have been fairly quiet against in 2018. Certainly there are meetings, but there haven't been a lot of si...
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Non-Twins Off-season news, tidbits and transactions

Other Baseball Yesterday, 11:03 PM
We had a thread for items around the baseball world that were worth sharing but not worth a thread of their own. Now that the 2018 season...
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Derek Falvey Interview on 1500 ESPN

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:41 AM
Falvey discusses Sano, payroll, etc. http://www.1500espn....an-mackey-judd/
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Handbook Sampler: How the Twins Opened Their Minds to the Opener

What follows is an excerpt from a feature for the 2019 Offseason Handbook, which you can order here on a name-your-price basis and receive it right away.

Contrary to popular belief, the Minnesota Twins did not create The Opener as a way to make Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris’s heads explode on the air.

No, this unconventional approach was devised for one simple reason: to get 27 outs. More specifically, it was devised to get 27 outs while avoiding all those pesky runs that can happen between recorded outs.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Statistically speaking, starting pitchers deteriorate over the course of a game. Perhaps due to familiarity or simply having their stuff wear down in the later innings, the advantage swings drastically to the hitter his third time facing a pitcher.

From 2013 to 2017, the first time facing a pitcher, hitters posted a .249/.310/.396 (.706 OPS) batting line. That means every hitter the first time through is like Oakland’s Marcus Siemen, who posted a .706 OPS in 2018. By the third time facing a pitcher, however, hitters posted a .271/.333/.443 (.776 OPS), which means now everyone is Houston’s All-Star George Springer.

Teams can combat that by swapping out the starter for a reliever, thus avoiding the dreaded third time through. After all, batters have hit .243/.317/.384 (.700 OPS) against relievers the first time facing them (hello, Cincinnati’s Tucker Barnhart).

Using the opener also has the secondary purpose of protecting the primary pitcher — the pitcher who follows the opener — from a lineup’s top of the order, where most of the best hitters reside. With an opener in place, if a team does opt to allow the primary pitcher to go through a third time, chances are they're avoiding the top and middle parts of the order in that go round.

In short, The Opener strategy: (1) limits a starter’s exposure to a third time through the order, (2) protects them against facing the team’s better hitters more than once, and (3) allows a manager to align a relief pitcher whose strengths better neutralize a lineup's top three hitters.

“Can’t deny the logic,” Twins director of player personnel Mike Radcliff says regarding the strategy. Baseball is a boat race to 27 outs and, on paper, the opener concept could yield favorable results.

While the Tampa Bay Rays were first to deploy the strategy, the Twins say they weren’t copycats. In fact, the discussion dates back to last offseason in Fort Myers. And it is likely no coincidence that one key figure in this discussion used to be employed by the Rays.

Josh Kalk’s reputation for maximizing pitching results looms large within the game. In the early PitchF/X era, Kalk was a renowned data wizard, dissecting arms, arsenals and strategies, then posting his findings publicly at The Hardball Times. The forward-thinking, budget-ballin’ Rays scooped him up. Kalk’s work has become so highly respected that reportedly 10 teams were vying for his services last winter when he left the Rays organization. The Twins were geeked when they landed him.

“He’s clearly an impact guy,” Falvey said of the Kalk hiring. “We had him down at our org meetings, meeting with our pitching coaches and staff. We feel like that's an area he has a certain level of expertise.”

It was at those org meetings at the Fort Myers facilities — one dubbed the pitching summit — where the discussion of using a pitcher as a one-inning opener first began, according to Radcliff. At the core of the meetings, per Falvey, was answering the question: How do we get our young pitchers better.

“We were wide-open to everything and anything,” Radcliff said of the organization. “We went in with the mindset that we are not afraid to try anything.”

Among contributors in the room were guys like Kalk sitting next to former players like LaTroy Hawkins and Bob McClure, new major-league pitching coach Garvin Alston, and minor-league pitching guys like Pete Maki and JP Martinez. Different eras and different viewpoints were represented.

The idea of the opener concept was floated, discussed, debated, argued and vetted. It seemed almost too simple — you protect your young pitchers by limiting their exposure as well as controlling the inning allotment. Minimize the risk and maximize the reward.

Not all of the ideas shared were unanimously embraced and the use of the opener strategy was one. In general, the difference of opinions during the summit did not faze Falvey. In reflecting on it, he viewed what transpired as healthy.

“We're never going to agree completely,” he said. “If we do, that just means we are saying yes to one idea. If we can disagree and actually, genuinely, talk about different perspectives, we've got a chance to make up ground and be better.”

Ultimately the parties walked out of the room with an organizational pitching development strategy going forward, and the idea of the opener was back-pocketed.

It wouldn’t take long to see the strategy in action. On May 19th the Rays started closer Sergio Romo, allowing him to get the first three outs in front of their primary pitcher, Ryan Yarbrough. Tampa would use the strategy a total of 55 times in 2018.

The results were decent enough for the Rays and their young pitchers — especially Yarbrough. Tampa would win 90 games and the 26-year-old rookie would finish the year 16-6, throwing over 140 innings despite making just six traditional starts. In either capacity — starting or primarying — Yarbrough faced the same hitter thrice on a given day just 83 times, one of the lowest totals of anyone who amassed 100 innings in 2018.

The Twins watched from afar as the Rays paired their young pitchers with one-inning openers. Unlike the Rays, the Twins were giving starts to veteran pitchers, such as Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios and a little Phil Hughes while waiting for Ervin Santana to heal. But injuries and ineffectiveness exposed cracks in that facade.


Want to read the rest of this story, and 70 pages of in-depth analysis of the offseason that’s about to get underway? Claim your copy of the 2019 Offseason Handbook, at a price of your choosing, and you’ll receive it right away.

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How about this for real data: more runs are scored in the first inning than in any other. Why not apply one of your good bullpen arms to try to address that, and then let the long-haul pitcher settle in for the innings which follow? If all goes well, bring in another good arm when the going gets tough again late in the game.


And if things don't go perfectly, that's baseball. The manager still has to manage. But you can try to put your players in a position to succeed.


First inning scoring is far more pronounced in the NL. In the AL, more runs are scored in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings (with 6th being the highest) than in the 1st. The third inning is no walk in the park either.


So what's the advantage for a 1-inning opener if the 4th-6th are all brutal? All of those innings are tough. And assuming this pushes scoring back an inning (I doubt it does), what's the cost of having more scoring in the 7th just to have less scoring in the 3rd? Is it tougher for a team to come back from being behind later in the game?


Furthermore, apart from the 9th, the fewest runs are scored in the 2nd. Why not keep the opener in for one more inning and bring in a fresh arm when the game starts to get interesting in the 3rd?


Finally, is the first inning scoring due to the pitcher still loosening up, or is it because of the hitting? If it's because the pitcher is loosening up, what's the ramification of the "opener" having to loosen up followed by the starter having to do the same thing in a later inning?


But still we're generalizing. If one particular starter is lights out in the 1st like clockwork, why would you not have him start? Or if the starter can go 7 innings regularly? Why wouldn't we tailor this for each player? Good managers know how to play the matchups, not generalize.



Nov 11 2018 05:43 PM

The league split is interesting - the aggregate version I've seen looks similar if you imaging blending the two. That certainly changes the thinking, although there is still something to be said for handing over the relatively easier second inning to the starter, who sometimes doesn't begin the game with complete command.


I've said elsewhere that a stud starter should not require an Opener. It seems like a decent strategy for breaking a rookie starter into the majors without relegating him to bullpen mopup (or short) duty.

    • Doomtints likes this
Original Whizzinator
Nov 13 2018 05:40 PM

This was also discussed in the full story -- with quotes from Mike Radcliff on the subject. Go ahead. Download it here. It's free!
Come back and let me know what you think.

Ok now I feel like the guy in the parking lot at Parade Stadium listening to Simon and Garfunkel... yes that was me
Original Whizzinator
Nov 13 2018 06:02 PM

And you wouldn't have had to use the opener. And you could have let the 'starter's' pitch count dictate how many additional pitchers would need to be used. Bottom line, you are committing to a second pitcher before you have the information that is available to you in the 5th/6th inning (or the 4th for that matter). It will ultimately result in more pitchers getting used, and further stretch the concepts of what can be done with a 25-man roster. Maybe it won't be material. Maybe it will. Managers will always want the back end protection and the protection for tomorrow's game. Like many things that end up being smart, it's might not necessarily make for a better game. I fear this will be the case with anything that results in more pitchers on rosters. The jury is out...but it definitely looks like we're going to find out, which is fine with me, I can't predict exactly how this will play out.

This is where I like this for young starters who aren't going nine the vast majority of the time. If you were dialed in with a guy that could go two against tough lineup and set the tone that might be a way to lead the young guy. Many variables. Baseball is a slow moving sport that is losing traction in these short attention span times. Embracing the cerebral may be the way to go

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