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One Twins Pitcher May Be a Perfect Opener


Twins Daily Contributor

Across the baseball landscape, teams have turned more regularly to openers and bullpen games to cover innings in a 162-game season. Do the Twins have a perfect pitcher to fit the opener role?

Tampa Bay has long been looked at for their front office prowess as they find ways to stay near the top of one of baseball's toughest divisions. Using an opener is one idea that originated in Tampa that other teams have adopted in recent years. In 2019, many teams jumped on the opener bandwagon, and there were mixed results

According to MLB.com, "An 'opener' is a pitcher -- normally a reliever -- who starts a game for purposes of matching up against the top of the opponent's line-up in the first inning, which has traditionally been the highest-scoring inning, before being relieved by a pitcher who would otherwise function as a starter. This allows for a team to counter its opponent's first three batters with the pitcher it feels has the best chance for success against them."

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli joined Minnesota from the Tampa Bay organization, so there was some thought to him bringing the opener strategy with him. Baldelli has turned to bullpen games in his tenure, but the opener strategy hasn't been used very often. With the Twins short on starting pitching, there is a chance the team is more likely to use an opener next season to cover more innings. The good news for the club is the team may have a perfect candidate to slide into the opener role. 

Minnesota originally drafted Griffin Jax from the United States Air Force Academy back in 2016. His military commitment meant he had a unique path to the big leagues, but he debuted in 2021. Across 82 innings, he posted a 6.37 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP and a 65 to 29 strikeout to walk ratio. One of his most significant issues was he allowed 23 home runs. While those numbers don't look great, a silver lining may point to his future value with the club. 

There's no question that Jax struggled to adjust to the big league level, but he was excellent during his first time through the order. Last year in the first inning, he posted a 2.57 ERA with a 13 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio. Batters only hit .160/.204/.240 (.444) with one home run in the first inning. Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see how Jax may be an opener candidate, but his early inning success wasn't just limited to the first frame. 

Over half of Jax's innings pitched came in innings 1-3 when he would be facing a line-up for the first time. He held batters to a .184 batting average with a .266 OBP in those frames. He struck out 38 batters in 43 1/3 innings, which is nearly a full strikeout higher compared to his full-season rate. He did allow 12 home runs in innings 1-3, but seven of those homers came in the third inning when a lot of line-ups would be turning over for the first time. Limiting Jax to one time through the order might be the sweet spot to put him in a position to succeed.

There are other reasons the Twins might be interested in employing an opener strategy next season. Many of the team's top prospects are pitchers, and there can be challenges transitioning to the big-league level. Some pitchers will be on pitch counts or innings limits, and others are returning from injury. Putting Jax into an opener role can help transition some of these other young pitchers into the rotation. 

Do you think Jax would be a good candidate to serve as an opener? Are the Twins going to use an opener more regularly next season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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Great information Cody.  Quite a few people have suggested he might be just fine in the BP and you have demonstrated why they might be right.  It would be quite a boost if he was able to maintain this level of performance the 1st time through a lineup in two inning stints out of the BP.  I have often wondered why the more effective RPs are not used in 2 innings stints.  They should still be able to pitch every 3rd day which would be good for 100+ innings.   It is after all about covering the innings with effective pitchers.

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Good write up jax numbers through the line up first time through ,,,

I'd say an opener could be his calling  and let's go for it ...

Front office has never given the fans a real plan except to say we will be competitive  .... 

Rocco needs to be better at evaluating  in game situations  and stop being out managed by the opposing manager  ,,, 

Set a regular batting lineup  ( lefthand and righthanded pitchers ) and stick with it , and play player's in their comfortable  positions ..

Let the players know there roles  ,,    this has nothing to do with 2020 and all the injuries  ,,, this has to do with Rocco's 3 years as a manager 

 

 

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I agree with mikelink45 on the topic and the opener.  But I'm a hopeless traditionalist who misses  pitchers who "pitched" and just didn't go Max Effort/Velocity on every pitch.  That said...I also agree with ML Ready that some of these BP arms are suited to, and should go, 2 innings at a time.  Guys seldom pitch on back to back days unless they're the closer.  So why not leverage 2 innings out of these guys.  And Cody, I would opine that not "SOME" Twins pitchers are bound to be on pitch counts and innings limits.  Given the make-up of our current staff and it's youth I think almost "ALL" of them will.  If Winder, Ryan or Ober start, I'm betting they go 3-4 innings most times, even if they are effective.  After 3-4 innings, bringing Jax or Duran etc...in to pitch 1-2 innings would seem to fit.  So would the idea of Jax, Duran or even Canterino (who I want to be a starter who can go 175 innings someday) the first two innings and THEN (in the traditional opener followed by a starter routine) have Ryan, Ober and Winder come in.  And I can't believe I wrote "traditional opener."  

But yes, even though I think it's vital for the Twins to add one more SP via trade and another via FA, THIS is the plan I think the FO and coaching staff have for 2022.  Give the young arms innings to show their stuff and learn how to pitch at the major league level, but also to closely control their workload as much as possible.  

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1 hour ago, jorgenswest said:

I sure hope the Twins are not using data in a 14 inning sample to make any decisions about a player. 

The wouldn't be.  They would be using the 82 IPs he had in recognizing he was much better the first time through the order.  Still a small sample size but they have three options.  

1) Conclude he is not an adequate starting pitcher and cut him.  2) Keep starting him and hope for a different result.  3) Look at the information Cody provided and conclude giving him a shot in the BP might be the smartest play.  

Which option makes the most sense to you?  I guess you could add a 4th option to trade him.

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We have to go with the hand we're dealt. It'd be great to have 5 SP that can give you 5-6 quality innings. For many years we've had only Berrios and now we don't have anyone. So our best option is BP games w/ openers.

We should have focused on long relief for a long time but has been neglected. Too much attention has been given to extending SPs longer than their limits and overusing short relief which results in melt down and injuries. Again I'll state that this isn't necessarily my preference but this is what we to have work with. Maybe later some pitchers will rise up and show us that they can be another Berrios but until then we are stuck with this.

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1 minute ago, Major League Ready said:

The wouldn't be.  They would be using the 82 IPs he had in recognizing he was much better the first time through the order.  Still a small sample size but they have three options.  

1) Conclude he is not an adequate starting pitcher and cut him.  2) Keep starting him and hope for a different result.  3) Look at the information Cody provided and conclude giving him a shot in the BP might be the smartest play.  

Which option makes the most sense to you?  I guess you could add a 4th option to trade him.

Minuscule sample size at the split level. The data should not in any way inform them of the direction they take with Jax. Is he out of options? Is pitching in AAA an option? Can they make decisions based on what they see rather than looking at minuscule split data?

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I am wondering why Jax was not on anyone's lists of top 25 prospects in the Twins organization. He has begun to show that he should have a role on the 2022 team. An opener or first 2-3 innings pitcher may make sense from what this article says. Ober is another who sometimes seemed to struggle going through a lineup more than once. Maybe the Twins could start a Triplicate of 3, 3 inning pitchers to pitch in a game.

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Starter going 9 innings,                                                 starter going 5-6 innings.                                              starter going 1-3 innings.

it’s 6 of 1 or 1/2 dozen of the other what is the difference. The goal of the 1st inning is to hold the opponent too zero runs or the lowest runs possible. That’s the goal of every inning for the pitcher. What’s the difference if a pitcher goes innings 1,2,3 or goes innings 6,7,8 and both pitchers are successful. What’s the difference the skill set, the mental maturity, chronological age of the pitcher and the team’s ability, and dollars. 
The revolution of pitching staffs size is a remarkable history; let’s start with;

4 starters & 2 relievers, total of 6 pitchers on roster4 starters & 3-4 relievers total of 7-8 pitchers on roster 4 starters & 5 relievers   total of 9 pitchers on roster4-5 starters 6-7 relievers total of 10-12 pitchers on roster5-6 starters 6-8 relievers total of 13-14 pitchers on roster.
How has this change come about                                         1. Science & research                                                              2. Stats                                                                                    3. Player & team concerns                                                     4. Supply & demand.                                                               5. Dollars  

Cardinal rule of pitching is.                                              ;weak starters require a very strong bullpen;            average starters require average bullpen.                 .strong starters require an average bullpen.

The relief pitcher market price has started to catch up to the starting pitching market price. What affect will this have on the future budget.? 

 

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This is a bit tangential but...

I believe starting players officially enter the game at the point when the lineup cards are presented to the umpires before the game. Managers do not see the official opposing starting lineup until after both teams' starting lineups are presented. Is there anything to prevent a manager from making a last-minute change if there is an opener match-up that is more favorable? Say Team A announces a right-handed starting pitcher the day before the game. However, Manager A anticipates an abundance of left-handed batters near the top of the opposing lineup and presents a lineup card with a left-handed pitcher, presumably as an opener. Is this within the rules? Would this constitute poor sportsmanship or is it only strategy? This also gives an advantage to the visiting team since they could wait until after the lineups were presented to warm up the opener, thereby concealing their strategy.

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Thoughts about OPENERS.

 

There seems to be a certain mindset amongst some starters that they do need to "start" a game, especially if they have a pregame routine.

 

But can they just keep throwing in the pen?

 

Also, the opener would face the first 3-5/6 batters. Part of the charm is that the "real starting pitcher" would make their start, facing the weaker part of the order, while they find the plate. Plus then the 1-2-3 batters would have to adjust to a whole 'nother pitcher, especially if you are from the school that your first two baeetrs in the order have the capability of making a pitcher throw 4-6 pitches at least so the players watching from the dugout can get a read on the arm on the mound. (WHich is why Luis Arraexz is a great leadoff hitter).

 

And if you had two of these guys, capable of starting every third day (and maybe being available on other days to face a couple of batters), it would work because you should have at least two starters who want to start and can get you into a game.

 

Using an opener, especially in the case of the Twins, might mean an Ober can go more than  five innings. And, if can keep the lead, also get a win, which you don't when you have a short start.

 

If there was one plus for still having Wisler on the staff, he could be a crafty opener, as well as a bullpen arm.

 

But the whole reasoning is that the real starter will face a weaker part of the order...why have Jax pitch thru the order, then the starter gets to face the tough guys all over again anyways...might as well have him start and bring in a bullpen arm.

 

Or, the real reason is that you hope the "real starter" will go further with his 100 pitches if he doesn't have to face the first 5-6 batters right away.

 

Now with 8-man bullpens, you can basically have a guy be an opener, if you have guys on limited innings/pitch counts, of which the Twins have a whole slew for '22.

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I despise the opener concept, but I don't think this team is in a position pitching-wise to ignore a potential strategy or jettison pitchers that could potentially help.  They should hold on to any and all potential options for any tangible strategy to get through the season.

As @Sconniehas posted several times in other threads, they don't appear to have enough pitching options to get through the season without using guys AAAA options.

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There are some things that don't seem well thought out to me. There is a call for multi inning relief pitchers. When there are has been only a couple of instances of 100 inning relievers in the last 20 years, very few 80 and 90 inning pitchers and a lot of Tommy John surgery it would appear that the arms of today really is not going to hold up to the demands of max effort pitching on little rest. You have little rest with more innings. 

Some people need routine, some do not. Some people thrive with order, some with chaos. The trick is to have like minded people where they work best.

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4 hours ago, wsnydes said:

I despise the opener concept, but I don't think this team is in a position pitching-wise to ignore a potential strategy or jettison pitchers that could potentially help.  They should hold on to any and all potential options for any tangible strategy to get through the season.

As @Sconniehas posted several times in other threads, they don't appear to have enough pitching options to get through the season without using guys AAAA options.

To that point, I don’t believe they will use openers because they can’t afford the roster spots devoted to one inning pitchers.

piggy backing, absolutely likely in my mind. I picture a 7 man rotation in 5 games

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Can he be effective in a 2-3 inning role is much more important than if he starts the game or comes in at some later point IMO.  All teams are struggling to have enough pitching resource to cover innings.  As some others have said, it would be a win if the Twins could find a way to get effective innings out of Jax and anyone else.

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I'm no longer sold on the concept of Opener, as a particularly desirable outcome for a pitcher's career trajectory.  However, it might prove to be a valid waypoint along that trajectory, while deciding what his best use will be.  "One time through the lineup, and now and then we'll allow you to try to prove you can do more," would for example constitute a plan that I could see catching on better than "one inning... next!"  Doesn't have to come at the beginning of a game, for that matter, nor be literally exactly 9 batters faced - bring someone in to pitch to the bottom third of the lineup, say, and keep him in until goes all the way through again to the #9 hitter, relieving him of course if he struggles.

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Not a fan of the opener, but it seems to me Jax's likely position will be as a multiple inning reliever. With our (likely) young staff and the propensity for 5 inning outings from starters, we need a guy that can throw a couple of innings once or twice a week. It's up to Rocco and Wes to figure out a way to maximize him in the bullpen. I just don't see him as an SP long-term. If you need to have a bullpen game, fine have Jax start. Otherwise, it's time to put him in the BP. Plenty of failed starters have become excellent relievers.

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17 hours ago, Sconnie said:

To that point, I don’t believe they will use openers because they can’t afford the roster spots devoted to one inning pitchers.

piggy backing, absolutely likely in my mind. I picture a 7 man rotation in 5 games

Expanding on this point and addressing the OP: In 2021 Griffin Jax pitched the most innings of any pitcher currently on the roster. This team needs to rely on quad-A types worse than Jax to get through the season, no way do they limit him to the one-inning opener role.

He’s the workhorse of the rotation 

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