With new Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, is there a chance we see the “Opener” in Toronto?
The Tampa Bay Rays have always been a forward thinking organization. Because of their low payroll and limited resources, they have no choice but to try new innovations in order to gain a competitive edge over the rest of the league.
Yet when manager Kevin Cash first introduced the concept of the “opener”, it was met with doubt and even criticism.
What exactly is an opener?
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept of an opener, let me quickly introduce the idea. In essence, an opener is a relief pitcher who pitches the first inning (or first few innings) of a baseball game. Its advantages include:
- Taking advantage of any platoon splits against the top hitters in the lineup.
- Allowing the starting pitcher to get acclimated into the game against the bottom half of the lineup.
- Preventing the starting pitcher from facing the top hitters in the lineup more than two or three times.
It is important to note that since the opener is a relief pitcher, they are already used to quickly getting acclimated into a ballgame and pitching against the top hitters in a lineup.
How could it help the Blue Jays?
While every team would love to have five major league caliber starters, in reality, not many teams (including the Blue Jays) are fortunate to have this luxury. This is where the idea of the opener comes in.
As of right now, the 2019 rotation looks to consist of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, and some combination of Sam Gaviglio, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, and a free agent signing (or two). Outside of Marcus Stroman, none of those names have pitched over 200 innings in a season.
If the Blue Jays were to incorporate an opener in three to four games every week, it would allow them to more effectively control the innings of both the younger pitchers and an injury-prone Aaron Sanchez. And not only that, it may also give Joe Biagini the perfect role to thrive in.
Who could be openers?
As Blue Jays fans probably know too well, Joe Biagini failed as a starter. He was extremely effective out of the bullpen in 2016 which prompted the Blue Jays to try and re-convert him back into a starter. Unfortunately, Biagini’s stuff wasn’t good enough to face a lineup two or three times, and the results showed. That being said, the opener could be the perfect role for Biagini. His stuff plays up in short 1-2 inning bursts, and he’s used to the before-game routine of a starter. This could be a great way for the Blue Jays to restore Biagini’s confidence.
If not Biagini, then another candidate that comes to mind is David Paulino. Acquired in the Ken Giles trade this year, Paulino was a top prospect for the Astros in the not-too-distant past. Injuries have slowed down his career so far, but MLB.com is still impressed with Paulino’s stuff. Both Paulino’s fastball and curveball are given a rating of 60, while his changeup and control are given a rating of 55. For those not too familiar with the rating of prospect tools, 55/60 are deemed above average.
The role of the opener could potentially decrease the risk of injury for the Dominican native while keeping him in the comfortable environment of starting games. Furthermore, his already above-average stuff could play up even more which is an exciting prospect.
Nothing to lose, so why not?
In a rebuilding 2019 season for the Toronto Blue Jays, trying out the opener is a good idea. If it proves to be effective, then the Blue Jays have a competitive advantage over most of the league. If not, then nothing is really lost. With so many potential gains and a season intended for experimentation and acclimation, Charlie Montoyo should go ahead and give the the opener a shot. There’s nothing to lose, so why not?