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Would you object to the Cubs using an ‘opener’?

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The Tampa Bay Rays have tried it. Should the Cubs?

Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Baseball changes are incremental. Teams usually like to see if something works for them, before instituting the change across the board. Pitching used to be about the starting pitcher almost exclusively. Then, the closer became important. Now, the term Opener is getting into vogue. Would you be in favor of the Cubs experimenting with an Opener?

My introduction to the opening pitcher debate goes to Wayne Randazzo. Now with the New York Mets gameday crew, he used to call games for the Kane County Cougars when they were a Cubs affiliate. He noticed that when a MLB pitcher was on rehab, however he did, the primary reliever behind him would often have a rather decent outing.

For instance, as Yu Darvish eventually goes for another rehab start, the pitcher following him is pushed to the bullpen. However many innings Darvish tosses, the scheduled arm would take over after. His pitch count would begin then. It was Randazzo’s thought that the ‘follower’ tended to pitch better than he usually would.

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It used to be that organizations would roll with a ‘normal line-up’ far more than they do now. Offensively and defensively. Players on the bench were specified bench players. Some of the relievers were stapled to the bullpen until ‘blowout duty’ time. Under Joe Maddon, the Cubs have largely done away with that mindset.

You can prioritize that Steve Cishek is more high priority than Rob Zastryzny. However, with some of the other relievers, statuses are more in flux. Is James Norwood more or less high-leverage than Cory Mazzoni? Does it matter anymore?

The Cubs starters have had difficulty pitching into the seventh inning. Sometimes, into the sixth. Perhaps, if they had a specified and designated opening pitcher to get the ball every two or three days, it would help shortening games from the opening side of the game.

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Bullpenning isn’t without precedent, or problems. The Tampa Rays have used Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek, and Matt Andriese as openers to an extent this season. Despite the odds, they’re a .500 team. That said, they do play the Orioles regularly.

By announcing an opening pitcher, the opposition can nudge the opposite-sided hitters to the top of the order. On the other hand, if they over-adjust and start their players that are better for early in the game, they might deplete their bench for later. Adjust and react.

In the final analysis, any semi-seismic shift “works if it works.” If the Cubs install, say, Jesse Chavez as an early game pitcher and it works well down the stretch, it might be declared a success. (No, I’ve heard no whispers.) However, if the first guy in gives up three runs in the first inning, and needs help getting out of said first inning, it immediately becomes unpopular.

However, you should likely have an opinion, before any results take place. Imagine this scenario. In a mid-August game, when the Cubs have a four-game lead, would you object to the Cubs “starting” Norwood? Or Mazzoni? Or Chavez? The intent is for him to get three outs. If and when he does that, he’s finished.

I’m relatively good with it, though it’s been a long time coming. When I first heard about bullpenning, which is Randazzo’s term, I pushed back. He was receptive to my objections, and admitted it isn’t a cure-all.

It seems the Cubs, or specifically, these Cubs, could benefit from an opener. Part of it is their working margin in the division. Part of it is their pitching depth. Part of it is that agents like to be able to place their clients in spots where they may succeed.

Imagine in Advanced-A Ball somewhere, there’s a pitcher. He only has two pitches, but they’re rather good. He’s not a “50 pitches in a game” guy, but he’s perfectly useful for 25 pitches every other day or so. Mid-to-high 90s gas, without much of a right-left split. In the process of making a trade, the Cubs push to add him to the discussion.

Suddenly, now, the Cubs have a guy who entirely fits the idea of an opening pitcher. They could stick him in for 50 or so starts, and at near-league minimum levels as he matures. If he has an (ERA/FIP/Whatever matters then) of a better-than-league-average rate. Where’s the problem?

Yes, he trims the bullpen to seven. So it goes. Ideas should survive or wither on if they work or not. This specific team could benefit greatly from having a lefty face the Cincinnati Reds in the first. Not that Joey Votto is going to pop to first if he faces Justin Wilson in the first inning. However, if you can get the ‘real’ starter out of a disadvantageous first inning, he might have more length in the game, saving the bullpen.

I’m good with watching it in practice. Select a game with a pitcher willing to adjust to a different role. Try it on the road, and the offense might oblige by letting the pitcher get pinch-hit for, buying an extra swing for a hitter. This would be an added bonus in September, with deeper rosters.

Three final reasons to dig the idea. It will infuriate some people. if something trivial enrages someone, they probably ought to be tweaked, anyway. Also, it would give the Cubs scouts another advantage to seek in the draft. If “a certain type of pitcher” is especially good at getting “the first three-to-six outs of a game” while being particularly mediocre after, the Cubs might be able to locate him. In college. Internationally.

Lastly, if the Cubs are on the vanguard with a new idea, that might get them a non-roster invitee some off-season. Think Anthony Bass, with a bit more upside. If the Cubs can find an asset that other teams are interested in after seeing him on the field, he becomes a viable trade piece, or a long-term keeper.

I’m good with bullpenning, about two years later. It won’t work all the time. Baseball rarely works like that. However, if the Cubs can locate a comparative/competitive advantage in a copycat league, I’m completely good with exploiting it. Especially in a division where losing a game now or again to prove a point can prove beneficial. Bring on the future. Bring on bullpenning. And thanks to Randazzo for going there now and again.

Poll

Should the Cubs try an "opener"?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Yes, right now!
    (118 votes)
  • 51%
    Maybe sometime in the future
    (213 votes)
  • 20%
    No, it’s a dumb idea
    (85 votes)
416 votes total Vote Now