Tampa Bay Rays: Astros and Giants players speak out on opener strategy

Alex Bregman Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Alex Bregman Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

A trio of big leaguers ranging between two teams are the most recent players to come out against the Tampa Bay Rays “opener” strategy.

The Tampa Bay Rays were forward thinkings with their opener strategy last year, Ryne Stanek, Sergio Romo, and the like filled the opener role a year ago setting up guys like Ryan Yarbrough to come in around the second or third inning.

This strategy was loved and also hated by some in the media. Tampa Bay Rays fans have seemingly rallied around the opener. It is even featured on the Rays promotional schedule.

Players, outside of the Rays system have almost unanimously been against the opener strategy.

Giants hurler Madison Bumgardner said he is “Walking right out of the ballpark.” if Giants skipper Bruce Bochy tried to implement an opener ahead of Bumgardner. Let’s just say, I wish he had that mindset during the 2014 World Series.

He was not the only Giants pitcher to take offense to the Rays use of their staff. Old school pitcher and “tough guy” who is known for stirring the pot, Jeff Samardzija, who had ten wins and a bloated four ERA over the last two seasons, was steaming mad at Kevin Cash and more specifically Tampa Bay Rays pitchers themselves.

Samardzija started by saying “I think it’s (The opener) a load of crap.” He went on to add “Where did the pride go from the players’ standpoint?…Where were the guys in Tampa Bay saying ‘No, No, No, I am good enough to go seven innings and get these outs. You do not need to do this…As players, we need to have a little more moxie.” Samardzija added in an interview with the San Francisco Chronical with John Shea.

How many games did the Giants win? Oh yeah, 75 in a mediocre division that is nowhere close to the ultra competitive top three A.L. East teams. A big part of that is the backward thinking, old school Bruce Botchy throwing out subpar guys to try and get seven innings out of players mostly comprised of guys who are not capable of getting you three. San Francisco mixing and matching pitchers, like the opener, in all likelihood would have lead to more wins.

In that same interview, the Giants front office had this to say: “When the opposition is thinking about using an opener, it makes your life harder,” Zaidi said. “Our goal as a team should be to make life as difficult as possible for the opposition.”

Even if the Giants capitalized on their lofty Bryce Harper dreams, they will still be a terrible team in 2019. How could they improve? by being a forward thinking team.

At some point, players need to not have moxie and instead have realism. Jeff Samardzija is not capable of going out and getting you seven or eight very good innings. For most of his career, he has not been that guy despite what falshoods dance around in his head.

So his value and production value boosts the Giants ability to win games if they use an opener.

Ryan Yarbrough does not have the ability to be Blake Snell and go wire to wire in a ballgame with lights out stuff. He does, however, do a great job at following an opener and turning in solid innings after the meat of an order was retired the first time through.

Ryan Yarbrough responded.

In Jeff Samardzija’s ten game 2018 campaign, he gave up ten first inning runs. 17 runs when including innings one through three. Seems like if Samardzija had an opener, his ERA would thank him.

It is not just pitchers who do not like the opener, Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros was on a podcast called “Going deep with Chad and JT.” and the pair of podcasters asked the all star third baseman what he thought of the opener in a really great interview with one of baseball’s most open stars.

Bregman said “I don’t like it…I just think it is doing too much…Let your guys play. Trust your guys.” He went on to say “I don’t think it plays in the postseason. You have to have dominant starting pitching in the postseason.”

Again, the interview was well done and entertaining, and Bregman is probably my favorite non-Rays player because of how much access he gives fans via his youtube channel which is linked above.

The Brewers used an opener or “bullpen day” whichever you prefer to start the NLDS. They swept their way through the NLDS and gave the Dodgers a fight taking the series to seven games.

Can it work in the postseason? Sure. I think we over analyze “What works in the postseason?” questions. It is still just baseball. It does not come down to if the strategy itself is a good one. That strategy brought the Rays to 90 wins a year ago. That is a larger sample size than the strategy will ever see in a postseason.

We know the opener works. However, no matter if you start Sergio Romo or Blake Snell in the one game wild card, some moments are just too big for certain players. So do what you think gives the team the best chance to win.