Openers?

Danny_Darwin

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People are talking about the Sox using an opener next year on a regular basis. The lack of an obvious choice for fifth starter in the post-David Price world would seem like more evidence pointing in that direction. To me the question is not whether an opener every fifth day can work as a strategy. Tampa has proven that it can. The question is if it can work for the 2020 Boston Red Sox, and... I don't know, but it seems like the type of thing we could talk about! My thought is that you still need at least one person those days to go, like, three or four innings, and you need a couple of guys you're comfortable throwing a bunch of days in a row and/or a bunch of Quad-A types who can ride the shuttle. I think we're going to see a lot of Ryan Weber and Josh Taylor, but that's probably going to be true no matter what.

So what do people here think? Is this a good idea for this team?
 

DeadlySplitter

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I think they have no choice but to use at least one with the lack of depth they have. And that's if the current rotation stays fully healthy.
 

benhogan

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Can't say I have studied how TB has used their "openers". BUT I'm guessing it would be wise to use "openers" against teams that deploy a platoon heavy lineup? and not disclose pre-game how many innings you plan to use the opener (1 or 3 innings).

Sign me up for trying something new/different
 

bsj

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I honestly hate the term "opener" more than i hate the actual practice. They still "start" the game.

But beyond that, seems like the structure of the staff almost mandates it.
 

BaseballJones

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I just want the Red Sox to win games. If an "opener" is the best way to do it, what do I care?
 

HomeRunBaker

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People are talking about the Sox using an opener next year on a regular basis. The lack of an obvious choice for fifth starter in the post-David Price world would seem like more evidence pointing in that direction. To me the question is not whether an opener every fifth day can work as a strategy. Tampa has proven that it can. The question is if it can work for the 2020 Boston Red Sox, and... I don't know, but it seems like the type of thing we could talk about! My thought is that you still need at least one person those days to go, like, three or four innings, and you need a couple of guys you're comfortable throwing a bunch of days in a row and/or a bunch of Quad-A types who can ride the shuttle. I think we're going to see a lot of Ryan Weber and Josh Taylor, but that's probably going to be true no matter what.

So what do people here think? Is this a good idea for this team?
I expect us to utilize 2 openers for at least part of the season. Absolutely 1 to begin.
 

Trlicek's Whip

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I think they have no choice but to use at least one with the lack of depth they have. And that's if the current rotation stays fully healthy.
Presumably the staff won't stay 100% healthy because baseball happens, so openers would be what we'd see if injuries forced them to do it. May as well do it on purpose, or just keep doing it if they did initially resort to it while someone was DL'd. And telling certain guys what their roles are in advance would only help them prepare, which is another reason openers on purpose makes sense.
 

PhabPhour20

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It does seem intuitive that the first (and maybe the start of the second) inning is the only time you can guarantee AHEAD OF TIME that a strong pitcher faces the heart (or at least top) of the lineup. Would prevent the situation of warming up your best relievers and having them sit again during the game because the guy you had in the game managed to elicit a GIDP. For strong, 1-inning relievers, I think it makes a ton of sense.

If the opposing manager decides to change his 1-2-3 for 7-8-9 to counteract this, then you've made him put out a sub-optimal lineup as well.

I think it's a win-win.

With all the talk about Britton-Betances-Chapman essentially shortening Yankee games to 6 innings, this would actually shorten a game for your starter/rest of the pen. The downside is burning a quality pitcher early, but it's not like many guys routinely go 9 anymore.
 

Harry Hooper

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With all the talk about Britton-Betances-Chapman essentially shortening Yankee games to 6 innings, this would actually shorten a game for your starter/rest of the pen. The downside is burning a quality pitcher early, but it's not like many guys routinely go 9 anymore.
The other plus is the early appearance means it's more often an appearance with a close score
 
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Can't say I have studied how TB has used their "openers".
Well, you can go to Team Starting Pitching for a club on bb-ref and get a listing of starters and their performance for each club, With regard to Tampa Bay in the 2019 season, try:
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/TBR/2019-pitching.shtml#all_players_starter_pitching

The data listed for IP/GS is the average number of innings per start for each pitcher who made a start. In TB's case, they had five pitchers who averaged from 0.3 to 2.0 IP/GS. The pitcher with 1/3-rd of an inning made his first start in his final appearance and gave up a single, three walks (one intentional), two wild pitches, and got one out before they pulled him, so I'm not sure I'd count him as an "opener." Otherwise, the remaining four "openers" made a total of 42 games started. It is possible that some of them could have been short starts because of poor pitching like the player with 1/3-rd inning or some of the players who averaged at least 4.1 IP per start could have been used as an "opener" for a small number of games (I didn't feel like going through every play-by-play...also on the above link, if you try to sort by any rate stat by clicking on its header, you must make sure the box for Hide non-qualifiers for rate stats in unchecked.).
 

Yo La Tengo

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The Devil Rays won 96 games last year but only had one pitcher throw 150+ innings or end up with 12 or more wins. Bloom is obviously familiar with the practice and I echo the sentiment that the current roster doesn't have an obvious candidate for the 5th starter spot.
 

donutogre

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I understand that "openers" are definitely becoming a thing, and I don't mean to be the idiot asking everyone to explain things. But can someone explain to me why having an opener is better than just having a 5th starter who you just try and get through 3-4 innings?

I get the notion that the opener ideally is a better pitcher who can throw a quality 1-2 innings against the top of the lineup (and then contribute later in other games, like any other reliever might). But... what happens after the opener on this team? I feel like we still need to eat innings and haven't answered the question of where they're going to come from.
 

YTF

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I'm all for anything that works, it's been a successful implementation in Tampa. Whether or not The Sox have the proper personnel in place to utilize it remains to be seen. Similar to building a traditional pitching staff, you have to have the right expectations of the right guys in the right roles.
 

YTF

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I understand that "openers" are definitely becoming a thing, and I don't mean to be the idiot asking everyone to explain things. But can someone explain to me why having an opener is better than just having a 5th starter who you just try and get through 3-4 innings?

I get the notion that the opener ideally is a better pitcher who can throw a quality 1-2 innings against the top of the lineup (and then contribute later in other games, like any other reliever might). But... what happens after the opener on this team? I feel like we still need to eat innings and haven't answered the question of where they're going to come from.
Part of the reasoning is that hitters don't get a look at your starter (opener) more than once through the line up where I think stats show a lot of guys start to have trouble that third time through.
 

tims4wins

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Part of the reasoning is that hitters don't get a look at your starter (opener) more than once through the line up where I think stats show a lot of guys start to have trouble that third time through.
The other piece is using a quality arm against the top of the lineup once.
 

allmanbro

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I understand that "openers" are definitely becoming a thing, and I don't mean to be the idiot asking everyone to explain things. But can someone explain to me why having an opener is better than just having a 5th starter who you just try and get through 3-4 innings?

I get the notion that the opener ideally is a better pitcher who can throw a quality 1-2 innings against the top of the lineup (and then contribute later in other games, like any other reliever might). But... what happens after the opener on this team? I feel like we still need to eat innings and haven't answered the question of where they're going to come from.
I've been reading up a bit, since I was unsure of this too. Basically, if the bulk guy goes 2.5 times through the lineup (which is about league average for a start), the hitters that see him a 3rd time are the 6/7/8/9 guys instead of 1/2/3/4 it would be for a starter who faces the same number of hitters. So the 'average' hitter faced by that pitcher over the course of the outing is lower as a bulk than any way of arranging it as a starter. Plus, if you have a guy you don't want to see the best hitters a third time, you can try to eke one more inning out of him as a bulk guy against the other team's worst hitters instead of just pulling him after two times through. So I see some benefits there, but it's hard for me to see how it makes a material difference if you aren't also exploiting match-ups. The original idea for the Rays was that their 4 and 5 SPs were lefties, so they could start with a righty opener against teams with a RH heavy top of the lineup.

I share the worry about where innings come from either way for this team.
 

The Gray Eagle

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If we're going to use an opener, then it would be nice to have a middle relief mopup knuckleballer who could eat several innings in those games where you're down a few runs by the 4th or 5th. (Not that you would necessarily have more of those games with an opener, just that if we're doing the opener thing because we only have 4 decent starters, then we're probably going to have a bunch of those games anyway.)

Having a guy who could throw 3 or 4 innings of low-leverage mopup twice in a few days would really save the rest of the arms on the staff and let you use your good pitchers in closer games.

Moot point I guess, since I don't think there are many (any?) knuckleballers left with Wright out for the year at least. If you had a hybrid position player/pitcher, he might be able to eat up some innings in lost games as well without taking up another roster spot.

Might be smart to combine these and teach some guy in the minors who profiles as a utility position player to learn to throw the knuckleball.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Are there any knuckleballers even in MLB anymore?
Also.... there's a 26 man roster this season, yeah? That'd really make it seem to me at least that having 4 guys that can go 6+ innings plus 3 other guys that can all pitch 2 innings each makes it a very feasible thing.
But yeah... the question there still is: is that better than just finding a replacement level pitcher that will at least stay healthy and give you 5 innings (only one roster spot.... salary issues I'm not sure about) whether they're garbage or not.
 

jon abbey

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The 26 man roster doesn't really change things because you're only allowed a maximum of 13 pitchers and the majority of teams were already doing that (with a three man bench in the AL).

I feel like the opener concept is being a bit misunderstood here, you still have a long guy who you're hoping to get 4-5 innings out of, you just pitch someone else before him.
 

benhogan

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SSS alert: The NYY coped with having three of their starting pitchers on the IR in 2019 by using reliever Chad Green as an opener. Green would pitch the first inning or two and then hand over the game to a long reliever. During the 2019 regular season, Green opened 15 games for the Yankees; the Yankees won 11 of the games that he started.The Angels pitched a no-hitter using an opener, with Taylor Cole working the first two innings and Felix Pena the last seven in their 13–0 no-hitter against the Mariners

Advantages:
One advantage of the strategy is that the opener, who is often a hard-throwing specialist, can be called in to face the most dangerous hitters, who are usually near the top of the batting order, the first time they come to bat. If the opener is successful, the job of the next pitcher is easier since they will start with less-dangerous hitters. The strategy also throws off the timing of the top-of-the-order hitters, who are not used to seeing different pitchers each time they come to bat, and allows the usual starting pitcher to face the top of the lineup two times rather than three.

From a financial perspective, the strategy allows teams to make more use of relief pitchers who are still under low-paying contracts, potentially reducing the salaries paid to starting pitchers because the latter are used less.
 

jon abbey

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SSS alert: The NYY coped with having three of their starting pitchers on the IR in 2019 by using reliever Chad Green as an opener. Green would pitch the first inning or two and then hand over the game to a long reliever. During the 2019 regular season, Green opened 15 games for the Yankees; the Yankees won 11 of the games that he started.
The amazing thing about this is that while Green is very good, the bulk guy they used in most of those games was Nestor Cortes Jr, who is a AAAA pitcher but who excelled in that role. It really is a good way to paper over a thin pitching staff.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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The 26 man roster doesn't really change things because you're only allowed a maximum of 13 pitchers and the majority of teams were already doing that (with a three man bench in the AL).

I feel like the opener concept is being a bit misunderstood here, you still have a long guy who you're hoping to get 4-5 innings out of, you just pitch someone else before him.
Gotcha.
That now being understood.... the Sox roster is not only lacking a traditional 5th starter... but a guy, IMO, from the pen that would be a traditional "long relief" guy. Nevermind the fact that 2 of their 4 starters are often injured, and the 3rd is pretty much a question mark.
 

benhogan

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The amazing thing about this is that while Green is very good, the bulk guy they used in most of those games was Nestor Cortes Jr, who is a AAAA pitcher but who excelled in that role. It really is a good way to paper over a thin pitching staff.
I agree. The Quad A/shuttle pitchers are an important element to keeping the staff fresh/not overworked.

I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. If you get .500 or better from your 5th spot its a no-brainer. If it works better then expand it to your 4th starter.

Also, it feels from that TB article that Chaim was the architect of the strategy.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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The wrong side of the bridge....
The 26 man roster doesn't really change things because you're only allowed a maximum of 13 pitchers and the majority of teams were already doing that (with a three man bench in the AL).

I feel like the opener concept is being a bit misunderstood here, you still have a long guy who you're hoping to get 4-5 innings out of, you just pitch someone else before him.
I had never quite understood it before, but I think allmanbro's post finally made light dawn on Marblehead: by having a pitcher who is tough to hit in short outings get through hitters 1-6 once, you then bring in your "starter" against the weakest bats in the lineup, which means that however many times through the lineup he goes, those will be the guys he faces most. It's a way to get a slight edge in utilizing durable but mediocre arms.
 

jon abbey

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Gotcha.
That now being understood.... the Sox roster is not only lacking a traditional 5th starter... but a guy, IMO, from the pen that would be a traditional "long relief" guy. Nevermind the fact that 2 of their 4 starters are often injured, and the 3rd is pretty much a question mark.
Chad Jennings has a good rundown in The Athletic today of all the back-end candidates for the BOS staff, there will be a lot of guys competing for those roles at least.

 

jon abbey

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I had never quite understood it before, but I think allmanbro's post finally made light dawn on Marblehead: by having a pitcher who is tough to hit in short outings get through hitters 1-6 once, you then bring in your "starter" against the weakest bats in the lineup, which means that however many times through the lineup he goes, those will be the guys he faces most. It's a way to get a slight edge in utilizing durable but mediocre arms.
Yes, exactly, with the slight tweak that the opener sometimes just gets 3/4/5 outs, just like a guy would who came in in the sixth or seventh.
 

chawson

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Chad Jennings has a good rundown in The Athletic today of all the back-end candidates for the BOS staff, there will be a lot of guys competing for those roles at least.

That’s a fun piece. I confess I had never even heard of Mike Kickham.

This will all play out at a much more granular level than we can detect — or have time to run the numbers on. It seems like they got a whole lot of guys whose pitch combos can be tweaked to tunnel especially well, or guys with exceptional individual pitches.

For example, I think Matt Hall is gonna play a bigger role than we expect. He’s got a curveball with the same (elite) spin rate as Rich Hill — but 2 mph faster. He just throws it about half as often as Hill does. I bet we’ll see Hall and Brice carve up the baby Blue Jays a couple times this year.
 

HomeRunBaker

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Has this been done by anyone? Seems like it would really tax the pen.
You may see shuttles back and forth to Pawtucket to the extent that has never been seen before in MLB. There could be a bunch of 13-11 games at Fenway this summer.
 

high cheese

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So who’s the first manager to flip the order to counter ‘openers’? Any cool ideas for a new faddish leadoff term?
 

scottyno

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Openers are a massive improvement over last year where every 5 days for a majority of the season we had to watch a guy who was supposed to be the regular starter get shelled and not get out of like the 2nd or 3rd inning most of the time anyway
 

JimD

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You may see shuttles back and forth to Pawtucket to the extent that has never been seen before in MLB. There could be a bunch of 13-11 games at Fenway this summer.
This may be hampered somewhat by the MLB rule change that now requires pitchers optioned to the minors to stay down for 15 days before they can be recalled to the majors, instead of 10 days as before.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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The wrong side of the bridge....
Won’t happen, not worth sacrificing an extra AB later in the game
Right, and this points to the asymmetry inherent in the rules about pregame announcements: managers have to declare an entire batting order and stick to it, but only have to say who their first pitcher will be. So the offense can't match the in-game flexibility the opposing team has in managing its pitching staff, especially in an era of small offensive rosters and very limited pinch-hitting options.

Which makes me realize that in many ways the opener strategy is an acknowledgement of how much roster makeup and deployment have changed since the five-man rotation + bullpen paradigm was fixed. The 1967 Red Sox used 218 pinch-hitters and 253 relievers; in 2018 those numbers were 84 and 535. The idea of saving all your pitching flexibility for the last third of the game made sense in an era when your opponent always had at least three or four viable pinch-hitting options on the bench. Now, not so much.
 

VORP Speed

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Right, and this points to the asymmetry inherent in the rules about pregame announcements: managers have to declare an entire batting order and stick to it, but only have to say who their first pitcher will be. So the offense can't match the in-game flexibility the opposing team has in managing its pitching staff, especially in an era of small offensive rosters and very limited pinch-hitting options.

Which makes me realize that in many ways the opener strategy is an acknowledgement of how much roster makeup and deployment have changed since the five-man rotation + bullpen paradigm was fixed. The 1967 Red Sox used 218 pinch-hitters and 253 relievers; in 2018 those numbers were 84 and 535. The idea of saving all your pitching flexibility for the last third of the game made sense in an era when your opponent always had at least three or four viable pinch-hitting options on the bench. Now, not so much.
The genesis of the opener gambit is rooted in the discovery of the 3rd time through the order effect. Once the Rays were convinced of this, they started limiting the length of starts, particularly for lower quality starters. For a couple of years before the opener, the starts shortened steadily and they played around with more aggressive bullpen usage and ways to shuttle pitchers to AAA, etc, to manage all those bullpen innings. The opener was a natural evolution once some boy genius in the front office realized you could steal an extra 4-5 outs by letting a lesser starter enter against the bottom half of the order, since presumably the 3rd time through effect was more pronounced against better hitters. The platoon advantages were icing on the cake.
 

allmanbro

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The genesis of the opener gambit is rooted in the discovery of the 3rd time through the order effect. Once the Rays were convinced of this, they started limiting the length of starts, particularly for lower quality starters. For a couple of years before the opener, the starts shortened steadily and they played around with more aggressive bullpen usage and ways to shuttle pitchers to AAA, etc, to manage all those bullpen innings. The opener was a natural evolution once some boy genius in the front office realized you could steal an extra 4-5 outs by letting a lesser starter enter against the bottom half of the order, since presumably the 3rd time through effect was more pronounced against better hitters. The platoon advantages were icing on the cake.
This is one thing I've wondered - does anyone know of a study on this? Is the third time through effect different, or is it just that bad hitters even with the advantage are still hitters you can get out (or, at least, rallies develop slowly enough that you can react).
 

Yo La Tengo

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Interesting how many runs are scored in the first inning (likely due to facing 1-2-3 in the order). And, the first inning effect is much greater for home teams. I'm guessing that the surge of runs in the 5th and 6th innings is due to penalty of the 3rd-time through the order.

Here's the link to the article:
 

Nevermore

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Is the natural progression of this approach the eventual demise of starters all together?

Assuming this approach is successful, one would think a good strategy would be to fill a roster with the best 13 relievers you can afford, with as much variety (right, left, pitch type, delivery, etc.) as possible. That would in turn allow a manager to maximize match-ups inning by inning, while also making it far more difficult for a team to prepare for a pitcher who is expected to throw the majority of innings on a given day. A team that did might also be more prepared for the playoffs, where starters pitch fewer innings and pitch in relief when necessary.

I also wonder about the impact on pitcher health. Assuming a staff of 13, and an average of six games a week (54 innings per week), is it healthier for all pitchers to prepare and throw ~4 game innings spread out within the week, or for five to throw ~6 innings at repeatable intervals once a week?

The adoption of this approach would also probably require keeping a rubber-armed garbage man on staff who would pitch during blow-outs to save the rest of the pen.
 

Cesar Crespo

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Is the natural progression of this approach the eventual demise of starters all together?

Assuming this approach is successful, one would think a good strategy would be to fill a roster with the best 13 relievers you can afford, with as much variety (right, left, pitch type, delivery, etc.) as possible. That would in turn allow a manager to maximize match-ups inning by inning, while also making it far more difficult for a team to prepare for a pitcher who is expected to throw the majority of innings on a given day. A team that did might also be more prepared for the playoffs, where starters pitch fewer innings and pitch in relief when necessary.

I also wonder about the impact on pitcher health. Assuming a staff of 13, and an average of six games a week (54 innings per week), is it healthier for all pitchers to prepare and throw ~4 game innings spread out within the week, or for five to throw ~6 innings at repeatable intervals once a week?

The adoption of this approach would also probably require keeping a rubber-armed garbage man on staff who would pitch during blow-outs to save the rest of the pen.
Dedicating big money to MR seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Sign the best 13 you can afford and half will probably end up injured or sucking. If not more.
 

Cesar Crespo

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At one point in the 90's with the Oakland A's, LaRussa started to use every pitcher in 3 inning intervals. Not really the same thing but people have tinkered with the "starter" concept.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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Is the natural progression of this approach the eventual demise of starters all together?

Assuming this approach is successful, one would think a good strategy would be to fill a roster with the best 13 relievers you can afford, with as much variety (right, left, pitch type, delivery, etc.) as possible. That would in turn allow a manager to maximize match-ups inning by inning, while also making it far more difficult for a team to prepare for a pitcher who is expected to throw the majority of innings on a given day. A team that did might also be more prepared for the playoffs, where starters pitch fewer innings and pitch in relief when necessary.

I also wonder about the impact on pitcher health. Assuming a staff of 13, and an average of six games a week (54 innings per week), is it healthier for all pitchers to prepare and throw ~4 game innings spread out within the week, or for five to throw ~6 innings at repeatable intervals once a week?

The adoption of this approach would also probably require keeping a rubber-armed garbage man on staff who would pitch during blow-outs to save the rest of the pen.
Averaging four innings per six games played comes out to 108 innings per pitcher for a 13-man staff. Obviously, they'll be breaking that up some with shuttling players up and down from the minors, but aiming to have everyone to have a middle reliever style workload does not seem optimal to me. Not in a time when most middle relievers don't typically exceed 70-80 IP. In 2019, there were only six players in MLB who racked up 80+ innings without making a single start: Sam Gaviglio (95.2 IP in 52 appearances), Junior Guerra (83.2 in 72), Michael Lorenzen (83.1 in 73), Yusmeiro Petit (83 in 80), Craig Stammen (82 in 76), Luis Cessa (81 in 43), and Seth Lugo (80 in 61).

I can foresee a time when the "horses" of a staff are pitching 160-180 innings maximum (as opposed to 200-220). I can't see baseball entirely abandoning the prototypical starting pitcher who begins the game and goes as deep as he can each time out.
 

jon abbey

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Is the natural progression of this approach the eventual demise of starters all together?
It's not a one way trend, it depends on a team's personnel. If Morton, Snell and Glasnow all stay healthy and you add in Chirinos and Yarbrough, TB will very likely use openers much less this season than they did the previous two.

As I said above, it's a good way to paper over a thin pitching staff which is why it is a good fit for this year's Sox team (sorry).
 

Plympton91

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This may be hampered somewhat by the MLB rule change that now requires pitchers optioned to the minors to stay down for 15 days before they can be recalled to the majors, instead of 10 days as before.
we need more rules like this in order to stop this abomination in its tracks.

How about a rule that says the pitcher starting the game cannot be removed prior to throwing 60 pitches unless they’ve given up at least 2 runs. I could definitely go for that.

No player may appear in a game for at least 3 days after starting a game. That would work too.

Also, once everyone starts doing it, the competitive advantage will dissipate and we’ll just be left with more innings pitched by faceless and boring middle relievers, less offense, and longer games.

Maybe we can bring Monte Brewster out of retirement! He can get anyone out for 3 innings. Even the Yankees.
 
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Lose Remerswaal

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artificial constraints like that lead to pinning the fielders into place before a pitch is thrown and limiting tosses to the bases. Such a slippery slope.

How about the opponents adapt to the moves like they have in the first 100+ years of baseball?