Could the San Diego Padres utilize the opener in the 2019 season to help with some of the rotation holes the team presently has?
The 2018 season provided an introduction for many of us, to the concept of ‘The Opener’ in major league baseball.
Teams such as the Rays found significant success in planning to pitch the bullpen for the entire game, so to speak. They posted the fifth-lowest FIP in the majors as a team, only behind the vaunted pitching staffs of the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Indians.
It’s clear the strategy was highly effective for the Rays and is becoming more common throughout the league. Should the Padres adopt this new approach to pitching, moving forward?
Considering the strength of the Padres’ bullpen last season, it would certainly be reasonable for the team to employ this new strategy with their pitchers.
Furthermore, the team’s renowned farm system is particularly rich in pitching depth. It’s not as if the team lacks the personnel to attempt to use their bullpen to pitch entire games. Given the performance of the starting pitchers for the Padres in 2018, it would actually make a lot of sense to let the bullpen pitch even more innings in 2019 and beyond.
Take a look at how the bullpen and rotation stacked up statistically, compared to the rest of the league in 2018:
It’s obvious the bullpen was much better than the rotation for the Padres in 2018, which the numbers above show us. In many categories, the Padres’ relievers were among the best of the best in the major leagues, which indicates that the team should try and build upon that success in the future. Their relievers also threw the third-most innings among all bullpens, which shows that they were able to perform at a high level despite throwing more innings than other teams’ relievers.
To be clear, using more of the bullpen in this scenario would involve more pitchers being a part of the Padres’ bullpen. Let’s say the team had two excellent starting pitchers, who would be used every fifth day as if they were in a standard five-man rotation. On the other three days when those two weren’t pitching, the team would use a ten or eleven man bullpen to pitch the entire game. Such a strategy would also limit the damage other teams could potentially do when hitting against a pitcher the third time through the order.
While some of the pitchers on the Padres are very talented at the beginning of their starts, they struggle to perform when facing hitters the third time through the order. Here are the numbers of the Padres’ potential 2019 starting pitchers in doing so:
2018 FIP Third Time Through the Order
Many of the pitchers above, clearly had issues when facing hitters for the third time through the order. If the bullpen were being used more often by manager Andy Green, the team could avoid leaving vulnerable starting pitchers on the mound longer than they should be pitching. Using multiple pitchers in a game would also make it more difficult for opponents to stack their lineup with players who hit well against left or right-handed pitchers.
Another reason the Padres could give their bullpen more responsibility is that all of the relievers who ended the year on the big league roster are returning for the 2019 season with the team. Many of the young pitchers who threw well out of the bullpen for the Padres in 2018 were rookies, which indicates that they have the potential to be even better in future seasons.
Going back to the pitching depth the Padres have in the minor leagues, let’s discuss the number of pitchers the team has within their top thirty prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline. Seven of their top ten, and fourteen of their top thirty prospects are pitchers, which speaks to the depth of pitching the team could have to work with in the future. Pitchers are more fragile, so it’s obvious we can’t assume that they’ll all be successful big leaguers. However, with the amount of depth the team has, a certain portion of the pitchers are likely to become useful in some capacity for the Padres. That’s the key point here.
It’s obvious to many of us that the Padres need to fill many of the holes in their rotation, before the start of the 2019 season. The performance of the team’s starting pitchers last year proved that the pitching staff must be improved if the team is to compete in the seasons to come. There are many highly rated prospects in the minor leagues, who will hopefully help improve the pitching for San Diego. Yet counting on them to perform well in the major leagues is still never a sure thing, and thus it is imperative that the team make changes to the way they use their pitching staff. Doing so will allow them to improve their pitching as soon as possible, without having to make many significant acquisitions via trades or free agency.