Why do MLB teams adopt opening pitching strategies?

The Dodgers have a long and distinguished lineage of Game 1 starters: Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Sutton. Clayton Kershaw, a Hall of Famer on hold. Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Fernando Valenzuela, Zack Greinke, Burt Hooton, Jerry Reuss and Walker Buehler, a constellation of stars.

Dodgers starting pitcher on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Championship series against the Atlanta Braves: Corey Knebel.

What is happening on behalf of Tommy Lasorda?

First up: Max Scherzer would have started on Saturday if he hadn’t closed on Thursday. The Dodgers decided to give Scherzer an extra day off and, well, someone had to start.

Tony Gonsolin could have. Knebel was not a regular in the minor leagues, or even in college. The Dodgers decided that a reliever getting the first three strikeouts was their best way to get them all.

Knebel was the opener for the Dodgers, at a time when Major League Baseball is exploring whether to end the era of the opener.

Wall Street Baseball is the quest to find and exploit even the smallest of advantages. Win, baby, and who cares about the aesthetics?

The Tampa Bay Rays invented Wall Street baseball. Their baseball department puts a good team on the field. Their marketing department can’t convince fans to come see the team.

The Rays might say their low incomes give them no other option. What worries the league – and the players’ union – is that too many teams might try to copy this aspect of how to win Rays.

“From a fan’s perspective and baseball as a whole,” Scherzer said on Saturday, “if you look at it more of the game on the outside and say,“ Is that something that… we want the game addresses? Do we want to see that in the regular season? ‘ my answer is no.

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Dodgers’ Max Scherzer and Dave Roberts on the use of forerunners

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer and manager Dave Roberts discuss their feelings about baseball’s new trend to use forerunners to start games.

“No, you don’t. You want to see the starting pitchers. You want to see newbie pitchers go deep. I think it’s better for the fans, better for the players, everyone involved. I think that’s how we all looked at games.

We could have seen Scherzer against Max Fried on Saturday. We had Fried, against Knebel and a parade of following pitchers.

It might have been a special circumstance, but starting pitchers can have renowned value over the course of a season. Anticipation drives ticket sales, and the chance to see Scherzer or Kershaw or Jacob deGrom can attract fans.

In an Ipsos survey released on Thursday, Americans were asked to name their favorite sport. Football ranked first, with baseball and basketball tied for second. However, in a blatant warning to a league already keen to cultivate a younger audience, the Gen Z segment of the Ipsos poll ranked football number one and baseball number six, along with basketball, soccer, and hockey. and volleyball in between.

Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, didn’t mince words when asked what he thought of the opening strategy the first time he saw it.

“I hated it,” he says. “It wasn’t baseball.”

Roberts said he has relaxed his stance since then. His job is to win and, if the opener can help his team win, he gets it.

But what advantage does a team gain from an opener when almost all teams try it?

“The Rays kind of captured a marginal advantage for a few years,” said Roberts. “So the industry is catching up. “

In the 2018 NLCS, the Milwaukee Brewers lacked good starters and opted for an arsenal of openers against the Dodgers, including Wade Miley for a memorable one-hittering stint. In this year’s NLDS against the Braves, the Brewers started some real starters, and some really good ones: Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Eric Lauer.

“This is the best way to do it” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell told Athletic’s Andy McCullough. “That’s what every team would prefer.”

MLB used the minor and independent leagues this year as a laboratory, testing rule changes that included robot umpires, limits on defensive changes and pickup attempts, a 15-second clock, and recoil. from the mound of one foot.

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Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and Trea Turner discuss NLCS Game 1 loss

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and second baseman Trea Turner discuss the team’s 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday.

A little noticed change, in the Atlantic League: the test of a rule of the “double hook”, in which a team would lose its designated hitter when it withdraws its starting pitcher. Use an opener for an inning or two, and the DH would get batting time, followed by pinched pitchers or hitters.

Early returns were promising, said Michael Hill, senior vice president of MLB field operations.

“It’s worth continuing the discussion,” Hill said here on Saturday.

With a universal DH to be discussed, it is the same.

“I think it’s gotten a little bit of momentum,” said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Dodgers. “Increasing the value of a starting pitcher, by decreasing the value of a one-dimensional hitter, makes sense to me.”

In the pre-game interview room, Scherzer said he agreed with the Dodgers’ strategy on Saturday and said whether to restrict early games was best left for the offseason .

In January column, Athletic’s Jayson Stark introduced the concept of the Double Hook. As Scherzer left the interview room, he greeted Stark and cited this column.

Scherzer seems to like the concept. Do you?


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