Starting pitching has been an issue for the San Francisco Giants for much of the season. Is it time to give the opener another try?
It’s no secret that the San Francisco Giants shoddy pitching staff has been a big reason the team has been struggling in 2019.
They rank 21st in the league in team ERA, and that can easily be traced to their starting pitching.
The nine players who have made at least one start for the Giants have combined for a 5.09 ERA, which ranks 24th in the majors. Meanwhile, the bullpen has been a clear strength, with a 3.93 ERA that is good for ninth in baseball.
Taking that one step further, only the Baltimore Orioles (-0.6 WAR) have posted worse value than the -0.5 WAR posted by the Giants’ starting staff in 2019.
Things are especially troublesome to start the game. For whatever reason, the Giants just can’t seem to get through those first three outs of the game unscathed. They give up an average of 0.98 runs a game in the first inning, firmly in last place in the majors in that regard.
Things have only gotten worse of late, and there needs to be a change if they don’t want this season to get even bleaker.
The Tampa Bay Rays were facing a similar dilemma last season when they turned to an unconventional approach in the form of an opener for the first time on May 19, 2018.
The Rays ranked 22nd in ERA before sending out their then closer and familiar face Sergio Romo to pitch the first inning, and he rewarded that unique approach by striking out the side. After that, usual starter Ryan Yarbrough came out in the second inning and he pitched into the eighth, picking up the win.
They continued using the opener on a semi-regular basis the rest of the season and finished with 90 wins while improving their ERA to third-best in baseball.
The openers played a pivotal role in the team giving up an average of just 0.41 runs in the first inning, which was tied for third-best in baseball.
Given how much the San Francisco Giants starters have struggled this season, especially relative to the relievers, it seems like a no-brainer for them to give it a try.
And as you may remember, they have.
Things didn’t go as smoothly as one might have hoped with Vincent surrendering four hits and three runs in his lone innings of work. Beede didn’t do too much better, needing 61 pitches to get seven outs.
Overall, it was a failed attempt, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give it another shot.
The Giants have an abundance of arms, and the opener would potentially put the young arms in a better position to succeed, while also making better use of the impressive crop of relievers.
Over the winter, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi spoke on the possibility of adopting the opener strategy by saying:
"We don’t have five guys that we can expect 34 starts and 200 innings from. Very few teams have that. Thinking about some of these as an alternative to get through 27 outs every day, I think it’s going to be a topic of discussion for us."
Bumgarner will likely be pitching elsewhere before the season is over, while Pomeranz has a 6.45 ERA through nine starts.
Who would be on the rubber to start games?
Despite his struggles in the first attempt, Vincent pitched a clean two-inning open last year for Seattle, and it’s worth giving him another shot. Mark Melancon could also be a good option for a low-pressure appearance in the first inning.
For a San Francisco Giants team that figures to reside near the basement for the duration of the season, giving the opener another go is a low-risk, high-reward tactic to getting the most out of the pitching staff. It’s time to give it another shot.