Should the Yankees employ latest analytics strategy used by the Rays?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: CC Sabathia
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: CC Sabathia /

Recently, the Tampa Bay Rays made some waves by employing a new analytics backed strategy; namely, “the opener”. Should the Yankees do the same?

For those of you not yet aware, every so often, the Rays have had a reliever pitch the first inning  or more and let the starter “long reliever.” They did so last weekend against the Yankees and they’ll see it again this weekend in Tampa. This strategy has been under scrutiny for various reasons. Reasons range from “it’s bad for the pitcher’s confidence” to  “it’s not what the fans want to see.”

However, the plan does make some sense from a numbers standpoint. More runs are scored in the first than any other inning. This makes sense because the best players on the team will bat in the inning. Now, a reliever can come in and neutralize those hitters. Usually, the starting pitcher gets taken out because he is about to face the top of the order a third or fourth time. However, using the opener, he would first get the lower half of the order thus letting the starter stay in the game longer more effectively.

Generally, a starting pitcher often gets taken out right after the top of the order because he’ll get hit. This means many relievers will face the easier bottoms of the order. Using the “opener” strategy would guarantee that your reliever will be used against the toughest competition.

However, this strategy isn’t for every pitcher. Luis Severino, who dominates almost every night he’s out there, would not need this. The same with Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray, who when they’re “on” could go deep into games. However, there are two pitchers who the Yankees could consider doing this with.

Domingo German

Although in his recent outings he’s shown vast improvement, he has been prone to getting hit in the first inning. In the first inning, German has a 7.88 ERA. Compare that to a 3.73 ERA the rest of the way. Using an opener for German would let him come in during the second or possibly the third inning in which he has given up just one run the entire year.

Allowing a Chad Green or Jonathan Holder to get the first 4-5 outs of a game, means that Domingo German does not put the Yankees into an early hole by giving up a big inning.

C.C. Sabathia

While the Yankees should use the “opener” for German because he struggles in the first inning, Sabathia is a different story. As opposed to German who gets hit hard in the first, CC’s bad inning is the fourth. That’s because this is when the other team’s best hitters see CC the second time. Having them face a reliever would certainly help him out.

Although CC just went seven and two thirds against the Rays, Sabathia rarely goes deep into games. The Rays happen to make life a lot easier because of their free-swinging approach. CC relies on soft contact. Swinging at everything near the zone will make a lot of that.

Besides for that start, CC pitched into the seventh just twice all season. CC often gets into trouble on the infield single. Those lost outs raise his pitch counts and get him into jams. Both of those lead to him being pulled early.

This means that there are many times where the reliever will come in to face the bottom of the order. To avoid “wasting” a dominant reliever, having one open could help CC out. Relievers also tend to have high octane fastballs. This is to Sabathia’s advantage as he relies on changing speeds. Having someone with a power fastball throw the first time around followed by CC and his lower velocity can have the hitter speed up a certain degree and it would be a different look that could be hard to adjust to.

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The Yankees have shown themselves to be dedicated to the numbers and to analytics. Perhaps, this is too much for them. However, using an opener certainly does make sense with the right pitcher to back them up.