- The Yankees had the first “Designated Hitter” (DH) in Ron Blomberg.
- The Yankees arguably had the first designated “Closer” in Joe Page.
- The Yankees arguably had the first designated “Setup Man” in Dick Tidrow.
The Yankees did not have the first “Opener” — the Tampa Bay Devil Rays introduced the “Opener” as a strategy during the 2018 season — but now they have their first “Opener” in Chad Green.
The Strategy of the “Opener”
Most people are now familiar with the tactic of the “Opener” — to use a reliever as a starting man in the rotation, scheduled to pitch 1 or 2 innings, and then to be relieved by a long reliever, and then the rest of the ballpen. Years ago they called it a ballpen day; other versions of it had a team using a “Spot Starter”. But using an “Opener” is different than those techniques — there is an analytic strategy in play.
The strategy is that the reliever faces the top of the opponents lineup, then gives way to the “long reliever” who can go thru the opponent’s lineup two times — being removed before they come up a third time. At that point you should be late in the game when your normal setup men and closer come in. This not only keeps your ‘spot starter’ or ‘long reliever’ away from the opponents lineup the 3rd time, it throws off the lineup — especially if you have, say, a right-hander start and a left-hander be the long reliever, and vice versa.
The hole in the strategy is that if you go with an “Opener”, and your long reliever doesn’t last too long, you end up using a lot of relievers on an “Opener” day — and the more you go to the ballpen, the more likely it is you’ll pick a pitcher who is having an off day.
I’ve edited this article since I first posted it on May 24, 2019 — so as not to mislead the universe with false information — I originally wrote that Chad Green might be the first “Opener” in MLB history — based on this tweet by Bryan Hoch, which was the first time I ever saw a Yankee pitcher called an “Opener”:
The Yankees are planning to use an opener tomorrow at KC (weather permitting). Boone mentioned Chad Green as the likely choice.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 23, 2019
@Carolineee_27 pointed out Green had been used in this role the week before.
However, @LukeVoitHOF pointed out that Tampa Bay utilized an “opener” strategy in 2018 when they coined the term:
Also, we did it last year with Jonathan Holder at the end of the season pic.twitter.com/fOdAcn93rX
— VOIT SZN (@LukeVoitHOF) May 24, 2019
So the first pitcher to officially start a game under the coined term “Opener” may be Sergio Romo on May 19, 2018.
When Chad Green first started in the role of “Opener” for the Yanks on May 24, his ERA was over 12.00. His initial attempts at being an Opener weren’t so good, and Frank Vignuli likened his role to that of a bottle opener. A month later — as I rewrite this article — Green has settled into the “Opener” role and lowered his ERA to about 6.00.
Summary of Yankee Staff
That would make the Yankee pitching staff:
Opener: Chad Green
Holder: Jonathan Holder — Holder’s job was to ‘hold ’em’ — but he didn’t fare too well this year and has been sent to the minor leagues.
Mop Up Men: David Hale
Closer: Aroldis Chapman