Red Sox fans won’t miss using an “opener”
Chaim Bloom found success building a pitching staff that relied on the opener strategy during his tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays but the plan backfired in Boston.
The Rays had the personal to make it work with a deep bullpen loaded with versatile arms. The Red Sox were forced into the unorthodox strategy out of necessity when they struggled to patch together a full five-man rotation. To the surprise of no one, bullpen games don’t work well when you have one of the worst groups of relief pitchers in the league.
Boston led the majors with 278 innings pitched by relievers. Their collective 5.79 ERA and -0.6 fWAR both ranked fourth-worst in the majors.
Relying heavily on an under-performing core of relievers is a recipe for disaster but that shouldn’t be as problematic next year. Eduardo Rodriguez should be back to lead the rotation on Opening Day and Chris Sale is expected to join him at some point in the first half. The late-season emergence of Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta provide optimism that the Red Sox will have some reliable options at the back end of the rotation. Boston is also searching the free-agent and trade markets for a starter.
The Red Sox aim to build sufficient depth for their rotation so that they won’t need to use an opener. Reducing the workload of the bullpen means the top relievers won’t struggle from being overworked and the fringe pitchers clinging to a roster spot won’t be tested early and often.
Utilizing an opener is a strategy that we’ll see other teams toy with but this Red Sox roster clearly isn’t built for it.