Should the Cardinals Install an Opener for Carlos Martinez?

In 2018, the Rays went from exploring the potential of the Opener to using it on a regular basis. Generally, the opener worked for them. They were just 19-17 in games with the opener, but their runs allowed were below the AL average in each inning but the 7th. Looking at how they used the opener and the success they had, it got me thinking: Would the opener be wise for the Cardinals with Carlos Martinez?

Martinez, as a starter, doesn’t struggle at the beginning of games traditionally; in fact, he kind of fluctuates as the game gets going. Here is his tOPS+ per inning:


Essentially anything under 100 is better than his typical splits. He’s traditionally been the best at the end of a game, but he’s wanting to stay in the rotation this season. Martinez has averaged about 6 innings per game as a starter; if you allow him to pitch 5 innings (to preserve his shoulder) with an opener taking the first inning, you get very good innings in the 3rd and 6th with a decent one in the 2nd. If he can limit the damage in the 4th and 5th, you’ll be in the game.

Since he has a history of pitching in relief, you don’t need to worry about him coming out of the bullpen; there is always the question of how a pitcher will respond when they are moved from the rotation to the bullpen and I don’t think that would be an issue.

Who would be the best options to open?

Genesis Cabrera would be a good lefty option; Cabrera has traditionally been pretty good in short stints. When Cabrera faces a batter for the first time, he owns a slash line of .172/.325/.261, along with a BABIP of .247 and ISO of .090. His tOPS+ as a starter the first time through is 57, while it’s 75 out of the bullpen; either way, hitters are below average against him. When he pitches 25 or fewer pitches, he’s also very effective; his slash line is .163/.307/.260, BABIP is .260, ISO is -.003, and tOPS+ is 67. He’s got very good lines versus the 1-3 hitters of the lineups he’s faced while not having extreme left/right splits.

With Cabrera and his 67 tOPS+ in the first and Martinez pitching efficiently through 6, you have your bullpen of Jordan Hicks, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, Andrew Miller, and Giovanny Gallegos for the remaining 3 innings. That give you a good chance of pulling out a win.

There might be other options. I’d also be willing to see what Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford could do in the role (no point in looking at their stats because they have a smaller sample size then Cabrera). Angel Rondon could be an option to just get some MLB innings without the pressure of pitching a full game. Daniel Ponce de Leon would not be an option because the first inning is typically when he struggles.

I don’t know if I’d be willing to do this with any other starter on the team. Jack Flaherty is an ace once he gets going. Adam Wainwright, while not an ace anymore, is an effective starter; you wouldn’t want to experiment with an opener for him until he’s not pitching well. Kwang Hyun Kim pitched very well last season, so I’d leave him as is, unless he were to falter as he’s seen. Miles Mikolas could possibly stand an opener to start the season since he missed last year, but I’m willing to bet he’ll be back on track again this season.

Of course, this will all be for nothing if the team signs Jake Odorizzi as rumored.

Don’t forget to check the Cardinal Salary Matrix and the Cardinal Prospect Tracker for updates.

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