MLB Pitching Preview: Power Ranking Each Team's Opening Day Starter

Dan TylickiAnalyst IMarch 30, 2012

MLB Pitching Preview: Power Ranking Each Team's Opening Day Starter

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    Opening Day is either just a few short days away or has already happened, depending on whether you count the Seattle-Oakland series as Opening Day in spirit.

    With Opening Day imminent, starting pitchers are being decided on. The pitchers who start on Opening Day tell a lot about how teams might look during the season; seeing an unfamiliar name due to injury could cause concern, such as with Tim Hudson and Chris Carpenter's absences from this list.

    Here are the 30 Opening Day starters ranked based on their careers, their 2011 seasons and how they've done previously on Opening Day.

    Not every team has named its starter, but those that have not are easily guessable, such as CC Sabathia starting for the Yankees.

30. Baltimore Orioles: Jake Arrieta

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    With Zach Britton out through at least April due to injury and Jeremy Guthrie in Colorado, the bid to be Opening Day starter was wide open in Baltimore.

    With a week left to go, Jake Arrieta seems to be the guy Baltimore's going with, though it has not formally said it yet.

    Arrieta has played two seasons as a starter, not cracking the 120-inning mark yet. He actually had a winning record, so he can't be too bad, but when your Opening Day starter had an ERA over 5.00 last year, he's going to be at the bottom of this list.

29. Colorado Rockies: Jeremy Guthrie

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    The Colorado Rockies have an up-and-coming star in Jhoulys Chacin, who I was expecting to take the Opening Day job, as he seems to have earned it.

    Instead, the Rockies seem to be going with Jeremy Guthrie, who they got from the Orioles.

    Guthrie's a serviceable workhorse, but he's not an ace, and having him as the Opening Day starter tells me that the Rockies don't have much else. They can at least beat his old team though.

28. San Diego Padres: Tim Stauffer

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    While it has not been confirmed, Tim Stauffer was the Opening Day starter for San Diego in 2011, and now that Mat Latos is gone, I would be shocked if the Padres tried someone else at the last second.

    Despite this being the Padres, Stauffer only has one season of substance under his belt as a starter, and he's not at the level of the aces that comprise most of this list.

27. Oakland Athletics: Brandon McCarthy

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    I don't know how I feel about the Oakland Athletics having seven different Opening Day starters in seven years, but we at least know that Brandon McCarthy earned that nod after 2011.

    McCarthy came out of nowhere to have a good year in 2011, and he could prove himself to be a great ace this coming season. Having said that, last year was the only good season in his career so far, so I can't jump on the bandwagon yet.

26. Minnesota Twins: Carl Pavano

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    Carl Pavano is still able to be an Opening Day starter despite his age and questionable 2011 season. However, that says more about the Minnesota Twins than Pavano.

    Pavano seems on the way down in his career, so I really can't put him any higher than this, though it's always possible he has one more good year left in him.

25. St. Louis Cardinals: Kyle Lohse

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    I can feel the comments coming already here. Yes, Kyle Lohse had a good 2011, but he's been very inconsistent throughout his career, with even his best years not being that great.

    Perhaps Adam Wainwright isn't ready to start Opening Day and Chris Carpenter's injury kept him from doing so, but even Jaime Garcia would be an improvement.

    The World Series champs putting up an up-and-down pitcher as an Opening Day starter really worries me, though I understand they didn't have much of a choice.

24. Kansas City Royals: Bruce Chen

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    The Kansas City Royals don't have much in the way of starting pitching; Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez would be in the bottom three of this list. Bruce Chen, however, manages to do a bit better.

    Chen has had a couple of nice years as a starter for the Royals and is the only one that they can somewhat count on. He's hardly an ace on the level of many, but he can at least win games and keep his ERA down a bit.

23. Houston Astros: Wandy Rodriguez

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    Let's face it: With Brett Myers as a closer, Wandy Rodriguez is the only remotely obvious choice to be an Opening Day starter for the Houston Astros, and it's not the worst option out there.

    Rodriguez has had four solid seasons with Houston so far, and while he's not an ace necessarily, he's a workhorse who has been the foundation of the rotation and could keep them from an embarrassing year.

22. Texas Rangers: Colby Lewis

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    The Texas Rangers were extremely difficult to rank, especially considering they lost C.J. Wilson this offseason. They could have either put Colby Lewis, a decent regular-season pitcher, or Yu Darvish, the newcomer, into the Opening Day spot.

    The Rangers went with the guy they actually know in Colby Lewis.

    It was the right move, but Lewis has not only not had an Opening Day start, but he also has yet to show himself as a great pitcher early on in the season, so I can't rank him out of the bottom third.

21. Chicago Cubs: Ryan Dempster

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    Was Dempster's poor 2011 season an anomaly or a sign that he's showing his age?

    That would affect his rank quite a lot on here, since he's right under players that lack Opening Day experience.

    I think he's showing signs of slowing down and is no longer close to an ace these days. I would have rather seen the Cubs go with Matt Garza; at least he would have been around the middle of the pack on this list.

20. Chicago White Sox: John Danks

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    I find it a bit funny that both Chicago teams have the same problem.

    Both have pitchers who have had a few consistently good years yet struggled in 2011. John Danks narrowly beats out Dempster because at least he could bounce back.

    Danks is still young and is making his Opening Day debut. Normally I'd hold that against him, but of course the White Sox weren't going to knock Mark Buehrle out of that spot; that would just be silly.

19. Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson

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    Really, you could swap Danks and Masterson in the ranking list and it wouldn't matter much.

    Both are newcomers to starting Opening Day, both are young and pitch in a bad division and both have to be the ace of teams filled with question marks.

    In terms of pitching talent, though, I see more of it in Masterson than in Danks. After a nice 2011 season, where he got to go from start to finish, Masterson has the edge here.

18. Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields

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    Had David Price been starting Opening Day, the Rays could potentially be in the top 10 here since Price is a great pitching talent.

    Instead, they are going with the veteran James Shields, and I'm not really sure why.

    Yes, Shields had a career year in 2011, but before that he was a rather average pitcher. He only edges out the previous two because he has three Opening Day starts already, so at least he has the experience.

17. Atlanta Braves: Tommy Hanson

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    I'm not sure what Atlanta has against Jair Jurrjens. It tried to trade him all offseason, and then with Tim Hudson's injury leaving the Opening Day job open, he ends up snubbed.

    That honor goes to Tommy Hanson. In three career seasons he has actually put up very good numbers, so he may not be too bad as an Opening Day starter.

16. Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

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    On the one hand, Stephen Strasburg has pitched in 17 career games and had Tommy John surgery that knocked him out of most of the 2011 season.

    On the other hand, when he has played he has been dynamic.

    Where do I rank such a player? Right in the middle, of course. Strasburg is better than many on the list, but he has a long way to go to match those near the top.

15. Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto

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    Johnny Cueto's a tough guy to rate for the Cincinnati Reds. He had an amazing 2011 season that was rather unheralded, perhaps because it was a bit condensed. He has also clearly gotten better every year.

    However, 2011 was his first great season, and it took him a while to get going. He's in the middle of the pack now, but I see him rising in the ranks soon enough.

14. Pittsburgh Pirates: Erik Bedard

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have a pitcher in the top half of the Opening Day starter rankings?

    Perhaps the Mayans were right after all and the end of the world is coming.

    In all seriousness, Erik Bedard has remained great even after missing the 2010 season, and he's never had a bad season despite playing much of his career with Baltimore.

    If anyone can have a nice Opening Day game for the Pirates, it's Bedard.

13. Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

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    Yovani Gallardo has been consistently great in the three years he has been a starter for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he has been able to hold down the ace spot with with the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

    Gallardo will make his third straight Opening Day start, and he may be the best pitcher out the NL Central to be doing so, albeit narrowly.

    If he can move from being very good to being dominant, it makes the Brewers that much more formidable this year.

12. New York Mets: Johan Santana

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    If Johan Santana weren't coming back after missing all of 2011, with a lot of question marks remaining about whether he can be elite again, he could be in the top five.

    Instead, the 3-0 Opening Day starter for the Mets is going to have to work to show he can be elite once again. If anyone can do it, it's Santana, as we've seen what he can do when at his best.

11. Miami Marlins: Josh Johnson

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    Josh Johnson easily has top-10 talent, but what keeps me from putting him there are his health issues. If he can actually get through a whole season, he'll be up there with the elite pitchers of the game.

    Nonetheless, Johnson is set to start his third straight opener, and when he is healthy, there's no question that he's a great pitcher.

    If you're not concerned about his shoulder, then you can move him to ninth on the list.

10. Toronto Blue Jays: Ricky Romero

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    I might be overrating Ricky Romero a little bit here, but I see him as a rising star who has already shown what he's capable of, and he's absolutely deserving of being the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter.

    Romero will pitch his second Opening Day game ever this year, and in three seasons he's gotten better each year.

    He had a great 2011 that fell under the radar since it paled in comparison to Justin Verlander's, and his 1-0 record in Opening Day games is actually great compared to some on the list.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy

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    While the past few pitchers have really been bunched together tightly, there's a fairly big drop-off after this spot, with the top eight clearly deserving of their status.

    Ian Kennedy is the closest to joining that group, as he came out of nowhere to have an amazing 2011 season. He'll pitch his second Opening Day start this year, and he could be a force if he can build on his great season last year.

8. Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

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    Putting the NL Cy Young winner only eighth on this list might seem ridiculous to start, but the main reason for that is Clayton Kershaw is young and rather new to Opening Day.

    2012 will be Kershaw's second Opening Day start, and while he only has four full seasons as a starter, three have been great, so it does seem like he has the staying power to continue rising up this list.

7. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Jered Weaver

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    The Angels have found themselves a consistent ace in Jered Weaver, who will be pitching his fourth Opening Day this year. His consistently great years make him an easy top-10 choice here.

    Weaver's been a Cy Young candidate the past two seasons, and with Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson behind him, he could very well be even better. Having two straight Opening Day wins helps too.

6. Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester

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    The Boston Red Sox had a tough call whether to have Josh Beckett or Jon Lester make the Opening Day start, but this year they are continuing with Lester, which was a smart move.

    Lester has been consistently great for the Red Sox, and while Beckett has a bit more experience starting on Opening Day, Lester has yet to have a poor season.

    Lester is definitely good enough to nearly make the top five, only missing out on fifth place due to experience.

5. Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

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    Justin Verlander was one of the rare greats to earn an MVP award despite being a pitcher; his season was just that good. It's only natural that he's the Opening Day starter for the Tigers.

    Having said all that, if you look at his season-debut starts during his career, they are not that impressive.

    He has three no-decisions and a loss heading into his fifth Opening Day start, and he needs to get a win before he can be in the top three on this list, as much as I'd like him to be.

4. Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

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    If there's one thing King Felix knows how to do, it's win on Opening Day. Whether he's in the top five on raw talent could be debated, but he's certainly a top-five starter.

    In five straight Opening Day starts, he has won two, and the Mariners have won all five.

    Win-loss record aside, he has some of the best stats of any pitcher as well and should continue to be great for many years.

3. San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum

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    The Freak has been the Opening Day starter three times already and is set to start a fourth time this year. He's won two Cy Young awards and has continually been in contention for them.

    He is still young and has done fairly well so far on Opening Day, so it's rather easy to put him in the top three spots, especially if he can continue striking out people at the rate he has been.

2. New York Yankees: CC Sabathia

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    The New York Yankees may have had their problems with pitching in years past, but since they have acquired CC Sabathia, they have never needed to worry about their ace.

    Sabathia has been an Opening Day starter just about every year of his career; while his stats aren't too great on Opening Day, he is always a threat to have a great year—and now that he's a Yankee, win 20 games too.

1. Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay

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    Roy Halladay knows Opening Day like the back of his hand. He's on his third straight start for the Phillies and started for the Toronto Blue Jays seven times before.

    Factor in that he's consistently one of the best pitchers in the league year in and year out, and he's gotta be the top Opening Day starter.