Power Ranking Each MLB Team's Opening Day Starter

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2013

Power Ranking Each MLB Team's Opening Day Starter

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    In the grand scheme of a 162-game season, who pitches on Opening Day doesn't matter that much. Even the outcome of that game is largely insignificant.

    Still, being picked to take the ball on Opening Day is a big deal for pitcher, as it signifies they are the top pitcher on their staff.

    Fun fact: Tom Seaver holds the MLB record with 16 Opening Day starts.

    With 25-man rosters more or less set and Opening Day starters having been named for all 30 teams, here is how I rank each team's top starter.

30. Houston Astros: Bud Norris

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    2012 Stats

    7-13, 4.65 ERA, 86 ERA+, 165 K, 168.1 IP, 1.5 WAR

     

    Overview

    Norris would legitimately have trouble cracking the rotation in places like Washington, Cincinnati and Detroit, but he represents the best option the Astros have.

    The 28-year-old is entering his fifth big league season, and while he has put up a solid strikeout rate throughout his career, he is a middle-of-the-rotation starter at best.

    With a salary of $3 million, he is a pricey commodity in Houston, and if he pitches well in the first half he could be on the move at the deadline.

29. Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson

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    2012 Stats

    11-15, 4.93 ERA, 79 ERA+, 159 K, 206.1 IP, 2.0 WAR

     

    Overview

    Once a top prospect of the Red Sox, Masterson joined the Indians at the deadline in 2009 as part of the deal that sent Victor Martinez to Boston.

    After an up-and-down first season in Cleveland, he took a big step forward in 2011 when he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA and threw 216 innings.

    A breakout candidate last season, Masterson instead regressed a good deal and struggled like much of the Indians pitching staff. The 28-year-old did reach 200 innings for the second time, and now he'll be looking to return to his 2011 form as the ace of the Indians staff.

28. Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin

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    2012 Stats

    3-5, 4.43 ERA, 108 ERA+, 45 K, 69 IP, 0.5 WAR

     

    Overview

    Chacin joined the Rockies rotation in 2010 as a 22-year-old and turned heads with a 9-11 record and 3.28 ERA (142 ERA+). 

    He built off of that with another solid campaign in 2011, as he looked to be an emerging star for a Colorado rotation that could certainly use it. 

    However, right shoulder problems held him to just 14 starts last season, and his numbers took a hit even when he was on the field. Now he's looking to prove he's healthy and capable of being the ace of the Rockies staff moving forward.

27. Minnesota Twins: Vance Worley

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    2012 Stats

    6-9, 4.20 ERA, 95 ERA+, 107 K, 133 IP, 1.8 WAR

     

    Overview

    After enduring one of the worst starting rotations in the league last season, the Twins turned their attention to shoring up the staff this winter, and Worley was their big acquisition.

    Acquired from Philadelphia along with prospect Trevor May for speedy outfielder Ben Revere, Worley was fantastic for the Phillies as a rookie in 2011. He went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    He pitched with bone chips in his arm last year and finally shut things down in August to have them removed, so a bounce-back season seems in order.

26. San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez

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    2012 Stats

    11-11, 4.14 ERA, 88 ERA+, 174 K, 182.2 IP, 1.1 WAR

     

    Overview

    Volquez was one of the breakout stars of 2008, as he joined the Reds in the trade that sent Josh Hamilton to Texas and went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA as a rookie.

    However, he made just 41 starts total over the next three seasons as he battled injuries and inconsistency to go 13-12 with a 5.01 ERA.

    The Reds shipped him to San Diego in the Mat Latos deal last offseason, and he turned in a solid season as the eventual ace of their staff. He has good stuff, but walks continue to plague him, as he issued an NL-high 105 free passes last season.

25. Miami Marlins: Ricky Nolasco

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    2012 Stats

    12-13, 4.48 ERA, 88 ERA+, 125 K, 191 IP, 2.5 WAR

     

    Overview

    One of the few veteran holdovers after yet another Marlins offseason purge, Nolasco is the veteran leader of a very young, inexperienced staff.

    His 4.49 career ERA is nothing to write home about, but he has been a steady producer for the past five seasons, averaging a 13-10 record and 190 innings per season.

    A free agent at the end of the season, Nolasco seems as safe a bet as anyone to be moved at some point during the 2013 season.

24. Baltimore Orioles: Jason Hammel

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    2012 Stats

    8-6, 3.43 ERA, 123 ERA+, 113 K, 118 IP, 2.6 WAR

     

    Overview

    Looking to deal free agent-to-be Jeremy Guthrie last offseason, the Orioles found a taker in the Rockies, who shipped Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom to Baltimore in return.

    Hammel opened the season on fire, going 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA over his first five starts, and he quickly emerged as the ace of the Orioles staff from there.

    He battled right knee issues all season, which wound up limiting him to just 20 starts. If he can stay healthy in 2013, the 30-year-old should once again pitch like a staff ace.

23. Oakland Athletics: Brett Anderson

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    2012 Stats

    4-2, 2.57 ERA, 156 ERA+, 25 K, 35 IP, 0.9 WAR

     

    Overview

    A second-round pick in 2006, Anderson went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie in 2009, finishing sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting and showing signs of a promising future.

    He went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 and returned to make six impressive starts down the stretch last season. He also threw six shutout innings in his lone postseason start.

    The 25-year-old is now the seasoned veteran of a young A's pitching staff, and as long as he can stay healthy, there's no reason he can't pitch up to that role.

22. New York Mets: Jon Niese

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    2012 Stats

    13-9, 3.40 ERA, 112 ERA+, 155 K, 190.1 IP, 2.3 WAR

     

    Overview

    With R.A. Dickey traded to the Blue Jays and Johan Santana injured, the 26-year-old Niese steps into the role of staff ace for the Mets.

    He enjoyed a breakout season last year. It remains to be seen how much he can improve on those numbers (if at all), but as it stands, it was an impressive year.

    He'll likely be pushed for the ace role by Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler before too long, but for now he's the face of the Mets' starting rotation.

21. Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett

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    2012 Stats

    16-10, 3.51 ERA, 106 ERA+, 180 K, 202.1 IP, 3.0 WAR

     

    Overview

    Last offseason, the Yankees ate $20 million of the $33 million remaining on Burnett's contract to cut ties with him, and the Pirates jumped at the chance to add a proven veteran to the front of their staff.

    The change of scenery worked like a charm, as Burnett trimmed 1.64 off his ERA and once again pitched like a the front-line arm he was when the Yankees first signed him.

    The 36-year-old has kicked around the idea of retiring at season's end (h/t CBSSports), but he showed last season he has plenty left in the tank.

20. Chicago Cubs: Jeff Samardzija

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    2012 Stats

    9-13, 3.81 ERA, 103 ERA+, 180 K, 174.2 IP, 2.9 WAR

     

    Overview

    After three seasons of bouncing between the minors and majors, Samardzija finally locked down a spot with the big league club in 2011, posting a 2.97 ERA and 8.9 K/9 over 75 appearances as the Cubs' primary setup man.

    The new front office opted to move him to the rotation last year, and he responded with a breakout season.

    The 28-year-old is now looking to assert himself as the true ace of the Cubs staff moving forward.

19. Texas Rangers: Matt Harrison

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    2012 Stats

    18-11, 3.29 ERA, 138 ERA+, 133 K, 213.1 IP, 3.7 WAR

     

    Overview

    One of the many pieces the Rangers acquired from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal, Harrison has come into his own the past two seasons, going a combined 32-20 with a 3.34 ERA.

    He's not your conventional staff ace, as he doesn't put up high strikeout totals or have overpowering stuff. It may be Yu Darvish who better fits that role in Texas.

    Still, the Rangers like to give the Opening Day nod to whomever earned it the previous season, and there is no denying that was Harrison. The 27-year-old should once again be a solid arm, even if Darvish outperforms him in 2013.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy

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    2012 Stats

    15-12, 4.02 ERA, 103 ERA+, 187 K, 208.1 IP, 3.0 WAR

     

    Overview

    A highly regarded prospect in the Yankees system, Kennedy was sent to Arizona in the three-team trade with the Tigers that included the likes of Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Edwin Jackson.

    After a decent first season in the Diamondbacks rotation, Kennedy broke out in 2011, going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting.

    He was a workhorse once again last season, but he didn't enjoy the same success, as his ERA climbed over a full run and his WHIP rose from 1.086 to 1.301. I expect the 28-year-old to land somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 production.

17. Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester

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    2012 Stats

    9-14, 4.82 ERA, 90 ERA+, 166 K, 205.1 IP, 3.3 WAR

     

    Overview

    From the time he joined the Red Sox full-time in 2008 through the 2011 season, Lester emerged as one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game. Over that span, he went a combined 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA.

    However, like much of the Red Sox roster, he struggled through a down season last year, putting up the worst numbers of his career across the board.

    He looked fantastic this spring, allowing just eight hits and two runs over 24 innings of work while striking out 20 and walking just four. Expect him to use that as a springboard to return to form in 2013.

16. Atlanta Braves: Tim Hudson

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    2012 Stats

    16-7, 3.62 ERA, 110 ERA+, 102 K, 179 IP, 2.2 WAR

     

    Overview

    The 37-year-old Hudson saw his K/9 mark slip from 6.6 to 5.1 last season, but aside from that he was once again a frontline arm atop the Braves staff.

    The veteran is three wins from 200 for his career, and he's in the final season of his current contract with Atlanta, so it will be interesting to see what his future holds.

    For now though, he remains a proven arm in a Braves rotation full of questions and potential, and he'll be making his sixth career Opening Day start.

15. Kansas City Royals: James Shields

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    2012 Stats

    15-10, 3.52 ERA, 108 ERA+, 223 K, 227.2 IP, 3.9 WAR

     

    Overview

    With a terrific core of homegrown position players, the Royals were in need of a legitimate staff ace to lead the pitching staff, and they found their man in Shields.

    It cost them a package of talented prospects led by Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers, but Shields gives them the workhorse veteran their staff was desperately lacking.

    After putting up the best numbers of his career in 2011, when he finished third in AL Cy Young voting, Shields avoided a letdown last season and should help the Royals make a push towards contention.

14. Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

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    2012 Stats

    16-9, 3.66 ERA, 112 ERA+, 204 K, 204 IP, 2.2 WAR

     

    Overview

    Still only 27, Gallardo already has four terrific big league seasons under his belt. He has stepped forward as one of the game's top strikeout pitchers over the past few years.

    Since joining the rotation full-time in 2009, Gallardo has gone 60-38 with a 3.68 ERA and 9.4 K/9. He's now the unquestioned ace of the staff with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum gone.

    The Brewers have one of the better offenses in the league, so how far they go in 2013 will rest heavily on how their pitching performs. A big season from Gallardo would help set up the rest of the staff.

13. Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale

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    2012 Stats

    17-8, 3.05 ERA, 142 ERA+, 192 K, 192 IP, 4.8 WAR

     

    Overview

    After serving as a lights-out setup man his first two seasons in the majors, the White Sox moved Sale to the rotation last season. The transition could not have gone better.

    The White Sox saw enough to buy out his controllable years with a five-year, $32.5 million extension (CBSSports), and that could wind up being an absolute steal if he continues to progress.

    He tired down the stretch last year, as one would expect from a pitcher taking on a heavy workload for the first time. His max-effort delivery is cause for concern about his long-term health, but for now there is no reason to consider him anything but one of the game's best young arms.

12. St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright

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    2012 Stats

    14-13, 3.94 ERA, 97 ERA+, 184 K, 198.2 IP, 4.0 WAR

     

    Overview

    One of the best pitchers in the game entering the 2011 season, Wainwright hurt his arm in spring training and wound up missing the entire season following Tommy John surgery.

    After a bumpy start to last season, he looked the Wainwright of old in the second half, going 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA while helping drive the Cardinals' postseason push.

    The Cardinals signed him to a five-year, $97.5 million extension on Wednesday (h/t CBSSports), and he should be back to his dominant pre-injury self in his second year back from surgery.

11. Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto

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    2012 Stats

    19-9, 2.78 ERA, 152 ERA+, 170 K, 217 IP, 4.6 WAR

     

    Overview

    Always a supremely talented pitcher, Cueto was unable to turn his potential into consistent performance during the early stages of his career. He finally put it all together last season and turned in a Cy Young-caliber performance.

    His 2.78 ERA was even more impressive considering the hitter's paradise that is his home park, and he led the NL with a 151 ERA+.

    At 27, Cueto is just entering the prime of his career. He should once again be the best pitcher on what is one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.

10. Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey

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    2012 Stats

    20-6, 2.73 ERA, 140 ERA+, 230 K, 233.2 IP, 4.6 WAR

     

    Overview

    Dickey is a tough one to rank here, as few pitchers enjoy the type of breakthrough season he did at the age of 37.

    After putting up solid numbers in 2010 and 2011 with the Mets, Dickey exploded for arguably the best season ever by a knuckleballer. More impressively, he used his knuckleball to lead the league in strikeouts.

    The reigning Cy Young winner was dealt to the Blue Jays, and the move to the American League could certainly affect his numbers, but it's hard to ignore just how good he was last year.

9. Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels

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    2012 Stats

    17-6, 3.05 ERA, 131 ERA+, 216 K, 215.1 IP, 4.4 WAR

     

    Overview

    After spending the last few seasons slotted behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in the Phillies rotation, Hamels will finally step into the role of staff ace this season.

    He set career highs in wins and strikeouts last season, and he earned a six-year, $144 million extension last July for his impressive performance (h/t ESPN).

    The 29-year-old is 91-60 with a 3.34 ERA over his seven big league seasons, and the best may still be ahead for one of the top southpaws in the game.

8. Los Angeles Angels: Jered Weaver

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    2012 Stats

    20-5, 2.81 ERA, 134 ERA+, 142 K, 188.2 IP, 2.9 WAR

     

    Overview

    Weaver registered his third straight top-five finish in Cy Young voting last season, and he has piled up a record of 102-52 with a 3.24 ERA over his seven big league seasons.

    His strikeout rate has dropped from 9.3 K/9 in 2010 when he led the AL with 233 punchouts, to 6.8 K/9 last season, but that didn't stop him from leading the league with a 1.018 WHIP last year.

    The Angels have him locked up through 2016. The 30-year-old will be the ace of the Angels staff for the foreseeable future.

7. New York Yankees: CC Sabathia

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    2012 Stats

    15-6, 3.38 ERA, 124 ERA+, 197 K, 200 IP, 4.6 WAR

     

    Overview

    Despite being limited to 28 starts while dealing with a bone spur in his throwing elbow, Sabathia still managed to top the 200-inning mark for the sixth straight season.

    He's the definition of a workhorse, and the 32-year-old enters the season nine wins from 200 for his career. He has 12 big league seasons under his belt.

    Sabathia is everything you look for in an ace, and while he was not quite his usual dominant self last season, he's still one of the premier arms in the game.

6. San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain

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    2012 Stats

    16-5, 2.79 ERA, 125 ERA+, 193 K, 219.1 IP, 3.8 WAR

     

    Overview

    Even if Tim Lincecum didn't struggle last season, Cain likely would have ended the year as the ace of the staff, as he turned in the best season of his eight-year career.

    He earned the start for the NL in the All-Star Game and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. His biggest accomplishment of the season, though, was the perfect game he threw on June 13.

    It was one of the most dominant single-game performances in baseball history. He struck out 14 and posted a 101 Game Score, the highest since Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout performance in 1998 got a 105 (h/t ESPN).

5. Tampa Bay Rays: David Price

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    2012 Stats

    20-5, 2.56 ERA, 149 ERA+, 205 K, 211 IP, 4.8 WAR

     

    Overview

    Since being taken with the first pick in the 2007 draft, Price has quickly become one of the game's best starters. He took things to the next level last season.

    The 26-year-old led the AL in wins and ERA, edging out Tigers ace Justin Verlander for AL Cy Young honors. He should make a run at the award once again in 2013.

    The biggest question surrounding Price is how long he'll stay in Tampa. It's unlikely the team will be able to afford a long-term deal, and Tampa may explore the idea of trading him sooner rather than later.

4. Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

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    2012 Stats

    15-6, 3.16 ERA, 125 ERA+, 197 K, 159.1 IP, 4.1 WAR

     

    Overview

    The Nationals made the controversial decision to shut down Strasburg last September, as he was in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    Whether or not the Nationals made the right decision, Strasburg got through the surgery and recovery without any setbacks. The leash will now be off the 24-year-old.

    His stuff is as good as any pitcher in baseball, and with just 45 big league starts under his belt there's plenty of room for him to improve—a scary proposition for the rest of the National League to say the least.

3. Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez

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    2012 Stats

    13-9, 3.06 ERA, 122 ERA+, 223 K, 232 IP, 5.9 WAR

     

    Overview

    The 26-year-old Hernandez already has eight big league seasons under his belt, and he appears ready to spend the rest of his career in Seattle after signing a huge extension.

    The Mariners gave the right-hander a seven-year, $175 million deal that will keep him in Seattle through 2019 with a team option for 2020.

    The 2010 AL Cy Young winner has not always had a gaudy win-loss record to show for his efforts, but his peripheral numbers paint the real picture of just how good a pitcher he is.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

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    2012 Stats

    14-9, 2.53 ERA, 150 ERA+, 229 K, 227.2 IP, 5.4 WAR

     

    Overview

    Though he won just 14 games, Kershaw led the National League in ERA for the second straight season, finishing second to R.A. Dickey in Cy Young voting.

    He took home the hardware in 2011 when he won the pitching Triple Crown, and he should continue to be a perennial contender for top honors in the National League.

    Still just 25 years old, Kershaw is under team control through 2014, and he could be the recipient of the first $200 million contract for a pitcher once the Dodgers make a play to extend him.

1. Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

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    2012 Stats

    17-8, 2.64 ERA, 158 ERA+, 239 K, 238.1 IP, 7.0 WAR

     

    Overview

    Even before his 2011 season, a strong argument could be made for Verlander being the best pitcher in baseball. At this point I think there is little argument.

    After going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts to win the pitching Triple Crown, AL Cy Young and AL MVP, Verlander could have very easily taken home Cy Young honors again in 2012.

    The 30-year-old just received the largest contract for a pitcher in league history, as with a vesting option, he can make up to $202 million in the new deal. That sure clears up any potential anxiety regarding his immediate financial future.