Projecting Opening Day Starting Pitchers for All 30 MLB Teams in 2015
For the likes of Bruce Bochy, Don Mattingly and Joe Maddon, there's not much to it when it comes to picking the 2015 MLB Opening Day starter for their respective clubs.
However, not every manager in baseball has it as easy as those veteran skippers. What follows is a look around the league at which 30 pitchers will be taking the mound for the first game of the season. In the projection process, 2014 performance was the most important consideration, but seniority also factored into the equation.
As spring training approaches, there's no manager in baseball who faces a more difficult dilemma than Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams, who will be picking a single starter from a rotation of aces.
Rookie manager A.J. Hinch has plenty of options when it comes to deciding which pitcher will start for the Houston Astros on Opening Day.
Last season, both Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh posted sub-3.00 ERAs for the American League West squad. Scott Feldman is also worthy of serious consideration. The right-handed starter is by far the most senior member of the staff, so look for Feldman to get the Opening Day assignment for the second time in as many seasons with the Astros.
The Starter: Scott Feldman
Los Angeles Angels
Jered Weaver has been the Los Angeles Angels' Opening Day starter in six of the past seven seasons. The veteran pitched effectively enough in 2014 to hold on to that title, but he certainly will face some legitimate challengers this spring.
The top competitor for the spot is right-hander Garrett Richards, who was dealing last season before a left knee injury wrecked his campaign in August. According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, the starter is making excellent progress in his rehab.
The 28-year-old righty Matt Shoemaker is also deserving of a mention in this conversation. In 2014, Shoemaker was second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting after posting a 16-4 record with a 3.04 ERA.
The Starter: Jered Weaver
Sonny Gray is on track to become the Oakland Athletics' first back-to-back Opening Day starter since Tim Hudson earned that distinction way back in 2003 and 2004.
Last season, the right-hander put up a 14-10 record and 3.08 ERA in his first full campaign in the big leagues. The 25-year-old is rapidly establishing himself as one of the rising stars in the game. Buster Olney of ESPN recently ranked the top 10 starters in baseball and included Gray as an honorable mention. Olney predicts that Gray will crack the top 10 "someday soon."
The Starter: Sonny Gray
There's no debate to be had here.
Felix Hernandez has started the Seattle Mariners' season opener in seven of the past eight seasons. Unsurprisingly, the M's have won all seven of those contests. On five of those occasions, the Oakland Athletics have been on the wrong side of the final score.
The Starter: Felix Hernandez
Yu Darvish is entering his fourth season with the Texas Rangers, but he's never once taken the mound on Opening Day. Last year, Darvish began the season on the disabled list with a neck injury. He also ended it on the shelf with inflammation in his pitching elbow. If another health problem keeps Darvish off the mound on April 6, Derek Holland would be an excellent backup plan for the Rangers.
The Starter: Yu Darvish
Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale is a lock to get the call for the Chicago White Sox on April 6 against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The lefty ace will be making his third consecutive Opening Day start for the White Sox, and during that stretch he's been downright dominant.
In 2013, Sale was fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting. Last year, the starter placed third on the ballot even though he only made 26 starts. This year, Sale will be one of the biggest bargains in baseball, as he's set to make $6 million.
The Starter: Chris Sale
As the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber is the easy pick here.
Last season, the 28-year-old racked up 269 strikeouts as he worked a career-high 235.2 innings for the Cleveland Indians. Kluber was lights-out in the second half of the season, posting a 1.73 ERA after the All-Star break.
The Starter: Corey Kluber
It looks like Justin Verlander's run has reached its end.
The 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner has been the Detroit Tigers' Opening Day starter in each of the past seven seasons, but it's going to be extremely difficult to justify handing him an eighth start after the way he pitched in 2014. Last season, Verlander checked in with a 4.54 ERA.
Even though David Price underwhelmed upon his arrival in Detroit last summer, he looks to be the logical replacement for Verlander. Anibal Sanchez, who has always been overshadowed by more prominent starters in Detroit, is the wild card in the conversation.
The Starter: David Price
Kansas City Royals
There's no obvious pick here.
The Kansas City Royals' starting rotation is slated to include a trio of reliable veterans in Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, and then a couple of rising arms in Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Without a clear favorite, the smart move would be for manager Ned Yost to opt for Ventura, who at 23 years old could end up holding this post for years to come.
The Starter: Yordano Ventura
Thanks to a standout second half of the 2014 season, Phil Hughes has the inside track to the Opening Day spot.
Following the All-Star break, the 28-year-old posted a 2.97 ERA in 13 starts. Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor also has Ervin Santana as a viable option for this role. The Twins inked the Dominican to a four-year, $55 million deal after Santana put up a 3.95 ERA while working 196 innings for the Atlanta Braves in 2014.
The Starter: Phil Hughes
Chris Tillman did more than enough in 2014 to hold on to his job as the Baltimore Orioles' No. 1 starter. Last season, the 26-year-old recorded a 3.34 ERA as he surged past the 200-innings mark for the second year in a row.
Down the line, Kevin Gausman will be Tillman's most serious competitor for the role. Gausman, who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, took off in September as he posted a 2.87 ERA.
The Starter: Chris Tillman
Boston Red Sox
One of the central storylines surrounding the Boston Red Sox this offseason was whether the club would bring in a true ace. So far, that hasn't happened, and as a result there's no clear choice for the Opening Day start.
For now, Rick Porcello is the most compelling candidate. The 26-year-old enjoyed his best season yet in 2014, as he went 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA for the Detroit Tigers. In addition to Porcello, fellow new acquisitions Wade Miley and Justin Masterson could also pitch their way into the mix this spring.
The Starter: Rick Porcello
New York Yankees
If his elbow cooperates, Masahiro Tanaka will be putting an end to CC Sabathia's streak of six consecutive Opening Day appearances.
The Japanese right-hander missed time at the end of last season after he sustained a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. For now, the New York Yankees are moving forward under the assumption that Tanaka will be good to go when the start of the season rolls around.
However, as Brendan Kuty of NJ.com reports, general manager Brian Cashman admitted that the team will be paying extra attention to the health of Tanaka at the beginning of 2015.
The Starter: Masahiro Tanaka
Tampa Bay Rays
For the first time since 2007, the Tampa Bay Rays will have an Opening Day starter who isn't named David Price or James Shields.
Alex Cobb has put himself in a prime spot to claim that distinction. The 27-year-old has put up sub-3.00 ERAs in back-to-back seasons and was electric in the second half of 2014. In 14 starts after the Midsummer Classic, Cobb ripped off a 6-3 record and 1.79 ERA.
The Starter: Alex Cobb
Toronto Blue Jays
This decision comes down to Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey.
The 40-year-old Dickey has pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays on each of the past two Opening Days and will likely make it a third in 2015. Buehrle was unquestionably the Blue Jays' top starter in the first half of 2014, but he fell off badly after the All-Star break. In his final 13 starts, the lefty recorded a 4.64 ERA.
By as soon as 2016, this job could easily belong to Marcus Stroman, who impressed in his rookie season for the Blue Jays in 2014.
The Starer: R.A. Dickey
Josh Collmenter is the front-runner to take the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 6 when the club hosts the San Francisco Giants in the home opener at Chase Field.
In 2014, that job fell to Wade Miley, who's now pitching for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Last season, Collmenter was the D-backs' most consistent starter, as he set a career high with 179.1 innings of work and recorded a 3.46 ERA.
The Starter: Josh Collmenter
Considering that the Colorado Rockies' starting staff posted the worst ERA in the NL in 2014 at 4.44, there aren't a lot of viable contenders for the job.
Based on how the roster is currently constructed, Jorge De La Rosa is the top option for manager Walt Weiss. De La Rosa was tabbed as the Opening Day pitcher in 2014 and proved to be a steady presence atop the rotation after a shaky start to the season. Following the All-Star break, the lefty checked in with a 3.53 ERA in 13 outings.
The Starter: Jorge De La Rosa
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw is on his way to making his fifth consecutive Opening Day start for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The NL West club has won the past four times that the back-to back NL Cy Young Award winner has taken the mound on Opening Day, and this time he'll be looking to make it five in a row as the Dodgers host the San Diego Padres on April 6.
The Starter: Clayton Kershaw
San Francisco Giants
This will be one of the easiest decisions that San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy makes all season.
In 2014, Madison Bumgarner drew his first-ever Opening Day assignment and responded by going 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. Then in the postseason, the left-hander was historically dominant, turning in a 4-1 record and a 1.03 ERA in seven outings.
Bumgarner will be a steal for the Giants in 2014, as he's set to make just $6.75 million. As the starter explained at the team's media day, all he's worried about is winning rings.
"We've had some great success, and the only thing I care about is winning championships. We've sure done a good job of it so far."
With three World Series trophies in the past five seasons, it's difficult to argue with Bumgarner's logic.
The Starter: Madison Bumgarner
San Diego Padres
Bud Black, the manager of the San Diego Padres, has a lot of options to consider.
Last year, the NL West club opened the season with Andrew Cashner on the hill. In addition to Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross also pitched their way into the Opening Day discussion. Still, even though those three all excelled in 2014, this conversation is likely moot now that James Shields has arrived at Petco Park.
Per Corey Brock of MLB.com, the Padres have inked the 33-year-old right-hander to a four-year deal. During his big league career, Shields has earned the Opening Day assignment on six different occasions while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Kansas City Royals.
The starter: James Shields
Jon Lester started the first game of the year for the Boston Red Sox in each of the past four seasons, and in 2015 he'll get the chance to pitch what should be the first of many Opening Day outing for the Chicago Cubs. In his first appearance as a Cub, Lester will be facing the St. Louis Cardinals on April 6 at Wrigley Field.
The Starter: Jon Lester
April 6 will be a big day for Johnny Cueto.
That marks the Cincinnati Reds' home opener, and for the fourth year in a row, Cueto should be on the mound. That also marks the final day that the starter will be willing discuss a potential new deal with the club, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
If Cueto matches his numbers from 2014 when he went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA, the right-hander will set himself up to make a mint next winter.
The Starter: Johnny Cueto
For the first time since 2009, Yovani Gallardo won't be pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day/
After the club jettisoned Gallardo to the AL West in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, Kyle Lohse moved to the top of the list of potential replacements. During his two seasons with the Brewers, Lohse has been highly reliable, posting a 3.45 ERA. Aside from the 36-year-old, Matt Garza could also merit consideration for the Game 1 start.
The Starter: Kyle Lohse
This one is a coin flip.
The choice is between the established veteran (Francisco Liriano) and the rising ace (Gerrit Cole). Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle really can't go wrong with either pitcher, but expect Liriano to get the call for a couple of reasons. The nine-year veteran not only has seniority over Cole, but was also the Opening Day starter for the Pirates to begin the 2014 season.
The Starter: Francisco Liriano
St. Louis Cardinals
Adam Wainwright is slated to make his third Opening Day start in a row when the St. Louis Cardinals face off against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 6.
Even though the ace ended up third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2014, there is definitely some concern surrounding Wainwright as the season approaches. As Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com notes, the starter underwent elbow surgery during the offseason and has racked up 519.2 innings of work in the past two years.
The Starter: Adam Wainwright
Just 24 years old, Julio Teheran is on pace to earn the second Opening Day start of his brief career with the Atlanta Braves.
Last season, the Colombian snagged a spot on the NL All-Star team, as he posted a career-low 2.89 ERA and worked a career-high 221 innings. Aside from Teheran, the most serious candidate for this assignment is Alex Wood, who also recorded a sub-3.00 ERA in 2014.
The Starter: Julio Teheran
With Jose Fernandez rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the Opening Day start is up for grabs.
Veterans Dan Haren and Mat Latos should both be in the running to pitch on April 6 when the Miami Marlins host the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park. However, based on the way the 2014 season shook out, Henderson Alvarez is the pitcher who deserves to get the call. Last season, the 24-year-old earned an All-Star selection and went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA.
The Starter: Henderson Alvarez
New York Mets
Terry Collins, the manager of the New York Mets, is facing a good problem.
Simply put, there's a case to be made that any of the club's starters should take the mound on April 6 when the Mets open up the season on the road against the Washington Nationals.
Based on 2014 results, Jacob deGrom has the edge in this debate. Last season, the right-hander won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, as he went 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA.
The starter: Jacob deGrom
Unless he's shipped out before the start of the season, Cole Hamels is all but guaranteed to be on the mound when the Philadelphia Phillies open up the campaign at Citizens Bank Ballpark against the Red Sox on April 6.
According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. expects Hamels and the rest of the squad's veterans to still be around when spring training begins. Of course, there's always the possibility of a trade during the Grapefruit League schedule.
The Starter: Cole Hamels
Apparently Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal doesn't guarantee the right-hander the Opening Day start.
"We're not going to determine our Opening Day starter by the amount that's on each player's paycheck," GM Mike Rizzo told ESPN980, via Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball.
During his run with the Detroit Tigers, Scherzer never once started the first game of the season. In each of the past three seasons in the nation's capital, that job has been left to Stephen Strasburg. Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister also pitched well enough in 2014 to enter into the discussion.
Even though Rizzo wouldn't tip the organization's hand, it's a safe bet to predict that Scherzer will be drawing his first Opening Day start and that Strasburg's run will be coming to an end.
The Starter: Max Scherzer
Note: All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and MLB.com. All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProsepctus.com.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.