Picking an Opening Day starter - and indeed, an opening rotation order - is something which is generally more symbolic than significant. It isn't long before off-days and injuries combine to disrupt the flow, and by the time you get to the season's end, your Opening Day starter will typically have one more start than anyone else, if that. Last year, our starter was Ian Kennedy, who ended up (between here and San Diego) starting 31 games, less than both Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley, because Kennedy had his turn skipped a couple of times, in May and June.
But there's no denying it's still seen as an honor, and the team will definitely have a new Opening Day starter for 2014, with Kennedy no longer able to fill the role he has had for the past three seasons. We'll need to find a seventh pitcher in franchise history, following Andy Benes, Randy Johnson (six times), Javier Vazquez, Brandon Webb (four times), Dan Haren and Kennedy (three, as noted). It could also be more significant this year, with the Australia trip. After the games against the Dodgers on the 22nd, there's then a nine-day gap before the third game, back at Chase on the 31st. Will we run out the same 1-2 punch for that series, as played in Australia?
We certainly could, and there's something to be said for getting your "best" pitchers as many starts as possible over the course of a season. However, that's not something for which Kirk Gibson appears to have a particular fondness. We've seen this when we've had off-days, and the chance to skip the fifth starter has presented itself, he has preferred to keep everyone on their regular cycle, just with an additional day off between starts. But doing so with this weird calendar would mean the back of our rotation facing the top of the Giants': our #3 vs their ace, our #4 vs their #2, and our #5 vs their #3. Hardly an ideal scenario, it seems. So we'll see what Gibson does.
But with regard to the starter - the one who will take the mound for that opening game against Los Angeles in Sydney, we have a curious situation. Because, there's no obvious replacement for Kennedy, and just about every objective measure of who it should be, gives a different candidate.
Seniority: Brandon McCarthy
- McCarthy: 7/7/83
- Miley: 11/13/86
- Cahill: 3/1/88
- Corbin 7/19/89
McCarthy has the most recent experience of the role, having started on Opening Day for the 2012 A's [he also pitched on Opening Day for the 2006 White Sox, but that was out of their bullpen]. We shouldn't forget, Cahill also knows what it's like, having done so for Oakland the year before McCarthy. Maybe we should get the Athletics' 2013 Opening Day starter, Brett Anderson, from the Rockies and complete the set. Can't say I'd realized that Trevor Cahill is 15 months younger than Wade Miley, and only about the same amount older than Corbin.
Major-league experience: Trevor Cahill
- Cahill: 153 starts
- McCarthy: 121 starts
- Miley: 69 starts
- Corbin: 49 starts
Continuing on the above theme, Cahill = grizzled veteran. Yeah, doesn't seem right that, does it, considering Mrs. SnakePit keeps wanting to offer a Capri Sun when he comes off the mound. But Cahill is part of a pretty rare bunch, one of only seven active pitchers to have made more than 150 starts through the end of their age 25 seasons. [Can you name the other six? Answer at the end] Admittedly, he likely only tops this chart due to Brandon's balky arm - McCarthy made his major-league debut almost four years before Cahill, but has yet to start more than 25 times in any year.
D-backs veteraniness: Wade Miley
- Miley: 69 starts
- Cahill: 57 starts
- Corbin: 49 starts
- McCarthy: 22 starts
Longevity with a single team seems a significant factor. If you look at the three guys to have made multiple Opening Day appearances for the D-backs, they are also #1 (Johnson), #2 (Webb) and #4 (Kennedy) on the franchise all-time list for most starts [since I'm sure you're wondering, #3 is Brian Anderson].Miley is the only one of the incumbents currently to find himself in the top ten, albeit occupying the last spot there. All being well, Wade should overtake Omar Daal, Haren and Doug Davis over the course of the coming season.
2013 performance: Patrick Corbin
- Corbin: 3.41 ERA
- Miley: 3.55 ERA
- Cahill: 3.99 ERA
- McCarthy: 4.55 ERA
I was actually a bit surprised at how close the top three spots were. After their first games in September, there seemed no way Corbin could lost: he was at 2.96, with Miley at 3.78. But over the last five starts, Wade got better and Patrick got worse, and at the rate of closing shown down the stretch, just one more appearance would have resulted in a virtual tie. And Cahill did even better than Miley, shaving four-tenths off his season ERA in his final five, by going 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA. Even McCarthy had a respectable 3.27 ERA, so finished stronger as well.
So there you are: whoever you want, there's data to back him! Of course, it's far too early to be making any decision, especially with the fifth starter as yet unknown - indeed, if our Opening Day starter is not whoever fills the role, it could provide ammo for those claiming we didn't get a "top of the rotation" guy. On the other hand, it is perhaps another reason to want Masahiro Tanaka, because it'd be way cool to sign him, then have Tanaka make his major-league debut as an Opening Day starter. That hasn't happened for over 70 years, since Al Gerheauser did it for the '43 Dodgers.
[The other six pitchers beside Cahill with more than 150 starts through age 25? Felix Hernandez (205), C.C.Sabathia (185), Clayton Kershaw (182), Matt Cain (170), Jeremy Bonderman (163) and Jon Garland (159)]