Opening Day Starters

Throughout the winter months, this site has been primarily devoted to history.  We’ve dissected Hall of Fame cases, debated the relative merits of Circle of Greats candidates, and mulled over the value of the stats we use to measure value.  With meaningful baseball on the docket for tomorrow, let’s get back to the present.

Thirty men will take the mound in their teams’ first tilts of 2013, each representing said team’s greatest hope.  Someday we’ll dissect the Hall cases of eight to twelve of these guys, making sure to properly adjust for parks and eras and defenses.  But tomorrow is not about objective analysis and advanced metrics- it’s about baseball.  Let’s celebrate (after the jump) by slicing and dicing the 30 opening day starters by their rankings in a few categories, some more meaningful than others.

Best ERA, 2012

  1. Clayton Kershaw, 2.53
  2. David Price, 2.56
  3. Brett Anderson, 2.57

30. Justin Masterson, 4.93

Perhaps not the three most pitcher-friendly ballparks, but…

Best ERA, career

  1. Clayton Kershaw, 2.79
  2. Chris Sale, 2.89
  3. Stephen Strasburg, 2.94

30. Jason Hammel, 4.78

Which of these guys pitched in Colorado for a while?  And how many of them have thrown 1,000 career innings?

***Thanks to RJ for pointing out the error in the original post.***

Best FIP, 2012

  1. Brett Anderson, 2.72
  2. Stephen Strasburg, 2.82
  3. Felix Hernandez, 2.84

30. Jhoulys Chacin, 5.15

How did the A’s win the AL West with only 35 innings from Anderson last year?  A lot will go worse in Oakland in ’13, but the pitching might be even better.

Best FIP, career

  1. Stephen Strasburg, 2.47
  2. Clayton Kershaw, 3.01
  3. Chris Sale, 3.19

30. Edinson Volquez, 4.39

This Strasburg guy is pretty good.  Wonder why I don’t see his name on last year’s postseason roster.

Most innings pitched, 2012

  1. Justin Verlander, 238 1/3
  2. R.A. Dickey, 233 2/3
  3. Felix Hernandez, 232

30. Brett Anderson, 35

First time we’ve seen any of the three names at the top of this list.  I have a feeling we’ll see them again.

Most innings pitched, career

  1. Tim Hudson, 2,682 1/3
  2. C.C. Sabathia, 2,546 1/3
  3. A.J. Burnett, 2,162 2/

30. Stephen Strasburg, 251 1/3

Tim Hudson is the longest-tenured ace on any staff.  I feel old.

Best strikeout to walk ratio, 2012

  1. C.C. Sabathia, 4.48
  2. R.A. Dickey, 4.26
  3. Cole Hamels, 4.15

30. Jhoulys Chacin, 1.41

What’s more surprising- that a knuckleballer is second in this category, or that the top two both go by initials?  S.J. Strasburg and F.A. Hernandez were fourth and fifth in this category, respectively.

Best strikeout to walk ratio, career

  1. Stephen Strasburg, 4.67
  2. Cole Hamels, 3.80
  3. James Shields, 3.68

30. Edinson Volquez, 1.76

You know who’s good at this category?  The Phillies.

Fewest home runs allowed per nine innings, 2012

  1. Brett Anderson, 0.26
  2. Felix Hernandez, 0.54
  3. Tim Hudson, 0.60

30. Jhoulys Chacin, 1.30

Lessons learned from this list, the other component of FIP: sample size matters. So do ballparks.

Fewest home runs allowed per nine innings, career

  1. Clayton Kershaw, 0.59
  2. Adam Wainwright, 0.66
  3. Tim Hudson, 0.70

30. Bud Norris, 1.18

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Houston Astros.  Might want to keep Bud out of Arlington.

Highest ground ball percentage, 2012

  1. Brett Anderson, 54.0%
  2. A.J. Burnett, 56.9%
  3. Justin Masterson, 55.7%

30. Jered Weaver, 36.0%

Ground balls don’t turn into home runs very often, but they do become hits.  Masterson can attest to that.

Highest ground ball percentage, career

  1. Tim Hudson, 58.7%
  2. Justin Masterson, 56.0%
  3. Felix Hernandez, 54.5%

30. Jered Weaver, 33.5%

Probably best for the Rangers and Yankees to steer clear of Weaver next time he’s a free agent.

Best ERA+, 2012

  1. Justin Verlander, 160
  2. Brett Anderson, 156
  3. Johnny Cueto, 152

30. Justin Masterson, 79

Trying to keep this trivial, but I’ll throw in a few park-adjusted numbers, just to remind us all how fortunate we are to get to watch Justin Verlander.

Best ERA+, career

  1. Chris Sale, 150
  2. Clayton Kershaw, 138
  3. Stephen Strasburg, 135

30. Bud Norris, 89

Those three guys are young, but none of them has ever been anything but dominant at the Major League level.

Most WAR, per fangraphs, 2012

  1. Justin Verlander, 7.0
  2. Felix Hernandez, 5.9
  3. Clayton Kershaw, 5.4

30. Jhoulys Chacin. 0.5

This exercise wasn’t about listing the best active pitchers in baseball, but this list is not a bad start.

Most WAR, per fangraphs, career

  1. C.C. Sabathia, 58.7
  2. Tim Hudson, 46.8
  3. Justin Verlander, 38.7

30. Jeff Samardzija, 3.2

…and the guy at the top of the list is younger than I am.

Most WAR, per baseball-reference, 2012

  1. Justin Verlander, 7.7
  2. David Price, 6.9
  3. Clayton Kershaw, 6.2

30. Justin Masterson, 0.3

B-r was more impressed with Price’s .285 BABiP and 81.1% strand rate than fangraphs was.

Most WAR, per baseball-reference, career

  1. Tim Hudson, 54.4
  2. C.C. Sabathia, 54.1
  3. Justin Verlander, 36.0

30. Jeff Samardzija, 2.0

Their replacement levels are unified; their assessments of Tim Hudson are not.


Happy baseball season, everyone!

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7 Comments on "Opening Day Starters"

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I love the “let’s focus on the present” sentiment! I do think there are times when we don’t do that enough during the season, so this is a nice start.

Well done, Bryan!


Seconded bstar, roll on the baseball!

Great stuff Bryan. Minor quibble: Brett Anderson’s career ERA is 3.57, you’ve reproduced his 2012 FIP as his ERA.


Strasburg’s career ERA is also 2.94. Heh, looks like the reason that their 2012 FIPs and career ERAs are the same is because you accidentally copy/pasted them. 🙂

Bud Norris is scheduled to start for the Astros tonight. Norris is 28 years old and has a career pitching WAR (b-ref version) of 2.2. Since 1916, 209 pitchers have started an opening-day game at age 28. Of those, 20 had accumulated less than 2.2 career WAR through their age 27 season. Among others in that group of 20, there was Johnny Sain, who pitched about 100 innings for the Braves in his debut season at age 24 in 1942, producing an ERA of of 3.95 and a pitching WAR of -0.5. Sain then missed 1943, 1944 and 1945 while… Read more »

Matt Harrison is the scheduled starter for the Rangers. Harrison was born in Durham, North Carolina, home of Duke University, which apparently also has some other relevance to today’s sports news. Harrison needs 27 more career Wins to pass Roger Craig as the winningest MLB pitcher born in Durham (at least according to b-ref’s birthplace info)


Bud Norris, or #BudChuck as Cardinal fans like to call him, may be in for a rough year now that he no longer plays in the same division as St Louis. Then again, he did struggle against them in 2012.