CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

No Previous Article
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Aim For The Head: Are ... (11/21)
Next Column >>
Aim For The Head: A Bi... (04/01)
No Next Article

March 25, 2003

Aim For The Head

Opening Day Starters

by Keith Woolner

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.

a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

This week's question comes comes from an anonymous reader, who asks:

Opening Day's right around the corner, and I'm fascinated in how prestigious it is to be the Opening Day pitcher. The Opening Day starter is supposed to be your ace. My question is: How often to teams get it right and their first starter is their best starter of the year?
First, I want to apologize for the long absence of AFTH from the web site. In addition to the usual off-season book-writing duties, I spent the winter relocating to the east coast from California as well as welcoming a new baby to the family. But I'm getting settled now, and hope to be writing AFTH and doing other research again in between feedings and diaper changes.

Onto the question. If we assume that the "best" pitcher is the one with the highest VORP, we can look at the Opening Day starter's eventual full-season VORP to see if it led the team.

I've run the numbers for the 2002 season, and some of the results are surprising. First of all, only seven teams had their Opening Day starter turn in the best season on the team. And two of them did it despite being traded off the team during the season!

Team  Opening Day Pitcher   Starter w/highest VORP          VORP
ANA   Jarrod Washburn       Jarrod Washburn                 63.8
ARI   Randy Johnson         Randy Johnson                   86.9
CHA   Mark Buehrle          Mark Buehrle                    56.7
CLE   Bartolo Colon         Bartolo Colon (CLE stats only)  38.8 
DET   Jeff Weaver           Jeff Weaver (DET stats only)    26.4
MIL   Ben Sheets            Ben Sheets                      28.9
SLN   Matt Morris           Matt Morris                     42.0

It's odd not to see Pedro Martinez on that list, but as amazing as his season was, Derek Lowe was slightly better. Still, that hardly means Boston goofed by having Pedro start on Opening Day. Similarly, the next group of teams had a pitcher with a better season than their Opening Day starter, but the O.D. starter still turned in a respectable or near-the-top performance.

     Opening Day                                     VORP Gap
Team   Pitcher          Starter w/highest VORP (Best vs O.D.)
ATL  Tom Glavine        Greg Maddux              56.1 to 53.9
BOS  Pedro Martinez     Derek Lowe               79.0 to 68.7
CHN  Jon Lieber         Matt Clement             39.9 to 21.2
HOU  Wade Miller        Roy Oswalt               61.6 to 41.4
MIN  Brad Radke         Rick Reed                34.0 to 13.5
MON  Javier Vazquez     Tomo Ohka                40.5 to 37.4
NYA  Roger Clemens      Mike Mussina             37.7 to 23.4
NYN  Al Leiter          Steve Trachsel           21.9 to 20.6
OAK  Mark Mulder        Barry Zito               65.0 to 41.1
SEA  Freddie Garcia     Jamie Moyer              55.7 to 28.9

There are plenty of reasons why the Opening Day starter might not lead the team in performance. He may have an off season, or a younger pitcher may have a breakthough year. The team management may has misassessed who the best arms were. Injuries can always take their toll. Or, perhaps, the best starter wasn't ready to go on Opening Day, forcing the team to its next best alternative. Whatever the reason, the next group of teams saw large gaps between the first pitcher of the year, and their best pitcher of the year.

     Opening Day                                     VORP Gap
Team   Pitcher          Starter w/highest VORP (Best vs O.D.)
CIN  Joey Hamilton      Elmer Dessens            38.4 to -2.2
COL  Mike Hampton       Jason Jennings           30.6 to -0.2
FLO  Ryan Dempster      A.J. Burnett             35.9 to  3.7
KCA  Jeff Suppan        Paul Byrd                44.6 to  9.9
PIT  Ron Villone        Kip Wells                31.8 to -4.4
SDN  Kevin Jarvis       Brian Lawrence           19.9 to  0.1
SFN  Livan Hernandez    Kirk Rueter              33.2 to  7.8
TBA  Tanyon Sturtze     Joe Kennedy              13.8 to  4.6
TEX  Chan Ho Park       Kenny Rogers             35.4 to -0.8

I've saved the teams with the largest gaps between the Opening Day starter and the team's best pitcher for last. In three of the four cases, time missed to injuries played a significant part, and Scott Erickson was diagnosed with a torn labrum following the season. But all these teams had a pitcher worth 50 or more runs above their Opening Day starter.

     Opening Day                                     VORP Gap
Team   Pitcher          Starter w/highest VORP (Best vs O.D.)
BAL  Scott Erickson     Rodrigo Lopez           39.5 to -11.6
LAN  Kevin Brown        Odalis Perez            51.4 to  -1.1
PHI  Robert Person      Randy Wolf              48.1 to  -7.2
TOR  Chris Carpenter    Roy Halladay            66.1 to   4.4

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that being an Opening Day starter may be an honor for past performance, but it hardly ensures a good season ahead. But you probably knew that already.

One side note: Rick Reed is shown as the Twins' VORP leader, but it's more accurate to say that he was the starting pitcher with the highest VORP. Reliever J.C. Romero actually led the team with 35.8 VORP (to Reed's 34.0); he was the only reliever to lead a staff in VORP last year.

Thanks for writing in, and keep sending your "Aim For The Head" questions to kwoolner@baseballprospectus.com.

Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

Related Content:  Starter,  Opening Day,  Best

0 comments have been left for this article.

No Previous Article
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Aim For The Head: Are ... (11/21)
Next Column >>
Aim For The Head: A Bi... (04/01)
No Next Article

Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Wednesday, Jul...
Premium Article Painting the Black: Book Review: The Art of ...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Chris Sale's Revenge
Premium Article Notes from the Field: July 10, 2014
An Agent's Take: How the Unseen Post-Draft P...
Premium Article The Call-Up: Christian Vazquez
Premium Article 2014 Futures Game Preview

Premium Article Under The Knife: OutFoxing the Injury Bug
Surveying the Authors
Spring Training Q&A

2003-03-25 - Premium Article Aim For The Head: Opening Day Starters

2003-08-04 - Premium Article Aim For The Head: Supercycles
2003-05-15 - Aim For The Head: Understanding MLVr
2003-04-01 - Aim For The Head: A Big Change for OBP
2003-03-25 - Premium Article Aim For The Head: Opening Day Starters
2002-11-21 - Premium Article Aim For The Head: Are Balanced Lineups Bette...
2002-08-30 - Aim For The Head: Quality Starts
2002-08-30 - Aim For The Head: Quality Starts