April 6, 2016
The Most Out-Of-Place Opening Day Player
Put yourself in a parlour with your six grandkids many decades from now, a cup of tea and a box full of vintage baseball cards. You're painting a picture for them of what baseball used to be like. Your 9-year-old grandson Mischief, or whatever kids are named 45 years from now, pulls out a card and asks you, "What about Jimmy Rollins? Who was he?"
You'll lead with the Phillies. Then a spark in your brain, and you'll recall the short time with Dodgers. Will you remember the White Sox? That's the question. One day after Jimmy Rollins started at shortstop for the White Sox on Opening Day, that's the question.
Opening Day starting pitchers are pretty easy to figure out: Staff ace, or something close to that—Price vs. Kluber, Archer vs. Stroman, Harvey vs. Ventura, that kind of thing. Position players aren’t the same. You’ll frequently get the weak half of a platoon, or the injury fill-in, or the prospect who doesn’t pan out. For the most part, Opening Day starters are regulars or established bench players with substantial time—past or future—with their club. Sometimes, though, a starter is someone who winds up having a did-that-really-happen tenure with his team, the kind of player you see in an Opening Day lineup listing years later and say either “Who was that?” or “When was he with the team?”
This is a list of the Opening Day starters who played the fewest games with each of the 30 major-league teams. (I excluded the inaugural seasons of expansion teams, on the theory that they were mostly just playing the hand they were dealt.) I went back to the beginning of divisional play in 1969, so this is nearly a half-century of history. For teams that moved, I’ve included their predecessors: Pilots/Brewers, Senators/Rangers, Expos/Nationals.
Fewest games with team, Opening Day players
Some interesting tidbits:
So who’s the potential 2016 version of 2006 Reds Tony Womack on this list (started on Opening Day, released three weeks later)?
This year, 24 teams’ Opening Day lineups included at least one position player or DH who’d played 10 or fewer games with the club in his career. Most were acquired via trade or free agency, including some major deals. We can pretty safely assume that most of them will last more than a few weeks. Justin Upton, Todd Frazier, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Ender Inciarte, to name five, are going to play a lot of games with their new teams, barring a Nick Esasky-type catastrophic injury.
Beyond the obvious players, there are several who, it stands to reason, will hang around unless their performance completely flatlines, and even then, it’ll probably take a sample size of more than 20 games to make that determination. Players like Jean Segura, Alexei Ramirez, Jedd Gyorko, Aaron Hicks, and Austin Jackson fall into that category.
But who’s at risk for a-couple-dozen-and-done? I think there are five candidates:
· Cedric Hunter, Phillies LF. He’s a 28-year-old rookie who’s not even on the BP team depth chart. He’ll probably get sent down when Cody Asche comes back from the disabled list. This is our best bet.
· Keon Broxton, Brewers CF. When you’re backing up Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who hasn’t played more than 64 games in a season since 2012, there should be playing time. But Broxton’s a nearly 26-year-old rookie (granted, until this year he was in the unenviable position of trying to break into the Pirates’ outfield) with a 28 percent strikeout rate in the minors.
· Rollins, White Sox SS. He’s penciled in as the starter, and there isn’t much of a Plan B in Chicago. But Rollins is 37, coming off a bad (.237 TAv, 0.5 WARP) 2015, and seems like the type of player who’s one injury away from being done.
· Joey Rickard, Orioles LF. He was the eighth player selected in the Rule 5 draft, from Tampa Bay. That should set off alarms: Rule 5 draft. Tampa Bay didn’t keep him. Given the quagmire that is Baltimore’s corner outfield positions, and his strong spring, he could stick. But Rule 5 picks don’t get a lot of rope.
· Mark Reynolds, Rockies 1B. He’s only 32, but he came into the league with old player skills, and in a world in which Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter, both age 29, get non-tendered, you have to wonder how much time he’s got left.
Having said this, all five will probably play starring roles with their resurgent teams while Ben Zobrist decides to walk away from the game to become a life coach or an aromatherapist something. Somewhere, Manny Ramirez (1-for-17 for the 2011 Rays) is smiling.