In five weeks and two days the Yankees will open the 2018 season in Toronto against the Blue Jays. It’ll be their second straight season opener on the road and their sixth season opener on the road in the last ten years. Who will be on the mound that day? I’m not sure. New manager Aaron Boone has declined to say thus far.
“The one good thing with our guys — with other teams it’s more obvious sometimes who’s going to start Opening Day — we have guys like Tanaka and CC that have been aces of the staff,” said Boone to David Schoenfield over the weekend. “We have Sevy who became what he became a year ago. Sonny Gray has been a guy … so to me, the order in which they pitch isn’t necessarily as big a deal.”
Boone said matchups and health will be a factor in the Opening Day starter decision, but generally speaking, the Opening Day starter is an honorary thing. The Opening Day starter is the ace of the staff. Everyone lines up their best for the season opener, then goes from there. As Boone said, the Yankees have a number of Opening Day starter candidates, and that’s a good thing. Let’s make a case for each guy, shall we?
The Case for Sonny Gray
The newest member of the rotation has two career Opening Day starts under his belt. Gray started the season opener for the Athletics in 2014 and 2015, and holy smokes he was awesome both times. Six shutout innings in 2014 and eight shutout innings in 2015. Lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning in 2015.
I get the sense Gray is being really underrated in Yankeeland right now. He’s young (28), he had a 3.55 ERA (3.90 FIP) last season, and he has a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting to his credit. Lots of teams would love having a guy like Gray on the mound Opening Day. His case for Opening Day? He’s really good. That’s what it boils down to.
The Case for Jordan Montgomery
Not gonna lie, this one won’t be easy. Montgomery had a fine rookie season last year (3.88 ERA and 4.07 FIP) — he was the best rookie starter in baseball! — and cemented himself as a member of the rotation going forward. He’s a big part of the future for the Yankees, so much so that they limited his workload in the second half last year to put him in the best possible position to succeed going forward. Want the outside the box Opening Day starter candidate? It’s Montgomery.
The Case for CC Sabathia
Sabathia started six straight Opening Days for the Yankees from 2009-14 and he made five Opening Day starts for the Indians from 2003-08. Only nine men in history have made more career Opening Day starts than Sabathia, and they’re basically the eight greatest pitchers in baseball history and Jack Morris. Sabathia has been there, done that, though his career Opening Day numbers stink.
Two things to keep in mind. One, Sabathia is the unquestioned clubhouse leader among the pitchers. And two, Sabathia was pretty good last season (3.69 ERA and 4.49 FIP) and the Yankees trusted him to start winner-take-all games in the ALDS and ALCS. I guess that’s three things. But you get the point. Sabathia is the staff leader, he’s still effective, and the Yankees trust him in big games. Sabathia has the pedigree and the recent performance to justify yet another Opening Day assignment.
The Case for Luis Severino
Severino was, by any measure, the best starter on the staff last season. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball overall, throwing 193.1 innings with a 2.98 ERA (3.08 FIP). Severino was top ten in MLB in pretty much every important pitching category, and he became the first Yankees starter with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte both did it in 1997.
On merit, Severino deserves the Opening Day start. He was the team’s best starter last season and, generally speaking, that’s who gets the Opening Day nod. With all due respect to Montgomery and Gray (and Justus Sheffield), the Yankees are planning to build their rotation around Severino long-term. He’s the man. For what it’s worth though, Severino said he doesn’t care if he starts the season opener.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Severino to Randy Miller when asked about wanting the ball in the first game. “If I start on Opening Day, it would be an honor for me. But starting on Opening Day doesn’t matter to me. I know I’ll be starting one of the games in Toronto, and I’ll be happy about that.”
I can think of two possible reasons to not give Severino the Opening Day start. One, the Yankees might not want to put too much responsibility on Severino’s shoulders at such a young age. We saw what happened when he got too amped up in the Wild Card Game. And two, the Yankees might have some sort of workload plan mapped out and the optimal schedule doesn’t include Opening Day. Aside from that, Severino has done pretty much everything necessary to get the ball in the season opener.
The Case for Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees gave Tanaka the ball on Opening Day each of the last three seasons because he was their best pitcher and he earned the right. Tanaka wasn’t good overall last season (4.74 ERA and 4.34 FIP), but he was a monster in the postseason, so we know the dominant Masahiro Tanaka is still in there.
“Of course,” said Severino to Miller when asked whether Tanaka should start Opening Day again. “I’m saying the truth. Tanaka is a veteran guy. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game right now. He had a bad year last year, but he finished the season great. In the playoffs he was one of the best pitchers for us. I would choose Tanaka.”
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The Yankees have gotten some pretty crummy outings from their Opening Day starters in recent years — they’ve received one quality start on Opening Day since 2009 — and they’ll look to buck that trend this year. Ultimately, Opening Day is just another game. One of 162. Getting that Opening Day start is an honor though. Let’s get to the poll.