Starting Off On The Right Foot... er, Arm
Let's just admit it, Opening Day is fun. It's a new season filled with new players, new storylines, new hope, a new stadium or two, over 2,400 games waiting to be contested. Every team is tied for first place. It's not just fun for the fans, it's fun for the players too. One of the biggest honors for a pitcher is to be named a team's opening-day starter. It's usually the staff's "ace", the one who will take those hopes on his shoulders - literally- and start a new chapter. Start that run to the championship (you know, the one that every team says they're really going to make this year). And over the years, it's become a great privilege to throw the first ball of the season.
It's also probably the last time this season you'll see so much talent on display on the same day. Aside from NL wins (Adam Wainwright), both leagues' leaders in every category below will be pitching on Monday. (As an added bonus, Zach Duke also led the National League in losses.)
And there will be some new faces, too. A full third of this season's opening-day starters-- including surprises like Zack Greinke ("he's never started an opener?") and Vicente Padilla ("he's starting the opener?")-- will be getting that nod for the first time. Two (Roy Halladay and Jon Garland) will be making their first appearance for a new team. Garland will actually face one of his staff-mates from last season, Dan Haren, as the Padres travel to Arizona.
Incidentally, Tom Seaver holds the all-time record for most opening-day starts (16, including 12 straight from 1968-79). The leaders on this year's list are only halfway there.
This year's opening-day pitchers and their 2009 season stats. The column marked "ODS" indicates the number of previous opening-day starts that pitcher has had. Asterisks indicate last season's league leaders (either AL or NL).
ERA+ compares a pitcher's performance to the rest of his league, while also adjusting for ballpark factors. A score of 100 is average. Note that every pitcher on this list, save one, is above that standard.
Did you know: According to Baseball Almanac, the AL team that's won the highest percentage of its openers is Toronto (25 of 33, 76%). The NL team with the best opening-day record-- really-- is the New York Mets (60%). It's those other 161 games that have been a problem in Flushing recently.