Opening Day Starter Tiers: How excited every MLB fan base should be about their top pitcher
There’s less than a week until Opening Day 2023, and MLB marked the occasion by announcing all 30 teams’ Opening Day starters.
The 15 games slated for March 30 are ideally a showcase of baseball’s very best pitchers, an accounting of the aces. Opening Day is also a time for maximum optimism, for excitement and clean slates. Pitchers aren’t the only players on the field, but as the names on the figurative marquees, they become avatars and magnets for the hype.
Your 2023 Opening Day starting pitchers pic.twitter.com/5vCbBRXE19
— Sam Dykstra (@SamDykstraMiLB) March 24, 2023
With all 30 starters named, it’s time to decide just how hyped each fan base should be for their ace. Please note: This is not a ranking of how good the pitchers are or how well they will pitch on Opening Day. It’s about the excitement their mere presence on the mound should elicit.
Let’s get going.
Not just any simple man
It’s not every day the best inning-for-inning pitcher baseball has ever seen joins your team. In fact, that pretty much never happens. But having bolted the New York Mets to join the Rangers as they try to ramp up to contention, deGrom is must-see TV whenever he is on a mound. That sentiment doubles (triples?) when he’s donning your team’s uniform for the first time.
Jacob deGrom pitching. Simple Man blaring.
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 7, 2022
As evidenced by the rapturous welcome in Queens when he was simply returning from injury, deGrom is the type of pitcher you will tell future generations about seeing. His arrival in Arlington will and should be a spectacle.
Welcome the conquering hero
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
Absolute aces, with the added bonus of accomplishments accrued since they last took the hill. Alcantara won the NL Cy Young Award. Ohtani, in his own singular way, helped Team Japan win the World Baseball Classic by hitting and pitching at world’s-best levels, then striking out world’s-best teammate Mike Trout to seal the deal.
New is always better
Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners
He’s not an offseason acquisition, but Castillo is new to Seattle’s Opening Day scene. The trade-deadline acquisition endeared himself to Mariners fans with huge performances down the stretch and two dominant postseason starts. Oh, yeah, postseason starts. Seattle has a lot to appreciate, and Castillo — who signed an extension to stick around — is a crown jewel of a thoroughly exciting rotation.
Framber Valdez, Houston Astros
Valdez isn’t new, but he’s new to the ace role. With Justin Verlander’s departure and Lance McCullers Jr. on the shelf with an injury, this is pretty clearly Valdez’s staff. Coming off a 200-inning campaign that saw him finish fifth in AL Cy Young voting, he deserves to soak up the ovation as the defending champs take the field.
Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers
It feels like Urías has been around forever — he debuted as a teenager, after all — but this is his first Opening Day start. Playing alongside Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler will have that effect. But Urías is a full-fledged ace in his own right after a 2022 season in which he posted a 2.16 ERA.
Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s a changing of the guard in Arizona … perhaps a bit overdue. Gallen staked his claim as a future Cy Young contender in 2022 and now will finally end Madison Bumgarner’s streak of opening starts for the D-backs as they look toward a window of contention with a young core.
Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto has two really good options in Manoah and Kevin Gausman, but the team chose to give the young workhorse his due after a third-place AL Cy Young finish.
Wearing the ace’s uniform to the ballpark
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Excellence is nothing novel for Burnes and Nola, but there is renewed incentive for fans to show the love. Burnes took it hard when the Brewers beat him in salary arbitration, seemingly adding to doubts that the sides will reach an agreement to keep him in Milwaukee long-term. Nola, meanwhile, is entering a contract year as his five-year extension runs out. The money will surely be the deciding factor — and one of these teams is, uh, more likely to pony up — but some adoration couldn't hurt.
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
Max Scherzer, New York Mets
Both New York teams made big-ticket acquisitions, but neither Carlos Rodón (who is injured) nor Justin Verlander (pitching later in the rotation) will be usurping an existing ace for the season’s first pitch. I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints.
Max Fried, Atlanta Braves
Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians
Ho hum. Fried and Bieber just keep winning and contending for hardware.
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
It’s true that the 39-year-old Greinke no longer stacks up, results-wise, with his former self. Or even future Hall of Fame compadres such as Scherzer and Verlander. It’s also true that this could be his farewell tour.
And if that’s not enough, he gets bonus watchability points for whatever hijinks he might get up to with the PitchCom, the new pickoff rules or just general Greinke ingenuity.
Greinke calling his own pitch & shaking himself off. 😀 pic.twitter.com/NR1oTqSy1G
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 15, 2023
We could get used to this
Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox
These breakout strikeout artists of 2022 have our full attention. What will they do next?
Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants
Blake Snell, San Diego Padres
There’s little left for Webb or Snell to prove — though Padres fans will certainly be interested in Snell’s form after inconsistency gave way to dominance in 2022 — and they simply aren’t the center of attention for their teams. All eyes in San Diego will be on the glitzy new faces acquired over the past year and the newly committed Manny Machado. All eyes in San Francisco will be on … the less glitzy yet still new faces in the lineup.
Let’s see what we have here
Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds
From super-intriguing prospect to super-intriguing breakout pick, the strapping Greene stoked big-time hopes with a 1.79 ERA across his last seven starts in 2022. How he starts his sophomore campaign could set the vibe for the rebuilding Reds.
Pablo Lopez, Minnesota Twins
Hello, Pablo. The Twins flipped AL batting champ Luis Arraez to the Marlins for the consistently good Lopez in hopes of bolstering the top of their rotation. On Opening Day, a team with reasonable but uncertain AL Central title hopes will get an early look at a key contributor.
Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates
Like more young Pirates pitchers than fans want to recall, Keller has had a rocky introduction to the majors. He’s now entering his fifth season and seems to have found a good equilibrium after some extreme pivots and reinventions. Coming off a career-high 159 innings, he’ll get the nod as the leader of a young team trying to take a step forward.
There have been more exciting times
Miles Mikolas, St. Louis Cardinals
Marcus Stroman, Chicago Cubs
They might not light up the box score. But will they get the job done? Usually the answer is yes for Mikolas and Stroman.
Corey Kluber, Boston Red Sox
If you had Kluber starting Opening Day in 2023, come collect your prize. After several years in the injury wilderness, the two-time Cy Young winner put together a solid, sturdy 2022 season with the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s an excellent veteran arm to have around, but his presence on the mound this early will probably only add to Red Sox Nation’s angst over the fact that the front office is cobbling together a roster of misfits and margin plays instead of assembling stars.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
It’s mulligan time for the Tigers and E-Rod. The former Boston rotation staple suffered through injury and personal problems in his first year with Detroit. Both the pitcher and the team could use a fresh start, and that’s exactly what Opening Day is for.
Germán Márquez, Colorado Rockies
Please clap for Germán Márquez, who has made at least 28 starts for the Rockies in every full season since 2017 (and led MLB in starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020). That is a tough way to go through life.
Kyle Muller, Oakland Athletics
The least experienced pitcher getting the ball on Opening Day is Muller. The 6-foot-7 lefty came over from Atlanta in the Sean Murphy trade with 49 major-league innings under his belt. I’m not sure A’s fans will be thrilled to see him, but he’ll have every opportunity to change their minds.
Kyle Gibson, Baltimore Orioles
There’s probably less wiggle room for this Kyle. Gibson was the headline acquisition of an Orioles offseason that began with fans almost certainly expecting more. It’s possible the Baltimore front office sees more potential in the 35-year-old Gibson, but he has a long track record as a pitcher who doesn’t start on Opening Day for actual contenders.
Opening Day is a construct, really
Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
A key member of the 2019 World Series team whose career has since gone sideways, Corbin has led MLB in losses in two straight seasons. He also started Opening Day last year, going four innings and allowing two runs while walking two and striking out four. It wasn’t awful or anything, but it was somehow made worse by the fact that it was the high-water mark. His ERA for the season, 4.50 after that day, never again dipped below 5.68.