A friend sent me a message shortly after the Royals announced that Luke Hochevar would be their opening day starter. He asked “How’s it feel to have your opening day starter carrying a 5.00 ERA?” Rather than correct him – that Hochevar has, in fact, a 5.60 ERA – I answered “better than a guy with a 6.00 ERA?”
My thoughts on Hochevar as the opening day starter boil down to this – he can’t be all that bad. He’s not Runelvys Hernandez, at least.
And no, he’s not that bad. Except that, yes, he IS that bad. Historically speaking, that is.
I went through every Royals opening day, all the way back to 1969, looking at career ERAs and career WAR.
Gage already tallied up the number of opening day starts by pitcher with his awesome infographic of all things opening day – so I’m glad to build off that and offer some detail on those pitchers in particular.
As it turns out, the Royals have had a pretty good set of starting pitchers on opening day. So good that two time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen didn’t start on opening day in 1985 or 1989. He only started three times with Bud Black, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza mixed in. He and Kevin Appier own the highest career WAR by Royals opening day starters with Saberhagen (54.7) just beating Appier (50.4).
Perhaps it’s a function of increased offense in baseball or it’s a problem with the Royals roster post-Appier, but with the exception of Zack Greinke (3.82) in 2010, no Royals opening day starter has had a career ERA under 4.00. That includes a stretch from 2000 to 2006 where Jeff Suppan, with a 4.69 ERA, started three times in a row and was the most successful pitcher who made the first start of the year. He beat out luminaries Brian Anderson (4.74), Jose Lima (5.26), Scott Elarton (5.29) and, of course, Runelvys Hernandez (5.50).
And yes, in case you’d blocked it from your memory, Scott Elarton did start on opening day for the Royals. Lima, in 2005, finished the year with a 6.99 ERA after starting the year off for the Royals.
Incidentally, Elarton, Suppan, Greinke and Hochevar are the only Royals opening day starters who are currently active. Jeff Suppan was recently released by the Giants so if he sticks with it, we can add him to that list. Elarton missed the second half of last season with an undisclosed medical condition.
Later today, Luke Hochevar will take the mound with the highest career ERA by a Royals opening day starter. I hope that when 2011 ends, Runelvys Hernandez can retake the dubious honor of worst Royals opening day starter ever.
(If you would like to view the whole spreadsheet which includes all starters by year, their career ERA and WAR and their WAR and ERA for the particular season in which they made the opening day start – here it is.)