Lloyd shocked the entire baseball world earlier this week when he announced that Felix Hernandez would receive the nod as the Mariners Opening Day starter in 2015. What an unexpected development! This will be Felix's EIGHTH Opening Day start - extending the franchise record he set last year. (Only eleven men in the history of baseball have had more Opening Day starts for the same team than Felix has). Randy Johnson sits at second for the Mariners, with six such starts. Throughout their history, eight men have received this honor multiple times for the M's.
*Just in case it's unclear, the units for the y-axis are "Number of Opening Day starts".
These gentlemen have combined for 32 of the 39 Opening Day starts in Mariners history. The other seven individuals to pitch on the inaugural day of a season were Diego Segui, Mike Parrott, Floyd Bannister, Gaylord Perry, Brian Holman, Erik Hanson, and Erik Bedard (who started in '08 over Felix - booooo). Using only 15 different men on Opening Day over the past 38 seasons demonstrates a large amount of continuity at the top of the rotation. For comparison, the Athletics, Angels, and Rangers have had 25, 18, and 23 different Opening Day pitchers, respectively, over that same period of time.
Felix, of course, had a phenomenal year last season. Although he didn't win the Cy Young award, he did receive more MVP votes than Corey Kluber (because baseball writers are a beacon of logic and consistency), which is a not-so-silver silver lining. You can see how Seattle's ace stacks up against the Opening Day starters for the other teams in MLB heading into '15 here:
Poor Rockies. They've tabbed Mr. Kyle Kendrick to be their Opening Day starter - a man they signed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract in February. This is a player who has started 185 games since '07, but has exceeded a single-season fWAR of 1.3 just once (in 2013, with 2.0 WAR). Last season, in 199 innings, he managed a WAR of only 0.9. It appears as though there could be some sort of strategy behind this selection, and it's not as if rotation order is critically important to the success of a team (especially for the Rockies who have such limited expectations in '15), but I don't imagine that announcing Kyle Kendrick as your Opening Day starter is super good for the morale of a franchise/fanbase...
That being said, maybe I shouldn't judge the Rockies too harshly. The Mariners have certainly had some dark times in their history... but have they had an Opening Day starter as ill-qualified as Kyle Kendrick? To find out, I went back and looked up the fWAR of each Mariners Opening Day starter the season before they were selected to be the team's number one pitcher.
It turns out that the M's have actually had two pitchers who put up a sub-1 WAR one season and then were named the Opening Day starter the next.
1. Diego Segui, 1977, previous season WAR of -0.4 (in '75): As a new expansion team, this is somewhat forgiveable. Segui was the only pitcher on the Mariners roster who had demonstrated any prior success as a starter (albeit, this success was ~8 years previous). However, having spent the '76 season exclusively in AAA, Segui struggled in his return to the majors. He only stuck around in the rotation for a handful of starts before being transitioned into a reliever/spot starter. He went winless with the Mariners, going 0-7 in 40 appearances while putting up an ERA of 5.69. He was released at the end of the season.
2. Jamie Moyer, 2005, previous season WAR of -0.1: 2004 was the year everything fell apart for the Mariners, as they saw their win total drop from 93 in '03 to 63 in '04. Even now, thinking back to that season makes me feel queasy. The Mariners traded Freddy Garcia midway through the '04 season, so their options for their Opening Day starter in 2005 were limited to Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Gil Meche, and Joel Piñeiro. With Jamie's history of success, his selection wasn't terribly suspect.
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Finally, here's a quick look at the worst and best individual Opening Day starts by Mariners pitchers, as determined by Game Score (which also happens to line up pretty well with RE24). Game Score is far from perfect as a be-all and end-all metric, but 1) it does provide a pretty good idea of how dominant a pitcher was in any given game and 2) it's easily sortable.
Worst Opening Day Starts:
Best Opening Day Starts:
Felix is the man and we're SO LUCKY to watch him pitch for the Mariners every five days. As noted in a recent Spring Training broadcast, Felix is a perfect 5-0 in his Opening Day starts (only Jimmy Key and Wes Ferrell have better Opening Day records). In those seven games, he's averaged 7.2 IP with an ERA of 1.69 and a WHIP of 0.77. The King is especially dominant on the first game of the season.
All things considered, the Mariners should feel pretty good about their historical performance on the inaugural day of the season. They've won each of their last eight Opening Days and have an overall record of 23-15. That's not too shabby for a franchise with a winning percentage of 0.468. Hopefully this trend continues on Monday when Felix takes the mound against the Angels. Only three more days...