The pitching probables look the same as they will on every other day between now and October. Yet when we look at them on Opening Day, we know those scheduled starters are anointed with something special, some kind of magical spring dust. Or something like that.
For each pitcher, it's an honor to be tabbed as his team's Opening Day starter. Baseball scribes start snooping around on the topic as soon as spring training opens, with every team's manager quoted in some story or other as "not having made up my mind" -- until he does finally make the announcement and yet another story is generated.
In a 162-game season, the importance of the Opening Day starter isn't that high. Yet, for fans, the identity of your team's first pitcher says something, whether it's about what a long-beloved hurler has done, or maybe what a young up-and-comer might do. And for some teams, the name of the pitcher on the mound for that first game ... well, it can be disheartening.
Today, we present all of the starters for the first game of the 2017 season, separated into tiers. It's part of a new rating system, explained in the accompanying box, but for this exercise, we're just slotting Opening Day starters against other Opening Day starters.
And if your favorite pitcher isn't here, blame the injury muse, or blame your manager. Chances are, if your favorite hurler is a star who didn't draw the first assignment, your team's rotation is in pretty good shape anyway.
TIER 1: The Clayton Kershaw tier
Originally, there were going to be just five tiers. But when I plotted out the distribution for ACE scores, one thing was crystal clear: Clayton Kershaw is on a tier by himself. His four-year ERA (1.88) would not be out of place in the dead ball era. In fact, if you look at just the years since 1920, when the livelier ball gave birth to the modern game, only one pitcher has had a better four-year stretch -- Sandy Koufax -- and it's close. Koufax had two four-year periods during his amazing career-ending run that were a tick better (1.85 and 1.86, respectively). Dodgers fans old enough to remember that had to think they would never see another period of dominance like the one Koufax enjoyed in the 1960s. Well, you're seeing it, and by another Dodgers lefty, no less.