We're only three days away from Opening Day, so presumably the expected starting pitchers for baseball's first set of games are getting into first gear for their first appearances of the season. Usually, you end up seeing most of the game's top pitchers on Opening Day, as teams like to set the tone with a quality initial performances and it allows the club to maximize the number of starts that their best pitcher can make. Some teams have better tone-setters than others (a 5.60 career ERA can only go down, right?), and I thought I would set out to determine who those teams are today. I've divided this year's Opening Day starters into five different tiers, so you can get an idea of just how these guys stack up.
Tier 5: Wait, he's your Opening Day starter??
RHP Kevin Correia, Pittsburgh
Arguably 2011's worst Opening Day starter. Outside of a decent 2009 in San Diego (2.5 WAR), he's never been effective as a starter.
RHP Tim Stauffer, San Diego
Obviously Mat Latos is the club's ace, but Stauffer, the fourth-best starter on the staff, gets the nod for Opening Day. Watch out, though, because he could surprise some people with a good 2011.
RHP Luke Hochevar, Kansas City
It's easy to point to the 5.60 ERA, but his peripherals have been far more solid and the former No. 1 pick is particularly intriguing given that his fastball averaged 93.5 MPH as a starter last season.
RHP Fausto Carmona, Cleveland
He bounced back in 2011, but he still doesn't miss bats and that's always going to limit his potential. It's never good when your ace strikes out roughly 5 guys per 9 innings.
RHP Ian Kennedy, Arizona
He turned in a quality 2010 after nearly falling off the face of the Earth, but he's never going to be an overpowering pitcher. He's probably not that far off from his ceiling already.
RHP Livan Hernandez, Washington
I previously had Hernandez in Tier 4, but some second thought (and fellow BtB contributor Julian Levine) reminded me that it's pretty outrageous that he's actually still an Opening Day starter. He just won't go away, but he's probably going to be a 3-win pitcher again. I expect Jordan Zimmermann to emerge as the club's best non-Strasburg starter.
Tier 4: What, you wanted to start the year with a young guy?
RHP Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore
Guthrie's been solid three times in the past four years, but he's likely to be surpassed by Brian Matusz as the club's top pitcher in 2011.
LHP Mark Buehrle, Chicago (AL)
Danks and Floyd are clearly better at this point, and there's a chance that the veteran lefty finishes the season as Chicago's fifth-best starter. That should say just as much about Chicago's impressive pitching as it does about Buehrle.
RHP Derek Lowe, Atlanta
Going by talent, Hanson would be the obvious Opening Day starter here, but it's worth noting that Lowe did bounce back in a good way last season.
RHP Carl Pavano, Minnesota
At this point, Liriano is clearly the club's best pitcher. Starting Pavano in favor of the stud lefty is curious, but not nearly as curious as shoving Kevin Slowey into the bullpen.
Tier 3: I guess he kind of looks like an ace if I squint.
RHP Trevor Cahill, Oakland
Brett Anderson is an ace when he's healthy, but Cahill turned in a fantastic 2010 and earned an Opening Day start this season. He could end up being Oakland's fourth-best starter this season, though.
RHP Mike Pelfrey, New York (NL)
The Mets are really, really going to miss Johan Santana. This should be quite obvious to anyone who has anything to do with the Mets.
RHP Brett Myers, Houston
He parlayed a strong 2010 into a contract extension, and now he should front Houston's rotation along with Wandy Rodriguez and Jordan Lyles for the next couple years. Give credit to Ed Wade for signing Myers on the cheap last winter.
RHP Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati
RHP Ryan Dempster, Chicago (NL)
Dempster's quietly emerged as a very good starter with 12.5 wins over the past three seasons, and he's earned his place atop Chicago's rotation. He's not an ace, but he's a very, very solid No. 2 starter.
RHP C.J. Wilson, Texas
His conversion to starting has proven to be a major success, giving hope to guys that are trying to accomplish something similar like Detroit's Phil Coke. He'll probably regress a little in 2011, but he should still be pretty solid.
Tier 2: No major complaints here; we're good.
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles (NL)
The next step for Kershaw is to improve his efficiency. He's been cutting down the walks and eating more innings, and with another step forward he would firmly be in the top tier of starting pitchers. And hey, even if he doesn't, he's pretty damn good right now.
RHP Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
Durability is the biggest concern for the 35-year-old, particularly after making 35 starts and pitching 235 innings last season. He'll be great if he can stay healthy.
RHP Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee
He racks up strikeouts and showed some solid improvement last season. At 25, he could still take another step forward and give the Brewers a bonafide ace.
RHP Jered Weaver, Los Angeles (AL)
Weaver had his breakout last season, but it's hard to sustain such dominance while giving up so many fly balls. The increased whiff rate gives one hope that his exceptional K/BB from last season is somewhat sustainable, though.
LHP Ricky Romero, Toronto
A personal favorite, Romero's emergence last season presumably made it easier for the club to trade Shaun Marcum. He could be an absolute monster with fewer walks, but he's already quite good as is.
LHP David Price, Tampa Bay
His peripherals weren't as impressive as his ERA and W-L marks last season, but he's only 25 and he's still got room to improve. He's a solid No. 1 right now, but he could emerge as one of the game's best pitchers.
Tier 1: This guy freaking rules. I wish we had ten of him.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
Big-time velocity makes Jimenez a wonder to watch, and after putting up over 16 wins in the past three years he's firmly entrenched himself among the game's elite pitchers. When you see a young guy that can hold his velocity deep into games, you dream about him turning into Jimenez.
RHP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
Over the past nine years, he's averaged a 3.04 ERA in 218 innings per season. That's good for 6.2 wins per season. Must we continue to explain how good this guy is?
RHP Justin Verlander, Detroit
After putting up nearly 15 wins total over the past two seasons, it's fair to say that Verlander is an elite pitcher. Hopefully, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are taking cues from their dominant teammate.
RHP Josh Johnson, Florida
For a few years, people just waited for Johnson to get healthy. And he has been over the past two years, putting up a 2.80 ERA in 392 innings; that's good for roughly 12 wins.
LHP Jon Lester, Boston
He's got three consecutive 5+ WAR seasons since landing a full-time spot in the rotation. At this point, there's little reason to believe that streak will end.
LHP CC Sabathia, New York (AL)
He may not have deserved all of the Cy Young hype last season, but he's still clearly an excellent pitcher. His durability has massive value, and he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past five seasons, averaging roughly 6.3 WAR per year.
RHP Felix Hernandez, Seattle
He's King Felix. Enough said.
RHP Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
He's kept losing velocity, and he's kept adjusting the way that he's pitched accordingly. After the way that he pitched in the playoffs last season, I don't think that anybody is ready to predict the downfall of Tiny Tim Lincecum.