The best non-Opening Day starters

Winslow Townson

Who were the pitchers with ace-worthy stuff the year previous that didn't get the Opening Day nod?

On Opening Day (i.e. Monday — you don't count, Diamondbacks / Dodgers / Padres), I was looking to set my fantasy lineups. Since Max Scherzer accrued 6.4 fWAR and won the Cy Young in 2013, I figured he'd be starting the game for Detroit; however, the Tigers — perhaps fearful of his bobblehead — gave the ball to Justin Verlander. This got me thinking: How common is it for a pitcher to excel in one season, then not lead off the next?

Thanks to the combination of freely available historical statistics and no social commitments whatsoever, I was able to find out. I looked back to 1914, since that's as far as Baseball-Reference's Opening Day database goes. For the sake of simplicity, I just isolated the one best starter from each season. I did my best to remove those who didn't start due to injuries or other issues (feel free to reprimand me in the comments if I've overlooked something), and I went with the previous season's WAR, since that determines the Opening Day starter.

Table!

Preceding Year OD Year Snub Snub WAR OD Starter OD Starter WAR
1913 1914 Christy Mathewson 5.8 Rube Marquard 5.2
1914 1915 Earl Moseley 6.9 Cy Falkenberg 10.4
1915 1916 Dave Davenport 9 Bob Groom 2.8
1916 1917 Al Demaree 5.5 Hippo Vaughn 5
1917 1918 Hippo Vaughn 6.1 Pete Alexander 9.9
1918 1919 Eddie Cicotte 5.4 Lefty Williams 0.8
1919 1920 Eddie Cicotte 6.5 Lefty Williams 5.9
1920 1921 Red Faber 6.3 Dickie Kerr 3.6
1921 1922 Stan Coveleski 6.7 Guy Morton 1.8
1922 1923 Wilbur Cooper 6.3 Johnny Morrison 4.6
1923 1924 Dolf Luque 7.4 Tom Sheehan ---
1924 1925 Howard Ehmke 6.4 Alex Ferguson 3.1
1925 1926 Dazzy Vance 8.2 Jesse Petty 0.7
1926 1927 Carl Mays 4.7 Pete Donohue 4.9
1927 1928 Dazzy Vance 5.7 Jesse Petty 3.7
1928 1929 Lefty Grove 7.2 Carroll Yerkes 0.1
1929 1930 Pat Malone 5.4 Sheriff Blake 3
1930 1931 Lefty Grove 8.1 Rube Walberg 3.7
1931 1932 Lefty Grove 7.9 Lefty Gomez 4.7
1932 1933 Lefty Grove 7.4 Tony Freitas 1.6
1933 1934 Bump Hadley 5.9 George Blaeholder 4
1934 1935 Tommy Bridges 5.1 Schoolboy Rowe 5.4
1935 1936 Lefty Grove 7.5 Wes Ferrell 6
1936 1937 Johnny Allen 7.1 Mel Harder 4.3
1937 1938 Lefty Grove 7.9 Jim Bagby ---
1938 1939 Lefty Gomez 6.1 Red Ruffing 5.6
1939 1940 Tommy Bridges 5.7 Bobo Newsom 7.1
1940 1941 Tommy Bridges 5.1 Bobo Newsom 6.3
1941 1942 Whit Wyatt 7 Curt Davis 2.5
1942 1943 Bobo Newsom 4.8 Ed Head 0.9
1943 1944 Mort Cooper 6.4 Max Lanier 4.8
1944 1945 Dizzy Trout 7.6 Hal Newhouser 7.3
1945 1946 Preacher Roe 7.3 Fritz Ostermueller 0.7
1946 1947 Dizzy Trout 5.7 Hal Newhouser 10.2
1947 1948 Warren Spahn 6.7 Johnny Sain 5.7
1948 1949 Bob Lemon 5.2 Bob Feller 4.5
1949 1950 Howie Pollet 5.9 Gerry Staley 3.2
1950 1951 Warren Spahn 5.7 Vern Bickford 3.7
1951 1952 Larry Jansen 5.6 Sal Maglie 4.8
1952 1953 Bobby Shantz 6.5 Alex Kellner 2.9
1953 1954 Warren Spahn 6.7 Bob Buhl 1.9
1954 1955 Mike Garcia 6.4 Bob Lemon 4.4
1955 1956 Willard Nixon 5.1 Frank Sullivan 5.3
1956 1957 Early Wynn 6.9 Billy Pierce 6.6
1957 1958 Curt Simmons 5 Robin Roberts 2.5
1958 1959 Sam Jones 6.1 Johnny Antonelli 2.4
1959 1960 Jim Owens 5 Robin Roberts 4.4
1960 1961 Mike McCormick 5.5 Sam Jones 4.4
1961 1962 Sandy Koufax 6.6 Johnny Podres 2.7
1962 1963 Billy O'Dell 7.1 Jack Sanford 4
1963 1964 Dick Ellsworth 7.2 Larry Jackson 7.1
1964 1965 Dean Chance 6.9 Fred Newman 3.1
1965 1966 Sandy Koufax 10.7 Claude Osteen 4.3
1966 1967 Gaylord Perry 8 Juan Marichal 7.1
1967 1968 Gaylord Perry 6.2 Juan Marichal 4.2
1968 1969 Sam McDowell 6.5 Luis Tiant 7
1969 1970 Bob Veale 6.7 Steve Blass 2
1970 1971 Bill Hands 7.3 Fergie Jenkins 10.5
1971 1972 Tom Bradley 7.3 Wilbur Wood 8.4
1972 1973 Phil Niekro 6.6 Gary Gentry 0.6
1973 1974 Bill Singer 6.6 Nolan Ryan 8.9
1974 1975 Jon Matlack 7.4 Tom Seaver 4.6
1975 1976 Ron Reed 7.4 Jim Kaat 5.5
1976 1977 Rick Reuschel 5.1 Ray Burris 3
1977 1978 Nolan Ryan 6.4 Frank Tanana 5.6
1978 1979 Lary Sorensen 5 Mike Caldwell 6.4
1979 1980 Tommy John 6.8 Ron Guidry 6.1
1980 1981 Len Barker 5.3 Bert Blyleven 4
1981 1982 Bill Gullickson 5 Steve Rogers 3.3
1982 1983 Joaquin Andujar 6 Bob Forsch 2.6
1983 1984 John Denny 5.8 Steve Carlton 7.3
1984 1985 Doyle Alexander 5.3 Dave Stieb 5.9
1985 1986 Bert Blyleven 7.4 Frank Viola 4.5
1986 1987 Roger Clemens 7.8 Bob Stanley 1.1
1987 1988 Nolan Ryan 6.6 Mike Scott 5.6
1988 1989 Bret Saberhagen 6 Mark Gubicza 6.7
1989 1990 Mark Gubicza 6.9 Bret Saberhagen 8.1
1990 1991 Greg Maddux 5.4 Danny Jackson 1.6
1991 1992 Greg Swindell 6.1 Jose Rijo 5.9
1992 1993 Kevin Brown 6.4 Craig Lefferts 2.5
1993 1994 Steve Avery 5.2 Greg Maddux 7.7
1994 1995 Bret Saberhagen 5.1 Bobby Jones 1.9
1995 1996 Hideo Nomo 4.8 Ramon Martinez 1.7
1996 1997 Greg Maddux 7.7 John Smoltz 8.2
1997 1998 John Smoltz 6.7 Greg Maddux 8
1998 1999 Greg Maddux 7.4 Tom Glavine 4.7
1999 2000 Kevin Millwood 5.5 Greg Maddux 5.6
2000 2001 Greg Maddux 7 John Burkett 2.4
2001 2002 Curt Schilling 7.4 Randy Johnson 10.4
2002 2003 Curt Schilling 9.3 Randy Johnson 8
2003 2004 Esteban Loaiza 6.8 Mark Buehrle 4.2
2004 2005 Johan Santana 7.5 Brad Radke 5.7
2005 2006 Pedro Martinez 5.8 Tom Glavine 3.4
2006 2007 Mike Mussina 5.4 Carl Pavano ---
2007 2008 Josh Beckett 6.5 Daisuke Matsuzaka ---
2008 2009 Dan Haren 6.1 Brandon Webb 5.5
2009 2010 Javier Vazquez 6.2 CC Sabathia 6.1
2010 2011 Cliff Lee 7 Roy Halladay 6.1
2011 2012 Dan Haren 6.2 Jered Weaver 5.7
2012 2013 Gio Gonzalez 5.1 Stephen Strasburg 4.1
2013 2014 Max Scherzer 6.4 Justin Verlander 5.2

Some stray observations:

  • How about those late-90s Braves? I suppose having too many awesome pitchers is a good problem to have.
  • Lefty Grove got bumped in six different seasons  the most of any of these pitchers  by six different pitchers. He made seven Opening Day starts as a whole, though, so I guess he did pretty well. (Oh, and he's in the Hall of Fame.)
  • Funny story about 1961. Those Giants elected to start Mike McCormick in their fourth game; they gave the ball to Sam Jones on Opening Day. McCormick didn't wait until Game 4, though  he entered Game 1 as a reliever...and promptly gave up a 2-out, walk-off homer. That's right: McCormick was snubbed for the Opening Day start, but still managed to take the loss in the season's first game. Baseball!
  • Mark Gubicza beat out Bret Saberhagen for the 1989 start? No worries  Saberhagen got him back the next year.

This is hardly a necessary exercise — the whole "Opening Day" starter thing is pretty overblown anyway; moreover, many of these guys weren't actually snubs, they just happened to be on a team with a better pitcher. Despite the lightheartedness of this activity, it's another mile marker that tells us baseball is back.

. . .

All WAR data courtesy of FanGraphs. All Opening Day statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Ryan Romano is a featured contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He's also written on the FanGraphs Community blog and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports and live tweeting about Community, Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC. Cool. Coolcoolcool.

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