Thursday, March 31, 2011
Opening Day is here: Aces rejoice!
By David Schoenfield
The minor leaguers have been sent down, the uniforms washed, the spikes shined, the stadiums cleaned to a shiny new-car gleam. The clouds are hanging low and there are threats of rain and even snow in some cities, but we're playing real baseball. CC Sabathia is facing Justin Verlander, Derek Lowe looks good and the Brewers tagged Edinson Volquez for two home runs in the first inning. It's a happy day.
One of my favorite aspects of Opening Day is its one of the best days of the season for great pitching matchups. The old adage that a No. 1 pitcher is important because he faces the other team's No. 1 all the time just isn't true. After a couple of weeks, everybody's rotation gets out of whack, and we actually end up with very few ace-ace matchups during a season.
I pulled out 25 of the best starters from 2010 and counted up how many times they faced other. I pulled out 12 American Leaguers, 12 National Leaguers, plus Dan Haren, who pitched in both leagues. They may not be your 25 best starting pitchers, but they worked for this little study.
(The pitchers: Felix Hernandez, Clay Buchholz, Jered Weaver, Sabathia, Jon Lester, Verlander, John Danks, David Price, Francisco Liriano, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson, Cliff Lee, Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, Roy Oswalt, Tim Hudson, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, Cole Hamels, Johan Santana and Haren.)
The total ace-ace matchups: 87, or about a little more than three per week. Only two days had as many as three ace matchups: Opening Day (Oswalt-Lincecum, Johnson-Santana, Verlander-Greinke) and Aug. 1 (Kershaw-Cain, Verlander-Buchholz, Weaver-Lee).
Weaver faced the most fellow aces -- 14 games, a very high total since only Sabathia and Francisco, with 10 apiece, also reached double figures. Wainwright and Cain only faced three fellow aces all season.
So as we watch Sabathia and Verlander (tied 3-3 in the sixth inning) or Lincecum and Kershaw later Thursday night, enjoy these gems. They don't happen very often.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.