Rick Porcello is the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner and David Price is pitching on a seven-year, $217 million contract. Yet neither should take the ball April 3 when the Boston Red Sox begin their 2017 season against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park.
That honor, without question, should belong to Chris Sale, who was acquired over the offseason in a blockbuster trade with the Chicago White Sox.
Sure, there are cases to be made for either Porcello or Price being named the Red Sox’s Opening Day starter, but both ignore the only fact that should matter in this argument: Sale is Boston’s best pitcher.
Look, Porcello had an excellent 2016 campaign in which he won 22 games and asserted himself as a leader on the Red Sox’s pitching staff. And his hardware suggests he was the American League’s best pitcher last season, though one could argue it was a very lackluster year as far as AL Cy Young candidates were concerned. But if you think, all things considered, Porcello is better than Sale, a perennial Cy Young candidate, you’re putting way too much stock into a 33-start, single-season stretch.
That’s not to take anything away from Porcello, a very good pitcher, or his accomplishments. It’s more an acknowledgment that Sale consistently is one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball and one of the league’s few true aces. Porcello, meanwhile, profiles as more of a mid-rotation starter if we take into account his entire career — from his abysmal 2015 to his stellar 2016 and everything in between.
As for Price, the track record is there. The recent dominance, however, isn’t, even though he was better than most gave him credit for last season and his struggles were more pronounced due to his hefty contract and the inherent expectations that come with signing such a deal within a huge market.
Both Sale and Price have pointed to Porcello when asked about who should start Opening Day, an apparent tip of the cap to what Porcello did in 2016. Porcello, entering his third season with Boston, also is the Red Sox’s longest-tenured starter of the bunch, though the trio has joined the club in consecutive offseasons so it’s not like we’re talking about long-time organizational stalwarts.
Handing the ball to Porcello on Opening Day as some sort of homage to his 2016 success is a flawed approach, though, and it’s one that flies right in the face of the assertion that it’s a new season, everyone is turning the page and the team is focusing on the present rather than living in the past.
All in all, the question of who starts the first game of the regular season might be the easiest one any manager answers all year. If whoever gets the nod falls flat on his face on Opening Day, there are 161 more games for the team to right the ship. And ideally, the pitcher in question will make another 30 or so starts in which he can make up for his Opening Day flop. Not to mention, starting rotations get so jumbled throughout the course of the season because of injuries, skipped starts, transactions, etc., that it might take just a few weeks for the actual order of pitchers to change.
But there’s something to be said for starting the season with your best pitcher, especially since it means, in theory, he’ll be matched up against the best pitcher on opposing teams at least to start the season, in games that, believe it or not, actually mean something.
Also, don’t you want your best pitcher to make more starts than anyone else on your roster? Doesn’t that give you the best chance to win the most games possible? And isn’t that the ultimate goal?
The whole concept is quite simple, really, which is why there shouldn’t be a debate when it comes to figuring out the Red Sox’s Opening Day starter. Give the ball to the team’s best pitcher — Sale — and take it from there.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images