When the news broke that Kyle Kendrick would be the Rockies' Opening Day starter in Milwaukee, Rockies fans must have been surprised. Wasn't Kendrick brought into the organization to be our fifth starter? Guys like Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez--in other words, aces--get the ball on Opening Day.
Kyle Kendrick is not an ace. He's like, a six of clubs, max. Not every team possesses an ace (for example, the Brewers are trotting out Kyle Lohse in opposition to Kendrick), but Kyle Kendrick is about as not-ace as an Opening Day starter can be: a guy who has a career 4.42 ERA, who has eclipsed 2 WAR just once in his career, and has a career K/9 below 5.
Tabbing Kendrick is somewhat defensible the way the Rockies are currently constructed; Jorge De La Rosa is a beast at home, so save him for the home opener; Tyler Matzek and Jordan Lyles are still young and might not handle the big moment well; Jhoulys Chacin is...unknown. Our own Matt Gross examined in depth why Kendrick being the Opening Day starter makes sense for these Rockies.
Regardless, Kendrick is a weak Opening Day starter. But then I remembered that Jeremy Guthrie was once a Rockies Opening Day starter. So was Kip Wells. Hell, it seems like the Rockies have made a business of employing some pretty weak OD pitchers. Which one is the worst? Let's find out!
Opening Day starters for the Rockies and their performance
|Year||Pitcher||Previous Year ERA||Year ERA as OD Starter||Previous Year WAR||WAR as OD Starter|
|2014||Jorge De La Rosa||3.49||4.1||4.3||2.4|
|2012||Jeremy Guthrie||4.33||6.35 (with Rockies)||1.8||-0.5|
|2011||Ubaldo Jimenez||2.88||4.46 (with Rockies)||7.5||0.9|
|2005||Joe Kennedy||3.66||7.04 (with Rockies)||5.6||-1.7|
Kyle Kendrick is not the worst Opening Day starter in Rockies history. He's better than Kip Wells was. He is also likely better than Joe Kennedy or Shawn Estes or Kevin Ritz or David Nied were.
Kip Wells probably shouldn't count; he only got the Opening Day start against the Cardinals in 2008 because the real Opening Day was rained out and Jeff Francis was burned warming up (it's interesting that Francis never earned an Opening Day start; did you know he only authored two sub-5 ERA seasons in Colorado? It felt like he was good for longer than he actually was). So Kip Wells got the nod the next day.
Still. Kip Wells was worth negative 1.9 WAR in the season prior, and he got the baseball for the Rockies on Opening Day. The Rockies were fresh off a World Series appearance and the best they could do was use the second least valuable pitcher of 2007. Remember that if you ever start feeling nostalgic for the O'Dowd era.
That's not the only time the Rockies signed a veteran following a catastrophic season and made him the OD starter. Shawn, -1.3 WAR-in-2003 Estes started the 2004 season for Colorado. Funnily enough, his ERA actually jumped from 5.73 to 5.84 from 2003 to 2004; but after moving from San Francisco to Colorado and adjusting for park, his WAR was 0.7 in 2004, or better by two. Coors Field baby, gotta love it.
You also might notice that the Rockies have traded three different Opening Day starters in their short history. Is that a lot? Jeremy Guthrie and Joe Kennedy were in the midst of disaster seasons. Ubaldo Jimenez was in velocity free-fall, the season was tanking, and O'Dowd rightfully moved him before Ubaldo's value could plummet any further. Unfortunately, the return in trade (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride) contributed absolutely nothing to future Rockies squads. Although McBride did homer yesterday...
Of course when you make a data set you have to play around with it a little bit. The average ERA for a Rockies Opening Day starter the year previous has been 4.15. The average ERAs for those starters during their Opening Day season is 4.97. Yep. We are one Kyle Kendrick blowup season from having our Opening Day pitchers average seasons with 5+ ERAs. Coors Field notwithstanding, that's pretty horrible.
It makes sense that Opening Day starters would have worse ERAs in their OD years than in their previous years. The reason they get the Opening Day start is usually because they had one of their best seasons the year previous, and then naturally regressed the next year. Also, a few starters came from other teams that didn't play their home games at Coors. Thus, only four starters had better ERAs in their OD season than in the year before.
The Rockies' best Opening Day starter-season was Ubaldo Jimenez's 2010 when he fashioned a 7.5 WAR season with a 2.88 ERA. That was awesome. The worst OD starter-season was Mike Hampton's 2002 when he was worth -1.9 wins, and the Rockies were paying him $14 million to do so.
Rooting for the Rockies has been a bumpy road. Seeing Kyle Kendrick throw the first pitch of 2015 for the Rockies is going to be pretty weird, but remember: it's been worse.