Professional sports have been in a pandemic-induced coma for months, but Opening Day has finally arrived. The New York Yankees and Washington Nationals will face off first at 7pm eastern standard time (EST). That game will be followed by the next installment of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry at 10pm EST.
Hope springs eternal as the Nationals vie to defend the title while the Dodgers and Yankees are posed as top contenders. With the shortened season, every game holds significant weight, especially in narratives. With that, let us take a look at the narratives of today’s starting pitchers going into the 2020 season.
Max Scherzer: Is he healthy?
Over his career, Scherzer has been one of the most durable pitchers in the major leagues. Last year was the first time since his rookie season he did not start thirty or more games. After Injured List stints dealing with back issues, home runs became a problem in the second half of 2019.
He was not throwing particularly slow late in the season or in the playoffs. Combined with the home runs, the data suggests the nagging injuries could be messing with his command. Max Scherzer will turn 36 on July 27th; Father Time is at the door and injuries are a part of the game. He has done well staying healthy thus far in his career. The question is if he can keep it up or if last year was the beginning of the end.
Gerrit Cole: Can he win a Cy Young?
Since joining the Astros in 2018, Gerrit Cole has been practically unhittable. His 2.68 ERA and 602 strikeouts have been good for two top-five Cy Young finishes. He was particularly dominant in the second half of 2019 going 11-0 with a 1.79 ERA.
Justin Verlander rightfully won 2019’s AL Cy Young, but Cole was clearly the superior pitcher by the end of the year. With a new team and shortened season, the environment is set for him to do something special. If Cole can pitch the way he did in the second half of 2019, he could be shooting not only for the Cy Young, but the MVP award as well.
Clayton Kershaw: Will he regress?
Kershaw’s fastball velocity has been decreasing since 2015, reaching a new low of averaging 90.3 mph in 2019. He has managed this transition gracefully, keeping his ERA around or below 3.00 over the past few seasons. What is concerning is that his ERA predictors say he has been getting lucky.
Over his career, Kershaw has gained a reputation for outperforming his peripheral ERA indicators. That ERA defiance has typically been between 0.30 and 0.50 earned runs per nine innings. In recent years, it has been creeping up between 0.55 and 0.70. His ERA has been rising as is. How long and how extreme can this defiance bubble hold? Is he due to regress or has he found a way to truly outplay his own statistics?
Johnny Cueto: Who is he?
After helping the Royals win the 2015 World Series, Johnny Cueto signed a six year contract with the San Francisco Giants. After a near Cy Young caliber 2016, Cueto’s performance nose dived and he has struggled to stay on the field since. He has started 13 games in the past two years with ERA indicators pointing toward the mid to high 4s. Tommy John has done a number on him and yet he got the Opening Day nod.
Jeff Samardzija pitched well last year with a 3.52 ERA in 181.2 innings pitched. He signed a five year deal the same offseason as Cueto after 2015. While Samardzija has gone through his fair share of ups and downs with the Giants, he has done far better at staying healthy. He looked way better in spring training, appears to be healthy, and yet Cueto is deemed the ace. The Giants seem to think he’s up to the task. Only time will tell if old Cueto is back or is this a last hoorah for another career destroyed by elbow injuries?
Each pitcher has a story to tell and each team a fate to play out. Especially in a shortened season, these two are deeply intertwined. Teams need to get off to hot starts. They need their aces to be aces. It all begins tonight and we will be watching every pitch here at BaseballCloud.