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Who should be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter? (And does it matter?)

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Hint: the answer to the second question is probably “not really.”

Here’s my choice.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs’ five-man rotation is now set, with the signing of Yu Darvish, and as I noted earlier today, this year’s five-man rotation will also almost certainly be the rotation in 2019 as well.

The only questions, then, for Joe Maddon as he puts this year’s rotation together, is what order they should throw in and who will get the Opening Day nod in Miami March 29. Since the Cubs begin on a 10-game road trip, it’s very likely that whoever goes against the Marlins that day will also get the start in the home opener against the Pirates April 9.

Here are the Cubs’ first five starters over the last eight years (note, six pitchers listed in two seasons because the OD starter went again before a fifth pitcher did). H/T to BCBer interbret for putting together this list:

2010: Zambrano, Dempster, Wells, Silva, Zambrano, Gorzelanny
2011: Dempster, Zambrano, Garza, Wells, Cashner
2012: Dempster, Garza, Samardzija, Volstad, Maholm
2013: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, Villanueva
2014: Samardzija, Jackson, Hammel, Wood, Samardzija, Villanueva
2015: Lester, Arrieta, Wood, Hammel, Hendricks
2016: Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hammel, Hendricks
2017: Lester, Arrieta, Lackey, Anderson, Hendricks

In general, the Opening Day honor has gone to a veteran pitcher, but also one who’s earned the right from previous performance.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Kyle Hendricks has earned the right to be the Opening Day starter in 2018.

Hendricks had an excellent season in 2016, leading the major leagues in ERA, posting 5.0 bWAR and finishing third in N.L. Cy Young voting. Lester’s 2016 season was just a touch better; he finished just behind Hendricks in ERA (2.44), posted 5.3 bWAR and finished second in N.L. Cy Young voting.

Likely because of the slightly better numbers, the longevity of his career and his previous Opening Day start, Lester was given the nod in 2017.

Hendricks had the best year of any Cubs starter in 2017. He missed several weeks with a finger injury, but still posted the best ERA of any Cubs starter even though he didn’t throw enough innings to qualify. He also posted 3.5 bWAR, best of any Cubs pitcher even though he made only 24 starts.

Also, Hendricks has the third-longest tenure as a Cub of anyone who’s likely going to be on the 25-man Opening Day roster. The only current Cubs who have been on the big-league roster longer: Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop. (Javier Baez came to the major leagues about a month after Hendricks.)

So I think Kyle has earned the Opening Day start this season.

Going a bit further into the rotation, with two lefthanders, you’d likely want to have them split. Obviously that doesn’t affect the Opening Day start, but I doubt we will see Lester and Jose Quintana go back-to-back.

And so I’d have Lester start the season’s second game, followed by Darvish. Quintana would be the logical follower, and then Tyler Chatwood in the No. 5 spot.

So there’s my choice for rotation: Hendricks-Lester-Darvish-Quintana-Chatwood. Of course, this is only the first time through; off days and matchups might switch that around, though I should note that in 2016, the Cubs didn’t have anyone other than their top five starters start a game until game 84, when Adam Warren made a spot start. If the rotation starters this year do what we all think they are capable of, that could happen again, especially with more off days built into the schedule beginning this year.

Perhaps you have a different choice for OD starter, or for the order of the rotation. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Poll

The Cubs’ Opening Day starter should be...

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Tyler Chatwood
    (45 votes)
  • 8%
    Yu Darvish
    (132 votes)
  • 56%
    Kyle Hendricks
    (924 votes)
  • 28%
    Jon Lester
    (472 votes)
  • 3%
    Jose Quintana
    (64 votes)
1637 votes total Vote Now