An MLB team’s opening day starter is usually the best pitcher on staff, or a pitcher with obvious leadership skills and incredible club presence.
The distinction is also given to a good pitcher who has spent many years, often his entire career, with the same club.
It’s quite an honor, and the Philadelphia Phillies know it very well.
They named right-hander Aaron Nola as the man to face the rubber in their first game of the season, and no one on the staff besides Zack Wheeler (we’ll get to that in a minute) was more deserving.
It’s the fifth straight season the Phillies manager has handed the ball to Nola in Game 1.
“Aaron Nola is one of the best at mastering rubber @Phillies the story. #OpeningDay,” MLB Stats tweeted.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) April 8, 2022
Nola is already making history
As the chart suggests, Nola is third in the Phillies’ all-time rankings for consecutive Opening Day starts, with five.
Robin Roberts started 12 straight times in the 50s and 60s, and the great Steve Carlton was on the mound for ten straight opening day assignments in the 70s and 80s.
Nola has had a better 2021 season than his 4.63 ERA suggests.
His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) rating was 3.37 and Statcast’s expected ERA (by speed out, hard hit rate and other stats) was 3.35.
Wheeler, on the other hand, was a Cy Young contender, with a stellar 2.78 ERA in 213.1 innings.
He had a career-high 247 strikeouts.
He is behind the rest of the pitchers, however, after suffering a shoulder problem during spring training.
It should be ready before the end of the month.
Had Wheeler been healthy, perhaps manager Joe Girardi could have turned to him instead of Nola for the opening day mission.
Even still, Nola was going to be the favorite anyway due to his status within the Phillies organization.