COMMENTARY | In past seasons when the Philadelphia Phillies had superb starting pitching, there was a legitimate argument for several different men to take the mound on opening day.
Historically, the opening-day starter for any team has little impact on the season. The honor is similar to an Employee of the Month Award where the prize is a parking spot and you happen to take the bus to work. As flattering as being named opening-day starter can be, a week later everyone forgets.
Previous seasons the Phillies have had opening-day starters varying from Roy Halladay to Robert Person. The contrast says nothing other than the quality of pitchers available on the roster.
Should Hamels be named opening-day starter in 2014, this would be his second straight year. Before the opening-day nod in 2013, Halladay held a three-year streak 2010-2012, which snapped an equaled streak Brett Myers had 2007-2009. If a fringe player like Myers can start three consecutive seasons, Hamels should, too.
The decision will be up to manager Ryne Sandberg. The choice may not affect the game, but selecting Hamels will have some important benefits:
Faith From Sandberg
As a new full-time manager, the Phillies' players need to learn to trust Sandberg fully. Many of the players had only ever known Charlie Manuel as a big league manager and could be reluctant to accept the change.
Hamels, in particular, will need to trust Sandberg as both will likely spend a lot of time together over the next few seasons, unless everything comes crashing down. Sandberg needs to show he has faith in Hamels immediately.
Hamels has a tendency to get frustrated on the mound when things are not going his way. The reward of an opening-day start from Sandberg would be a big boost to Hamels' ego, especially after not having his best season in 2013. This move would send a message to the rest of the team that Hamels is the pitcher of the future, a true ace the team depends on to succeed.
Not Essential for Lee
Meanwhile, Cliff Lee has yet to start opening day for the Phillies. A weaker pitcher could be bothered by this, but this is Cliff Lee. Emotionally strong and a little bit cocky about his abilities, Lee is not someone to complain about starting the second game of the season in lieu of the first.
Older than Hamels, Lee is not the future of this Phillies team. It has to be established early on that Hamels is the one the organization is ready to be depended upon for the future. Lee is a smart enough man to not take it personally. He is also a talented enough pitcher that if he does take it as an insult he would do everything to prove himself.
Earned the Start
Aside from mental reasons why Hamels should get the start, there are plenty of statistical ones. Lee has better numbers in a Phillies uniform, but Hamels is not far behind. Both pitchers are lefties with a similar physical build and pitching style. They strike out a lot of batters and go deep into games. Each also had the misfortune of poor run support in seasons where he pitched incredibly well.
Lee may have a slight edge on dominance, although Hamels is not an easy opponent to face. A near draw when considering statistics, the tiebreaker comes down to the emotional aspect. There is plenty of time for Sandberg to punish Hamels if he were to struggle. Sandberg needs to come into this season with a clean slate and no grudges.
The Phillies will open the 2014 season on March 31 at the Texas Rangers. The starting pitcher against them will likely be Yu Darvish and the lineup will include the Rangers debut for Prince Fielder. None of this matters because this year's opening-day starter for the Phillies is more about the future of the team than starting 1-0.
Sandberg will send a strong message with whomever he goes with.
Tim Boyle is a lifelong and loyal Philadelphia sports follower who enjoys writing about his favorite teams and discovering unique statistical facts.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cole Hamels
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Cliff Lee
- Ryne Sandberg