Controversy broke out in Clearwater on Wednesday when pitching Coach Rich Dubee indicated that Ace hurler Roy Halladay would likely not be the Opening Day starter when the season kicks off in April.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee said Monday afternoon that Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will probably pitch in the first series of the season in Atlanta, but he also said he thinks the Phils need to split the left-handed-throwing Lee and Hamels with a right-hander. That suggests Hamels or
Lee will get the nod Opening Day on April 1 at Turner Field.
Hamels makes the most sense because he is coming off the best season.
"I think it's how we line up best," Dubee said. "Realistically, we could pitch anybody the first day as far as Doc, Cole and Cliff. On most staffs, they are No. 1 starters, so they all could pitch Opening Day. But part of what we're thinking is trying to split those two lefties."
Okay, so maybe “controversy” was too strong a word, but I can't resist an attention grabbing lead if it means getting more page views. But, based on Dubee's comments, it would seem likely that Cole Hamels will be the one to get the nod on Opening Day.
There was a time – one that I do not remember fondly – when the thought of Cole Hamels starting the season opener over Roy Halladay would be considered blasphemy. Actually, that did happen (sort of) in 2010, when Hamels was tabbed to start the home opener (Halladay started the season opening in Washington). Facebook pages and blog comments were aflame with vitriol, for how could Hamels, who choked it up during the 2009 World Series, get the honor of starting the home opener over the newly acquired Roy Halladay? Dark days, that.
The times have clearly changed, and Hamels has certainly earned the honor of starting Opening Day over Roy Halladay. That might come as a shock to some, but the cooler and more thoughtful heads among us would quickly arrive at the logical conclusion that, 1 - The Opening Day starter not matter in the grand scheme of things, because the first game of the season doesn't carry any more weight than the other 161, 2 - It really only matters that your best pitchers get as many starts as possible, 3 - The symbolism of being an Opening Day starter carries no weight when it comes to the final tally of a pitcher's career, and 4 - It is quite literally one game that has only slightly more pomp and circumstance than the others, so what does it really matter?
Roy Halladay got the Opening Day nod in 2010 because he was the team's best pitcher. Ditto for 2011 and 2012, but you could easily replace him with either Hamels or Cliff Lee and make the same argument. Things are slightly different this season because Doc had a rough 2012, so it does make sense - from a strategic standpoint - to put your best foot forward and give your best starter the nod for the first game of the season. In this case, that's Hamels, who is younger, stronger, and at this point, has more in the tank than either Halladay or Lee, even as those two have more in the tank than 95% of MLB starters.
From a pure talent standpoint, giving the ball to Hamels for Game One makes sense. In fact, that's the only way it makes sense. Pitching coach Rich Dubee's reasoning, that they can “split up the lefties” is nothing more than a tired and asinine baseball platitude that sounds more important than it is.
At the end of the day, what matters is that the Phillies get the most out of their best assets. If you're making a movie, you want the best actor to get the most lines, right?* The same thing applies to starting pitchers; The Phillies have three really good ones, so as long as you give them as many starts as possible (without burning them out by October), then who cares who starts opening day?
*It's not a perfect metaphor, because the best actors don't always get the most lines, like Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs,” Robert DeNiro in “The Godfather Part 2”, or Rihanna in “Battleship.” But you get the point.
But from a personal standpoint, I'd love it if Hamels got the Opening Day nod, for reasons that are not confined to the strategy of winning baseball games. He's the best pitcher on the team, sure, but he's also one of the faces of the franchise and a home grown phenom who carried the team to a World Series title. Despite my railing against it earlier, I love what it means for Hamels to get the start on Opening Day, even if that is rather insignificant in the long run.