Since 2012, exactly two pitchers have been Opening Day starters for the Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber and Justin Masterson. Masterson held down the fort in the early 2010s (2012-2014), while Kluber closed it out with a pair of Cy Youngs and five consecutive Opening Day starts, tied with Stan Coveleski for the most consecutive Opening Day starts in club history.
Unless Masterson comes out of retirement and flashes a better-than-ever fastball at 34 years old and three years removed from professional pitching, the Indians will be left finding a new Opening Day starter for the 2020 season. In other words, for the first time in a decade, this is a conversation we can actually have.
Looking at it the Opening Day starter as “your best pitcher does it, duh”, the mantle would probably fall to Mike Clevinger. The Tribe’s No. 4 starter entering last season, a pair of trades and a cloud of question marks beyond his control surrounding Carlos Carrasco have pushed Clevinger to the role of ace for the Indians. He excelled last season, despite missing significant time with a back injury, and put up his best season yet — 126.0 IP, 33.9 K%, 2.71 ERA, 56 ERA-, and 4.5 fWAR. As a result, he has himself in good position to be the true No. 1 pitcher in 2020.
While Steamer and ZiPS have him coming down to earth a bit more this season, but his marks last season and potential moving forward are more than enough to warrant him being the Opening Day starter. For most, it’s as simple as that.
But what if we can look at it another way?
On the emotional side of things, naming Carlos Carrasco seems like the right move. After struggling out of the gate last season then missing significant time while batting leukemia, Carrasco fought back and pitched 11 outings of relief down the stretch. His final numbers are ugly and hardly ace worthy, but his courage and strength to come back from such a devastating life event was undoubtedly the emotional story of the season.
There have been several times throughout his Indians tenure that he could have been the Opening Day starter if it weren’t for that pesky Corey Kluber being great and all that. Clevinger is probably going to blow him and everyone else away in 2020, so why not let Carrasco have it this one time while it’s still a relatively close competition? Until we see otherwise, you can still probably argue that Carrasco is the best pitcher on the staff. You’d probably be wrong, the argument is there.
The Indians also open 2020 at home, which is another perfect reason to have Carrasco out there. The roar he got in his return from the injured list last season was incredible — just imagine what it would be like to see him trot out to the mound on March 26 to face the Detroit Tigers. It would be his first start since last May, and his first since his leukemia diagnosis. I’m getting chills just thinking about it, and not only because it’ll probably be 40 degrees on Opening Day.
And, just for fun, we can’t forget Shane Bieber. Projected to be the Indians’ second best pitcher next season, Bieber burst onto the scene in 2019, earned a spot at the All-Star Game at the last second, and took home MVP honors. Drafted by the Indians in 2016 and debuting two short years later, Bieber is Cleveland-made and has the potential to be the future face of baseball, or one of them anyway. Getting him out of front of an excited (and probably freezing) home crowd in late March is not a bad idea either.
Among these three, Clevinger is probably the best answer, but there really is no wrong answer. “Opening Day starter” is ultimately a pointless title, lost to the comings and goings of 161 other games of a MLB season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun thing to thing about while we can.
Who should be the Indians’ Opening Day starter?
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