The worst Opening Day starters of the 21st century
By Garrett Wilson
Last week, the Colorado Rockies announced that their Opening Day starter, a prestigious assignment typically reserved for the best and/or most respected pitcher on the staff, would be Kyle Kendrick. As in Kyle Kendrick, quite possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball in 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 Colorado Rockies! Get excited!
Upon seeing this news, it seemed non-hyperbolic to claim that Kendrick might be the worst Opening Day starter in recent memory. After a little bit of research it became quite apparent that Kendrick isn’t even close, which is really saying something because Kendrick, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is really, really bad.
So just who were the worst Opening Day starters of the 21st century, let’s take a walk down memory lane, a very dark, poorly lit, pothole-riddle lane:
Kevin Jarvis, 2002 Padres
Eight years into a 12-year career in which Jarvis posted a 6.03 ERA and coming off a season where he had a posted the lowest ERA of his career to that point at 4.79 (yes, the LOWEST of his career), the San Diego Padres looked at Jarvis and somehow thought it was a good idea to let him start on Opening Day. With a -4.5 career WAR, Jarvis is probably the worst pitcher on this list and the Padres should ever live in shame for what they did in 2002. Shame on you, Padres.
Ron Villone, 2002 Pirates
A career swingman who was coming off two consecutive seasons of an ERA upwards of 5.43 and thoroughly proving that he had no business being in a MLB rotation, the Pirates somehow thought that it was a good idea to sign Villone, plug him into the rotation and hand him the Opening Day honors. This turned out to be such a fantastic idea that Villone would only get six more starts over the rest of the season.
Mike Maroth, 2003 Tigers
After what could best be described as a middling rookie season, the 2003 Tigers were in such a woeful state that they had name Maroth as their Opening Day starter. This might’ve been defensible at the time, but after Maroth went on to finish the season with a 5.73 ERA, give up the most earned runs and homers in the league and finish with, wait for it … 21 LOSSES, his Opening Day starter status will forever live in infamy.
Jimmy Haynes, 2003 Reds
Haynes entered the 2003 season with a career 5.24 ERA, but because he fluked his way into a 4.12 ERA in 2002, the then hapless Reds tabbed him to be their Opening Day starter. He would go on to finish the year with a 2-12 record a 6.30 ERA. Good work, Cincy.
Dewon Brazelton, 2005 Devil Rays
To give you an idea of just how bad things were back in 2005, note that this was when they were still rocking the “Devil” in their name. This was the last year before Friedman and Maddon swooped in to save the day. But leading up to that Tampa was trying to ram failed prospects down everyone’s throat. Brazelton was the poster boy for that push. As a former #3 overall pick, the Devil Rays had been counting heavily on him to be a stud, instead he was a total bust, finishing his career with a 6.38 ERA and just 271 innings in the majors. His Opening Day nod was just a vain attempt to pretend as if he was ever close to realizing his potential.
Ryan Drese, 2005 Rangers
In 2002, Ryan Drese had a 6.55 ERA over 137.1 innings. In 2003, Ryan Drese had a 6.85 ERA in 46 innings. In 2004, Drese somehow managed a 4.20 ERA over 207.2 innings. This led the Texas Rangers to believe that he was somehow a real MLB pitcher as they clearly choose to ignore his work prior to 2004. So, Drese got the Opening Day start in 2005 and was predictably terrible. He would be waived two months later.
Mark Hendrickson, 2008 Marlins
Mark Hendrickson’s claim to fame was that he used to play in the NBA and was very tall. What he wasn’t was a good pitcher. Despite this and his career 5.01 ERA to that point, the Fish ran the 34-year old out for Opening Day. Why? Because Jeffrey Loria hates you.
Odalis Perez, 2008 Nationals
Perez wasn’t always bad. In fact, he was an All-Star in 2002, but by 2008 things had gotten ugly. Like, a 6.20 ERA in 2006 and 5.57 ERA in 2007 kind of ugly. Somehow that earned him the Opening Day start in what would prove to be his very last season in MLB and a 59-win season for the Nats.
Luke Hochevar, 2011 Royals
The Royals have made picking lousy Opening Day starters into a fine art. There could probably be a whole post just on their awful choices in the last 15 years, but no Opening Day starter speaks to their futility like Luke Hochevar getting the nod in 2011. Like Brazelton earlier, Hochevar was a failed high profile draft pick, but the Royals just kept trying to make him happen. After three MLB season, he had a 5.60 ERA and was just barely on the positive side of the WAR ledger. But the Royals don’t care. If Hochevar was never going to be good, Kansas City was just going to pretend like he was and hope that it somehow made it true.
Scott Elarton, 2001 Astros and 2006 Royals
Last but certainly not least, Scott Elarton, also known as the Patron State of Terrible Opening Day starters. In 2001, Elarton was given his first Opening Day start by the Astros. At the time, this wasn’t the worst idea because he’d shown some potential working mostly as a reliever his first two season in the league before converting to full-time starter in 2000. That conversion went poorly, but the Astros threw caution to the wind and let him head up the rotation in 2001. Their reward? A 7.06 ERA.
You’d think this would serve as a cautionary tale, but clearly you didn’t count on the Royals. From 2001 through 2005, Elarton would compile a 5.78 ERA and -1.9 WAR. Oh, and he missed the entire 2002 season due to major shoulder surgery. Despite being absolutely terrible and having serious medical red flags, the Royals gave Elarton his second career Opening Day start. We should all consider ourselves blessed that the universe didn’t just implode on itself that day.
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