Your Probable 2011 Opening Day Starters, And Feeling That Preseason Optimism

Spring Training is almost upon us, which means it's time for fans of every team in baseball to start feeling optimistic. Here we attempt to figure out whether each team's Opening Day starter will make any contribution to that optimism.

Any day now, pitchers and catchers are set to report to their various facilities, and at that point 2011 Spring Training will officially be upon us. As we say every year, it feels like the offseason just flew by, even though it very much did not.

Spring Training, naturally, is a time for fans of every team in baseball to be hopeful and optimistic. There will be varying levels of hope and optimism - fans of the Red Sox are aiming a little higher than fans of the Indians, or fans of the Pirates - but generally speaking, everyone occupies a positive place. People are less concerned with what's probably going to happen, or how poorly things could go, and more concerned with what could happen if a few things break right. Leading up to the start of the year, everyone's got the same record, and it's always easy to imagine a few strokes of luck.

Now, the level of Spring Training optimism is dependent on a broad assortment of factors. Perceived quality of the team, first and foremost. Perceived quality of direct rivals. Offseason additions, offseason subtractions, and so on and so forth. But one thing that also plays a role is the Opening Day starter. As silly as it seems, there's a psychological component here. A team that's throwing a dominant ace might be able to get off on the right foot. A team that's throwing someone better suited for the middle of a rotation might instead stumble out of the gate. In the grand scheme of things, the first game of the season doesn't mean much, but the fans who get to look forward to a top starter tend to be happier than those who do not.

So in this post, I'm going to group said top starters by the confidence they induce. Understand first of all that by "top starter", I mean "Opening Day starter," which doesn't always mean the same thing. Understand secondly that I'm guessing at the Opening Day starters, as most of them have yet to be officially named. And understand thirdly that this grouping is mostly subjective, and not devised by means of a rigorous and complicated formula. I'm not submitting this piece to any scientific journal, so don't hold me to that standard. This exercise is mostly for fun, and in part for haha Royals

Let's get on with it, then.

Confidence Level 5:

Roy Halladay, Phillies

It must be nice to be able to look forward to the best starting pitcher in the world. And in the unlikely event that Halladay injures himself in Spring Training, Phillies fans will still be able to occupy level 5. In the unlikely event that Halladay and Cliff Lee both get hurt, they'll get bumped down to level 4. Rough life.

Confidence Level 4:

Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
Zack Greinke, Brewers
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
Josh Johnson, Marlins
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Mat Latos, Padres
Jon Lester, Red Sox
Tim Lincecum, Giants
David Price, Rays
CC Sabathia, Yankees
Justin Verlander, Tigers
Jered Weaver, Angels

All of these guys are true and classic aces. They're just more human aces than Halladay and Lee. Some teams have one of them, some teams have a few of them, and some teams are the Phillies, but fans of all of these teams get to look forward to Opening Day as a potential day of staggering dominance. That's a good feeling.

Confidence Level 3:

Trevor Cahill, Athletics
Matt Garza, Cubs
Tim Hudson, Braves
Francisco Liriano, Twins
Brett Myers, Astros
Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
C.J. Wilson, Rangers

Because I'm not 100% sure about all the Opening Day starters, I might've made some mistakes here. Wandy Rodriguez, for example, might get the nod for the Astros. Carlos Zambrano might get the nod for the Cubs. Colby Lewis might get the nod for the Rangers. And so on. But while the names could change, the levels, I think, stay the same. I could probably be convinced to bump the Twins up to Level 4, but Liriano has a few too many question marks. I'd love the A's to give the ball to Brett Anderson instead of Cahill, but ERA is holy, and all that. Fans of these teams can feel all right, I suppose, but they're better off deriving their optimism from somewhere else.

Confidence Level 2:

Bronson Arroyo, Reds
Mark Buehrle, White Sox
Fausto Carmona, Indians
Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles
Mike Pelfrey, Mets
Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks

Now this is where it starts to get messy, as I wouldn't be real wild about any of these guys starting my favorite team's regular season. The Mets deserve an asterisk since ace Johan Santana is working his way back from injury, but it is what it is. Note that I've given small bonus points to the Reds, Mets, Orioles, and Diamondbacks just because there's some legitimate hope in their rotations beyond the top guy. Joe Saunders on his own is probably a Level 1 kind of starter, but he's got Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy behind him, so the situation isn't totally hopeless. I can see how you might think that's cheating, but this is my idea and I can do what I want.

Confidence Level 1:

Livan Hernandez, Nationals
Luke Hochevar, Royals
Paul Maholm, Pirates

"Confidence Level 1" is also known as "Depression Level 5." None of these three pitchers is bad, but they aren't #1's, or #2's, and they don't get much support from the rest of the rotation. The Nats have hope for Jordan Zimmermann, but Stephen Strasburg's surgery threw everything out of whack. Hochevar's supported by Jeff Francis and Kyle Davies. Maholm has James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf. It's possible to see the upside in any and all of these names - it's almost Spring Training, after all - but these might be the least exciting rotations and rotation fronts in baseball, which prevents fans of these teams from smiling too wide. Nats, Royals, and Pirates fans: you're free to be optimistic, but don't look here for a reason.  

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