The 2023 MLB regular season is upon us. The new schedule means every team will play every other team at least once this year, which equals fewer intradivision games and more interleague play. And of course there are a host of new rules this year. It will be a landmark season for the sport.
Each year, Opening Day brings a ton of quality pitching matchups as the 30 clubs start whoever they deem their best available pitcher in the first game of the new season. It's nothing but great matchups all day. You can't beat it. Given that, it's time to compile our annual Opening Day pitching matchup rankings. The rankings are based on three factors:
- Pitcher Quality. The better the pitchers the better the matchup, right? Right.
- Storylines. Is someone making their first start with a new team? Facing his former team? Etc.
- Watchability. The most subjective factor. How fun is it to watch these guys pitch?
This year we had a full spring training for the first time since 2019, which means no tight pitch counts shortening our Opening Day matchups. With that in mind, here are our rankings. There are eight Cy Young winners and 11 total Cy Young awards among this year's Opening Day starters.
1. RHP Max Scherzer, Mets vs. RHP Sandy Alcantara, Marlins
Arguably the best right-handed pitcher of this generation and arguably the best right-handed pitcher in the sport right now. Scherzer owns three Cy Youngs and three other top-three finishes in the voting, and he will head into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Alcantara is the reigning NL Cy Young winner and he led baseball in innings (by 23 2/3!) and batters faced (by 59!) last year. These two are throwback workhorses who go out expecting to finish what they start.
Max Scherzer, Pitch Clock Gamesmanship.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 3, 2023
Long hold. Adams takes his only time out.
Then Max stays set so he can pitch as soon as Adams is ready. pic.twitter.com/3uj9ucDFEl
Stylistically, Scherzer and Alcantara are different despite being power pitchers. Scherzer racks up strikeouts and is capable of double-digit whiffs every time he takes the mound. Alcantara is more of a ground ball and weak contact pitcher. That just goes to show there is more than one way to have success -- A LOT of success -- in this game. Simply put, Scherzer and Alcantara are two of the very best pitchers in the game, and this matchup will be appointment viewing on Opening Day.
2. RHP Dylan Cease, White Sox vs. LHP Framber Valdez, Astros
Maybe not the two biggest names getting the ball on Opening Day but certainly two of the very best pitchers in the sport. Cease was the AL Cy Young runner-up a year ago thanks to a breakout season that saw him post a 2.20 ERA with 227 strikeouts in 184 innings. Valdez is the game's preeminent strikeout/ground ball artist -- 560 of the 827 batters he faced in 2022 either struck out or hit the ball on the ground. That's good for 68%, which was easily the highest rate among qualified pitchers. Houston's ultra-patient lineup could be a bad matchup for the occasionally control-challenged Cease. Even then, this matchup is a dandy.
3. RHP Aaron Nola, Phillies vs. RHP Jacob deGrom, Rangers
This one is all about deGrom. The two-time Cy Young winner will make his first start with his new team on Opening Day after signing a five-year, $185 million contract that was panned a bit given his injury trouble the last few years. When healthy though, there is no one better. It is electric, top of the sport stuff combined with a surgeon's precision.
Nola is no slouch of course, and if anything he still does not get enough credit for being one of the game's elite starters. He never misses a start and he's pitching for a contract this year too after he and the Phillies failed to agree to an extension this spring. Nola will begin his contract year and deGrom is debuting with a new team. Great storylines abound in this one.
4. RHP Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks vs. LHP Julio Urías, Dodgers
Gallen is one of my favorite pitchers in baseball. He's a four-pitch pitcher who can manipulate the shape of his pitches, so it's really more like 7-8 pitches. He had a 44 1/3-inning scoreless streak last season, the seventh longest in history, and I think he has another level in him too. It feels like Urías has been around forever but he is still only 26, and he emerged as a bona fide ace these last two seasons. He finished third in the NL Cy Young voting last year, while Gallen finished fifth. This game and Cease vs. Valdez are the only two Opening Day pitching matchups to feature two pitchers who finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting in 2022.
5. RHP Shane Bieber, Guardians vs. RHP Luis Castillo, Mariners
A shoulder injury robbed Bieber of some velocity two years ago but not of his excellence: 2.28 ERA with 198 strikeouts in 200 innings a year ago. He remains an elite starter. Castillo is one of those guys who seems like a video game create-a-player. He throws an upper-90s fastball and has one of the very best changeups in the sport. How do you hit this? Answer: you don't.
Luis Castillo, 97mph Fastball and 90mph Changeup, Overlay pic.twitter.com/xi0tle3Lpe— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2022
This is one of three 10 p.m. ET games on Opening Day, so much of the country will be asleep when this pitching matchup happens. Thank goodness for condensed game videos the next morning.
6. RHP Logan Webb, Giants vs. RHP Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Every year I put these rankings together and every year there's a pitching matchup I worry I underrated. This is that matchup this year. Cole has been so good for so long it's almost boring. Never misses a start, punches out 240 guys a year like clockwork, always allows one of the lowest batting averages in the sport. Yawn. Webb is very different but no less effective. He wears out the infield with ground balls. Decent chance I've underrated Cole vs. Webb and they give us Opening Day's best pitchers' duel.
7. RHP Corbin Burnes, Brewers vs. RHP Marcus Stroman, Cubs
It's sort of amazing a pitcher can throw 202 innings with a 2.94 ERA and lead his league with 243 strikeouts, and it's a step down from his previous season. Burnes was out-of-this-world good in 2021 and merely outstanding in 2022, and given his proximity to free agency (after 2024), the trade rumors could begin to swirl this summer. For almost a decade now, Stroman has been one of the game's steadiest and most reliable starters, eating up innings at an above-average rate. Different styles here -- Burnes chews up hitters with his cutter and Stroman generates weak contact aplenty -- both of which are compelling.
8. RHP Shohei Ohtani, Angels vs. LHP Kyle Muller, Athletics
It feels wrong to rank Ohtani, the game's greatest talent, this low, but we can blame the A's for that. Paul Blackburn's finger injury forced Oakland to audible to Muller and, honestly, I think I might've ranked this matchup lower with Blackburn. Muller is at least a touted prospect who has conquered Triple-A and represents hope for the future. Opening Day will be his 12th career MLB start and his first with the A's after coming over in the Sean Murphy three-team trade. Ohtani is Ohtani, the coolest and most watchable player in the sport. I probably should have bumped this matchup higher based on him alone.
9. RHP Mitch Keller, Pirates vs. RHP Hunter Greene, Reds
Every year there's one "two young pitchers hardcore baseball nerds love" matchup and this is it this year. Keller quietly broke out last year when he switched to a sinker at midseason, and pitched to a 2.71 ERA in his final 15 starts. Greene is the sport's preeminent velocity monster. Here is the top of the leaderboard of 100 mph pitches thrown by starters in 2022:
- Hunter Greene: 337
- Jacob deGrom: 80
Greene had as many 100 mph pitches as many as the Nos. 2-7 pitchers on the list combined. Velocity isn't everything, but it is something, and no starting pitcher in the game has more of it than Greene. The Pirates and Reds probably won't be any good this season. At least their fans can watch two exciting young starters every fifth day.
10. RHP Alek Manoah, Blue Jays vs. RHP Miles Mikolas, Cardinals
Adam Wainwright's groin injury will sideline him a few weeks, so Mikolas gets the ball on Opening Day instead. He is very effective in a bit of a boring way, pounding the zone with four different pitches and getting a lot of weak contact in the air. Manoah finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year, his first full MLB season, and he is part of the wave of young starters taking over the game. He's a throwback too. In an era when young pitchers are handled carefully, Manoah threw 196 2/3 innings in 2022, his age 24 season. That's the most by a pitcher age 24 or younger since Alcantara (197 1/3) and Bieber (214 1/3) in 2019.
11. RHP Pablo López, Twins vs. RHP Zack Greinke, Royals
López is a new face in a new place and Greinke is a grizzled veteran who returned to the Royals after what felt like a farewell season back in Kansas City last year. These two are very similar. They're both extremely smart, extremely cerebral pitchers who pick hitters apart more than anything. Greinke and Rich Hill are the game's premier wily veterans, and it's not uncommon to see Greinke throw a 60-something-mph curveball or grunt on a low-80s changeup. This is the thinking man's Opening Day pitching matchup.
12. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, Tigers vs. LHP Shane McClanahan, Rays
McClanahan is doing the heavy lifting here. He was a Cy Young candidate if not the Cy Young frontrunner most of last season, then shoulder trouble and a few bumps late in the season pushed him down to sixth in the voting. Still, McClanahan is on the short list of the game's great bat-missers when he's at his best. Rodriguez missed time for personal reasons last season and is a steady innings guy more than a true dominator, but innings guys are valuable too.
13. RHP Germán Márquez, Rockies vs. LHP Blake Snell, Padres
Joe Musgrove is working his way back from a toe injury and the World Baseball Classic threw off Yu Darvish's schedule, so Snell gets the nod on Opening Day for the Padres. He's a former Cy Young winner and I'm not sure any pitcher's "watchability" improves with the pitch timer as much as Snell's. His starts can be a slog at times. Márquez's strikeout rate cratered last year and he had a difficult season, but he's been very good outside Coors Field in his career, and this Opening Day game will be played in San Diego. This could be a sneaky great matchup between Snell with the pitch clock vs. Márquez outside Coors Field.
14. LHP Max Fried, Braves vs. LHP Patrick Corbin, Nationals
Fried is inarguably one of the best pitchers in the sport. He finished second in the NL Cy Young voting last year and there is every reason to believe he will be in the running for the award this year. Corbin...will not. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball the last three seasons, throwing 390 innings with a 5.82 ERA since 2020. That said, Corbin was crucial to Washington's World Series win in 2019 and flags fly forever. The Nationals are in a deep rebuild and they need someone to soak up innings, so Corbin gets the Opening Day nod. But yeah, he drags down this matchup pretty substantially.
15. RHP Kyle Gibson, Orioles. vs. RHP Corey Kluber, Red Sox
It feels wrong to have a two-time Cy Young winner at the bottom of the rankings, but Kluber is no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, and Gibson is a solid yet unspectacular major-league starter. Good pitchers who have had very good careers, both of them, but someone has to rank last in these rankings and these two make for a pretty easy call this year.