While it’s widely expected that Aaron Sanchez will be the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter, there’s a solid argument to be made for J.A. Happ to get the ball.
Getting a start on Opening Day for your ball club is special. You are the guy the manager chooses to get the team off to a good start and set the tone for the four starters to follow. Typically when you’re tabbed with the assignment to pitch on Opening Day, you’re considered the team’s “ace” pitcher or the “best” pitcher on the staff. Pitchers also pride themselves on taking the mound to start the season as it’s a special honour.
The Toronto Blue Jays have an ace in Aaron Sanchez who is expected by many to get the start on Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles. However, I actually do not believe it will end up being Sanchez who toes the rubber on April 3rd. The Blue Jays are lucky, as any of the other 4 would be good choices. In my mind, the Opening Day assignment will go to J.A Happ.
Many are probably wondering why I am not so certain that Sanchez will get the assignment. The Blue Jays have taken the reigns off of Sanchez going into spring training, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be monitored closely again in 2017. As things currently project for Sanchez, he will not pitch in his first spring training game until March 8th or March 9th. Granted, it is a longer spring because of the World Baseball Classic, but it is still is a late start for Sanchez.
The other plan for Sanchez is to mainly pitch in minor league camp. This is likely because Sanchez really doesn’t have much else to prove after his AL ERA title in 2016, but if the Blue Jays weren’t closely monitoring Sanchez’s workload, he might would be pitching in major league camp.
The Blue Jays start to the season is also a main reason for speculation that Sanchez may not get the Opening Day assignment. The Blue Jays have an off day after the season opener, followed by another off day between the end of the second series after the Tampa Bay Rays, and the home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers.
If the Blue Jays decided to start Sanchez out as the 5th guy up in the rotation, he would pitch Saturday, April 8th, followed by Friday, April 14th against Baltimore. Keeping on that schedule, he would then pitch again Thursday, April 20th against the Boston Red Sox. That schedule ends the month with a start on April 25th at St. Louis Cardinals and Sunday, April 30th against Tampa. 5 starts in 5 weeks is a nice way to start the season monitoring Sanchez’s innings.
The reason for monitoring his workload would be too avoid Sanchez pitching 230+ innings, assuming another trip to the post-season. They would likely want Sanchez more around 200 to 210 innings when factoring in the post-season.
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While all of this is complete speculation as well as ideas thrown around on Toronto sports radio, it could all be for not, and he may end up starting the season opener. However, it may be smarter to start him last in the rotation, keeping in mind that the order of the rotation always gets jumbled up throughout the year. Sanchez started the season as the 5th starter in 2016 and ended up being the #1 guy. He should remain there again, assuming all goes according to plan in 2017.
If Sanchez does not get the assignment, I believe it will end up being J.A Happ. Happ is coming off a phenomenal season, winning 20 games and finishing 6th in Cy Young voting. Despite wins being an incredibly flawed stat, it’s nothing to sneeze at, as pitchers pride themselves on that 20 win plateau.
Happ finished the season with 195.0 innings pitched, 3.18 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 20.5 K%, 7.5 BB% and .230 batting average against. A fine season. The FIP and xFIP do suggest Happ could be in line for some regression as he’s projected at a 4.17 ERA. Whether that happens or not, he should be quite effective again.
Starting Opening Day would give Happ 2 starts against Baltimore in 2 weeks, a team he was quite successful against in 2016. He went 2-0 in 3 starts vs. Baltimore and an ERA of 3.54. While any of the other starters would be fine choices for the honour, coming off of a 20 win season and 3.2 fWAR, I feel Happ should be rewarded with the honour.
In the end, it may end up being Sanchez. It may end up being Happ, or any of the other starters. The order of the rotation always ends up getting jumbled as the season goes along, but getting that assignment on Opening Day is special. For the purpose of continuing to monitor Sanchez’s innings, it would be smart to hold him back until the 5th start of the season. If the Blue Jays decide to do that, J.A Happ is my choice and I believe he is next in line after Sanchez to be considered for that assignment.