Andrew Gleinser, Contributor
Choosing who should be the Houston Astros starting pitcher on Opening Day is a much more difficult proposition than in years past. There’s no Justin Verlander in the mix, as he’ll miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. In his absence there are three perfectly viable choices, neither of whom has a distinct advantage over the others.
Lance McCullers Jr. may have the highest ceiling of the three, and he’s also the longest tenured Astros pitcher of the three. He had an up and down 2020 season coming off Tommy John surgery, but he finished strong to put up a respectable 3.93 ERA in 11 starts. He’s also a free agent after this season, so maybe naming him the Opening Day starter would breed some goodwill between him and the team?
Framber Valdez had the most successful 2020 of the three, as he broke out to a 3.57 ERA in 10 starts and one relief appearance, finishing 11th in the Cy Young voting. He also pitched well in the playoffs, tallying a 3-1 record and 1.88 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance. If we’re going off the “what have you done for me lately” way of thinking, Valdez is the favorite.
Then there’s Zack Greinke, who’s a future Hall of Famer and by far the most accomplished pitcher in this trio. He also had an up and down 2020, pitching to a 4.03 ERA in 12 starts and then a 4.30 ERA in the postseason. But he had a strong 2019 season and certainly has the pedigree to take the mound on Day One.
So who should it be? It may end up depending on how each pitcher looks in Spring Training and how their schedules line up, but if all things are equal, I would probably go Greinke first, then Valdez and McCullers. Greinke has the pedigree, and he showed flashes of brilliance in 2020, so he’s still got it.
Valdez pitched like an ace in 2020, but I’d want to see more than a short season’s worth of that before I push him past Greinke on the depth chart. McCullers can mow people down but was inconsistent last year and in the playoffs, so I’d rather go with the tried and true Greinke to start things out. Although I’m not sure there’s really a wrong answer here.