With the injury of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka will be starting Opening Day, which seems to be the best option for the Yankees.
While the Yankees have named Masahiro Tanaka their Opening Day starting pitcher, it is important to look at the other options and see why Tanaka is the best fit.
The Yankees hope Paxton turns into an ace for them. He’s got all the tools and he’s one of the best pitchers in the Majors when he’s healthy. If he’s able to do that and limit home runs, watch out.
However, Paxton has never started on Opening Day before. He is also on a brand new team and while he’s probably number two in the rotation behind Severino, he might not get the nod for his first start as a Yankee on Opening Day.
One reason for starting Paxton on Opening Day, though, is that it allows the Yankees to split up their lefties. If they slot Tanaka behind Paxton and Happ behind Tanaka, then it allows the Yankees to go lefty, righty, lefty in their first series of the season. Aside from Paxton having the most potential of the bunch, it’s also a sound strategy to give him the start.
Paxton’s awesome. His floor is a number two or three in the rotation with a ceiling of being the team’s ace. With that being said, he has no Opening Day experience and I doubt that Yankees let him make his first start on the day that will also be his first with the organization.
Happ made his first career Opening Day start last season, and it went…okay. He gave up a homer to Giancarlo Stanton in his first career at-bat with the Yankees, but other than that, he did fairly decent. However, he wasn’t even able to make it through five innings and I’m not sure the Yankees want to entirely unload their shiny, new bullpen in game one.
On the other hand, the Yankees did just throw Happ $34 million this offseason. He’s a solid mid-rotation starter and the front office clearly has faith in him. Not to mention, he was excellent after he was traded to New York last season. He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 games with the Yankees. And again, it allows the Yankees to split up their lefties if they pitch Tanaka in game two and then Paxton.
Lastly, we have Tanaka, who started three straight Opening Days for the Yankees from 2015-17. He’s a veteran who also has experience with starting on Opening Day and doing so with his current team. He’s also the longest-tenured Yankees starter outside of CC Sabathia.
Tanaka has both the seniority and the experience. However, this throws the strategy of splitting up the lefties out the window. That would be the main reason for not allowing Tanaka to open up the season for the Yankees.
Also, Tanaka has struggled in the first half of the season in the last few years. I mean, he’s been absolutely dreadful. The front office probably doesn’t put much stock into this, as they are so analytically savvy, but it’s something to take into consideration.
So, I’d say Tanaka is probably the safe, and most likely, choice for Opening Day. Paxton is my personal favorite and would be my pick, but I just don’t see the Yankees letting him make his first career Opening Day start when it’s also his first career start with the organization. Happ is simply the boring pick. I’m sure he’d go five innings and give up two or three runs, but that’s no fun. At least with the other two, there’s some excitement and uncertainty.
All in all, I don’t think the Yankees can go wrong with any of the three picks. They’ve built a solid rotation where their number four starter (Happ), was the Opening Day starter and ace on a different team last season. I think Tanaka gets it, but there are some strategy and excitement with giving Paxton the nod.