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Handicapping the competition for Reds’ Opening Day starter

There is no obvious choice this year, so let’s stir up the bloghole!

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Feldman. Edinson Volquez. Cory Lidle. Joey Hamilton. These are literally four names of pitchers who have received the august honor of starting the first game of the season for your Cincinnati Reds. It’s a big deal. They even put on a parade leading up to it.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how perfectly remarkable and yet totally inconsequential it is. Like the election of a new Pope, it excites millions while also being completely arbitrary and entirely ceremonial. It’s basically the perfect topic about which a blog can write. So let’s speculate!

For the first time in quite a while, the Reds don’t really have a clear leader of the pitching staff to be the obvious choice. The last two years, that man has been Anthony DeSclafani. Of course, he has never started an Opening Day game for the Reds due to poorly timed boo-boos in his elbybone. Before that, Johnny Cueto started four years in a row (I love Johnny Cueto). Before him, Aaron Harang started five in a row. Despite a tradition of historically weak pitching, the Reds have had remarkable stability at the top of the rotation for quite a while. That’s cool.

But without a clear ace, there are a few guys on the staff who, if chosen, would illicit weak nods and mumbles of “oh okay I guess that’s reasonable.” So let’s handicap the field.

The Whiz Kid

Luis Castillo - 5/2

Castillo is probably the slight favorite at this point, if you ask me. Last week, FanGraphs proclaimed him “The Reds’ Ace in the Making,” except he already has himself made. He debuted last season straight out of AA and sliced up some serious eyeballs. He threw 89.1 innings to the tune of a stout-as-heck 141 ERA+. Thems some spicy bananners. He certainly has the stuff of an ace and a good string of dominant pitching to prove it.

Of course, He has thrown all of 89.1 innings at the big-league level. While they were very good innings, the mantle of Opening Day Starter is traditionally bestowed upon a man of greater seniority.

The Phoenix of Goodyear

Anthony DeSclafani - 6/1

As mentioned above, Disco was the predetermined Opening Day Starter the last two years. Unfortunately, a series of arm injuries have forced him to begin those seasons on the disabled list and pitch a total of 123.1 innings. Those were very good innings, measuring out to a 3.28 ERA, but all of those innings were thrown in 2016.

He spent the entire 2017 on the disabled list. A partially torn UCL (the target of Tommy John surgery) forced him to rehab into the heart of the summer, and then a setback erased the possibility of pitching at all. He did, however, rehab his way back to veritable health, showing off his healed ligament in the fall instructional league. He had a totally normal offseason and is allegedly totally healthy and normal. Giving him the Opening Day start after missing out the last two years would sure be a nice gesture.

The Old Veteran

Homer Bailey - 10/1

Homer Bailey will be 32 years old in May. 2018 will be his 12th season in Major League Baseball. He is the longest-tenured player on the team and he has never started an Opening Day. (pop-quiz: aside from Homer, who among active Reds pitchers has the earliest first pitch of their career with the team?) If you are looking at seniority as a determining factor for a ceremonial gesture, this makes a lot of sense.

That said, Homer has certainly not pitched like a staff ace in quite a while. His last good and healthy season was 2014. Since then, he has an ERA of 6.39 in just 125 innings over three seasons. Of course, he has been working through numerous arm injuries and grueling rehabilitation over those long three years, but yeah. Thems some ugly numbers.

The Fallback

Brandon Finnegan - 25/1

In the event that God shows us no mercy and each of the three pitchers above him are unable to pitch on March 29th, they could do a lot worse than to hand the ball to Brandon Finnegan. I think it is easy to forget him in the glut of young starting pitchers the Reds have assembled in recent years, but remember that he is just 24 years old (he’ll be 25 in April) and he had an impressive 2016 campaign. He made 31 starts and maintained an ERA under 4.00. That’s not nothin’.

Like Disco, Finny missed all of last season due to various arm injuries (he made just four starts). First it was one shoulder, then the other (you know how it is). I guess the Reds are fortunate to have a fourth starter in line who is a legitimate MLB starter and not a Scott Feldman type.

The Field

Scott Feldman. This is the “in case of emergency break glass” option, which as we are all too painfully aware, is a possibility. Nobody really wants to see this happen, not even the schnook who would be so honored to take the ball. I’m not even going to set a handicap for this because it isn’t going to happen no way man don’t even just don’t.