From Mark Buehrle to Chris Sale: White Sox Opening Day Starters


Chris Sale is officially the Opening Day starter. Seemed like we all knew it was coming being that Chris Sale was the White Sox top pitcher last summer. Though for all those years that Mark Buehrle was the no-brainer day 1 guy, was he the best on the team? I decided to look into it, using baseball-reference’s ERA+ stat to determine who the team’s top starting pitcher was each year. It’s not a definitive stat, particularly when the totals between to pitchers are close to one another, as they were a few times over this time period. It’s good jumping off point, though, and we’ve got to use something to claim a “winner”.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best pitcher: Mark Buehrle

Buehrle on his 1,000th Opening Day. (Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports)

Buehrle’s first Opening Day start for the Sox came against Freddy Garcia and the Seattle Mariners. Mark was in fact the best pitcher for the team in 2001. Kicking off his as yet unbroken streak of 200 inning seasons with 221.1 (the next closest total was Kip Wells’ 133.1) at a performance level 40% above the league average. Buehrle got his first shot because he deserved it. Pat on the back to Jerry Manuel! White Sox won 6-5 with the starters as the pitchers of record.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best pitcher: Mark Buehrle

Again, an honor earned. The 2002 White Sox finished at .500 behind a staff without a league average starter other than Buehrle. He was clearly the team’s top starter yet again. This one the team lost 3-0 to Runelvys Hernandez, who evidently earned his Opening Day start in a coin flip by Tony Pena, forcing Jeremy Affeldt to wait until the next day to help guide the Royals to victory.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best pitcher: Esteban Loaiza

Here either ceremony took over, Loaiza wasn’t comfortable being taking on the Opening Day duties, or Ozzie in his first year as Manager decided not to rock the boat, if you can imagine that. Buehrle wasn’t even 2003’s second best White Sox starter. That honor belonged to Bartolo Colon, whose services the Sox would be without for 2004. Loiza’s 2003 campaign grabbed him a 2nd place Cy Young finish behind Roy Halladay, with Pedro Martinez somehow finishing third. Again facing the Royals, Buehrle pitched well but the White Sox dropped this one late as Cliff Politte, Billy Koch, and Damaso Marte joined forces to surrender 6 (SIX!) runs in the 9th. Don’t leave the park early, folks.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best pitcher: Mark Buehrle

Buehrls back on top by merit, he went 8 innings allowing just 2 hits before giving way to Shingo Takatsu who locked down the 1-0 victory over the Indians. The hard luck loser was the Indians’ Jake Westbrook who pitched all 8 innings for Cleveland. Time of game was a Buehrlian 1-hour 51 minutes. The one-run victory was somewhat symbolic of the season to come, and I don’t suppose I don’t need to go into detail about how it all turned out.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best pitcher: Mark Buehrle

Buehrle’s 5th straight Opening Day start didn’t last very long. He might have thrown the first pitch but Brandon McCarthy got the win. Buehrle only made it through 4 innings, rendering him ineligible for the win. McCarthy, of course, would later turn into John Danks via trade with Texas (foreshadowing). C.C. Sabathia got the loss in Chicago’s 10-4 win.

Jose Contreras’ crack at Opening Day proved to be a bit stressful. (Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Day starter: Jose Contreras
Previous season’s best pitcher: Jose Contreras

The entire starting staff hovered around league average in 2006. The lowest ERA+ mark among the starters was Mark Buehrle’s 95. The highest, Jose Contreras’ 111. That effectiveness, probably coupled with his stretch of shut-down pitching that lasted from July ’05 to June ’06 got him the nod and finally ended Buehrle’s streak. Word is, that the very morning of Opening Day Jose’s wife of nearly 20 years slapped him with divorce papers. That’s a tough way to go to work, to be sure. Contreras’ bad day got worse. He completed only one inning, being yanked in the 2nd after two more runs crossed the plate. Things didn’t improve a great deal, and the Sox would lost to the eventual score of 12-5 with C.C. Sabathia earning the win for the Indians. The rest of the season didn’t go much better.

Opening Day Starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best starter: Mark Buehrle

Because we’re staying consistent with the ERA+ evaluation, Buehrle is again the best starter. Javier Vazquez had one hell of a year, though, ultimately giving up 4% of performance over average to Buehrle. And Buehrle’s just done it so many times. Got stick with what works, right? It didn’t work. Buehrle didn’t need divorce papers to lay an Opening Day egg against the Indians. After an uneventful first, he imploded in the 2nd, giving up 7 runs and making an early exit. The Sox eventually tied it in the 7th, taking the W away from Sabathia, long standing Opening Day foe, but the Indians prevailed 10-8.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best starter: John Danks

John Danks was just 23 as 2009 began, and coming off of what, looking back at it now, was unfortunately the best season of his career. Mark Buehrle is Mark Buehrle and it’s a Mark Buehrle’s job to start on Opening Day. In the 5th, when Buehrle walked off the mound for the day he had battled to keep the Sox in it at 2-1. Lucky for the pale hose, Kyle Farnsworth was still a thing and he surrendered 3 runs in the 8th giving Octavio Dotel the win over the Royals.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best starter: John Danks

The White Sox got lots of solid pitching in 2009, and John Danks was, according to baseball-reference, 2% better than Mark Buehrle. Mr. Opening Day got the start anyway and it worked out well. 7 innings of 2 hit ball was plenty for the Southsiders, who scored 6 runs against Indians pitching. Jake Westbrook again got the loss.

Opening Day starter: Mark Buehrle
Previous season’s best starter: John Danks (Edwin Jackson w/ only 75 innings)

Sale will be getting what his hopefully his first of many Opening Day starts this season. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

We’re starting to see a trend here, and though it’s doubtful the trend itself as far as Opening Day goes had anything to do with what happened next, the fact that John Danks seemed to be emerging as the team ace did cause the White Sox to allow Mark Buehrle to walk at season’s end. For now, Mark Buehrle got his final Opening Day start as a White Sox and it was an interesting one. The Sox jumped out to a huge lead against the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona and had a 14-0 lead heading into the 6th. After a late inning pitching implosion they did manage to win, but by the score of 15-10.

Opening Day starter: John Danks
Previous season’s best starter: Mark Buehrle

Funny how that works out. Danks finally got his shot without that other lefty in the way. Unfortunately it was against the two-time defending AL Champs, and the Sox ended up dropping this one 3-2 to Colby Lewis and the News, err Rangers.

Opening Day starter: Chris Sale
Previous season’s best starter: Chris Sale