It is July 22 and it is also Opening Day eve. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced Major League Baseball to delay the start of the 2020 season, but it's finally here, and this season will be unlike any other in history. Each team will play only 60 games, there will be a universal DH, and a runner will be placed at second base in extra innings to speed things along. Embrace the weird.
Even with this year's delay, Opening Day remains a great tradition and an exciting day on the baseball calendar. Every team is still in the race and, with a 60-game season, the potential for a Cinderella story has never been greater. As for Opening Day itself, here are a few all-time Opening Day stat leaders (min. 10 Opening Days for rate stats):
- Batting average: .467 (Gabby Hartnett and Jeff Kent)
- Home runs: 8 (Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson)
- RBI: 22 (Babe Ruth)
- OPS: 1.366 (Babe Ruth and Ted Williams)
- Wins: 9 (Walter Johnson)
- ERA: 1.31 (Walter Johnson)
- Strikeouts: 107 Randy Johnson
There have been four three-home run games in Opening Day history: George Bell in 1988, Tuffy Rhodes in 1994, Dmitri Young in 2005, and Matt Davidson in 2018. The gold standard for Opening Day pitching performances is Walter Johnson's 15-inning shutout in 1926. In the modern era, Clayton Kershaw's shutout on Opening Day 2013 (with a home run at the plate!) stands out.
With Opening Day mere hours away, this is as good a time as any to look at the best active Opening Day hitters. "Hitting on Opening Day" is not a skill, necessary, but it is a cool thing we can appreciate. We're going to stay recent and focus on the last five years only, otherwise peak Miguel Cabrera and peak Albert Pujols would dominate the leaderboard.
Here are seven of baseball's best Opening Day hitters from 2015-19.
Nolan Arenado went 1 for 5 with a double on Opening Day last year and it was his worst Opening Day performance of the last half-decade. He had multiple hits in the season opener every year from 2015-18 and is 10 for 21 (.476) with two doubles and three home runs on Opening Day the last five years. His 10 hits and 21 total bases during that time lead all active players. Arenado always mashes and is among the game's most exciting players. It's no surprise he'd be a big time performer on Opening Day.
On the flip side, Arenado's teammate Charlie Blackmon has been the worst Opening Day hitter in baseball the last five years. He leads all players with 25 Opening Day plate appearances the last five seasons but is 2 for 22 (.091) at the plate. Arenado's batting average (.476) is considerably higher than Blackmon's OPS (.336).
Shocker, the guy who is good at everything has been good on Opening Day. Mookie Betts had multiple hits in three of the last five Opening Days, including a three-hit effort last year, and he's hit two home runs too (2016 and 2017). Mookie is 9 for 21 (.429) with only three strikeouts in his last five season openers. Those all came when he was a member of the Red Sox, of course. Betts is now with the Dodgers and there can be no better first impression than another big Opening Day performance.
As for Mike Trout, the only player in baseball who is clearly better than Betts (because he's clearly better than everybody), he went 4 for 21 (.190) with six home runs on Opening Day from 2015-19. Huh.
Two forgettable Opening Days (1 for 8 with four strikeouts combined) to begin our arbitrary five-year window were not enough to prevent Khris Davis from leading all players with four Opening Day home runs since 2015. He went deep twice in the 2017 season opener and once each in 2018 and 2019. Davis is 7 for 21 (.333) on Opening Day the last five seasons, so, since going 1 for 8 combined in 2015-16, he is 6 for 13 (.462) with four homers the last three season openers.
It was only a few days ago that Freddie Freeman rejoined the Braves after being sidelined with COVID-19. He won't be in the Opening Day lineup this year and that's a shame, because he always produces in the season opener. Freeman had at least one hit in the last five Opening Days, including three hits in the 2017 opener, and he's 7 for 16 (.438) with two home runs and more walks (four) than strikeouts (three) in those five games. Freeman has even managed to hit one of his 22 career triples on Opening Day.
Two home runs on his first career Opening Day (2013) and a three-year Opening Day homer streak (2015-17) have already cemented Bryce Harper as one of the top Opening Day power hitters in history. Even with last year's 0 for 3, he is 6 for 16 (.375) with three homers and more walks (five) than strikeouts (four) in his last five season openers. Only Arenado (1.522) and Freeman (1.509) have a higher OPS than Harper (1.461) among players who started each the last five Opening Days.
Despite not being in the lineup against then-Giants lefty Ty Blach on Opening Day 2018, Joc Pederson leads all active players with 10 RBI on Opening Day the last five years. Only Arenado has more total bases than his 20. Pederson is 7 for 16 (.438) with four doubles and three home runs in his four Opening Day starts since 2015, including an Opening Day grand slam in 2017.
Pederson went 3 for 5 with a double and two homers last Opening Day as well. Between that and his World Series heroics (four home runs in 11 career World Series games), Joc sure does seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
Mike Moustakas has alternated homer games with no homer games on Opening Day the last five years. He went deep in Game 1 in 2015, 2017, and 2019, but not in 2016 or 2018. If the pattern continues, Moustakas won't be visiting the seats in the season opener this Friday. Sorry, Reds fans. In all seriousness, Moustakas is 6 for 19 (.316) the last five Opening Days and he has at least one extra base hit in four of those games. Only two strikeouts too.
Special shoutout to Adrian Gonzalez, who was released in June 2018 and has not played since. Despite not playing in 2019, he leads all players in times on base (15) on Opening Day since 2015. He went 9 for 14 (.643) with five walks and only one strikeout (and one hit-by-pitch) in the opener from 2015-18. Gonzalez was a .467/.579/.733 hitter in 13 career Opening Days. Goodness.