Aaron Nola or Zack Wheeler. Who should be the Phillies’ Opening Day starter?

Rob Thomson will have a decision to make regarding who will be the Opening Day starting pitcher. The decision may not be as easy as it seems.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Pitchers and catchers reported to their respective spring training sites this week. Position players are scheduled to report this upcoming week. Spring training games start in a week. Baseball season is looming.

As the Philadelphia Phillies approach spring training and eventually barrel toward Opening Day, among other roster decisions, manager Rob Thomson will have to decide which starting pitcher will get the ball on March 28 at Citizens Bank Park. Assuming the Phillies leave Clearwater healthy, the decision will come down to two pitchers: Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

Who should Rob Thomson choose to start on Opening Day?

The last time the Phillies had someone not named Aaron Nola take the mound on Opening Day was 2017, when Jeremy Hellickson got the ball. The club's record over the last six Opening Days started by Nola is 3-3. In club history, only Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts have started more season openers than Nola.

Should nostalgia give Nola the edge to get the start for the opening game?

It shouldn't.

Even Nola doesn't think so. Earlier this offseason, at his re-introductory press conference, the newly re-signed right-hander admitted that Wheeler should get the nod on Opening Day, per Tim Kelly of Phillies Nation.

"I think Wheels [Wheeler] should get the next Opening Day start, honestly. What that guy has done is incredible,” Nola quipped, per Kelly.

The longest-tenured member of the Phillies is not wrong. What Wheeler has done in his time in Philadelphia has been incredible. In his first four seasons with the club, the staff ace has a cumulative ERA of 3.06, a WHIP of 1.06, and a 2.90 FIP. In 2021, he was selected to represent the Phillies in the All-Star Game and finished second in Cy Young Award voting.

If you factor in recent performance, Wheeler has a clear-cut advantage. In 2023, Wheeler went 13-6 and posted a 3.62 ERA over 192 innings with a WHIP of 1.08. Nola posted a 12-9 record and a 4.46 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP over 193 1/3 innings.

Going off performance, Thomson's choice for the Opening Day starter should be simple. Wheeler has earned the honor of kicking off the Phillies' 2024 season and setting the tone against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves.

This is no shot at Nola who has been a key component of the club's rotation since 2015. The Phillies have a great one-two punch at the top of their rotation. With Nola re-signing in November and a potential contract extension for Wheeler on the horizon, the Phillies could have a tough decision to make annually regarding their Opening Day starter.

That's not a bad problem to have.