It’s always good to start the season off on the right foot, and some players have performed at a particularly high level on Opening Day over the course of their careers. There are great individual, single-season performances, but sustaining that kind of success over a career is different.
Here’s a look at the career leaders in a number of Opening Day statistical categories, with some help from the Elias Sports Bureau, with each stat going back to the start of the Modern Era (1900), unless otherwise noted. The active leader in each category is listed as well.
Starts: Tom Seaver (16)
Seaver was as impressive on Opening Day as he was prolific, allowing two or fewer runs in eight of those starts and going seven-plus innings in eight as well. He had a 2.13 ERA in his team-record 11 Opening Day starts for the Mets. Jack Morris, Walter Johnson, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton are tied for second with 14 each.
Active leader entering 2021: Justin Verlander (12)
Strikeouts: Randy Johnson (107)
Johnson racked up all these K’s over the course of 14 Opening Day starts in his career. That’s 26 more than any other pitcher. Seaver is second with 81.
Johnson had four 10-strikeout games on Opening Day, the most all-time. Bob Gibson, Pedro Martínez, Félix Hernández and Max Scherzer are tied for second with three each.
Active leader: Verlander (76)
Wins: Walter Johnson (nine)
Johnson is third in Opening Day strikeouts (79) and tied for second in starts, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him atop another list. The Big Train finished with one more season-opening victory than Pete Alexander and Morris. His total included wins on five straight Opening Days from 1913-17, a stretch that included five complete games, three shutouts and a total of three runs allowed.
Active leaders: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander (five)
ERA: Clayton Kershaw (1.05)
Kershaw’s 1.05 ERA is the lowest among pitchers with more than five Opening Day starts since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913. He’s made eight Opening Day starts and allowed more than one earned run just once, when he allowed three in 2015. Kershaw is scheduled to make his ninth season-opening start on April 1, putting that sparkling ERA on the line against the Rockies at Coors Field.
Games played: Pete Rose (23)
Rose’s Opening Day games spanned from 1963-85, a 23-season streak which began against the Pirates and concluded against the Expos — a team that didn’t even exist when he played his first opener. Carl Yastrzemski and Hank Aaron are tied for second with 22 each. But neither of them, nor Rose, played in the most wins. That distinction belongs to Babe Ruth and Brooks Robinson, with 15 each.
Active leader: Albert Pujols (20)
Home Runs: Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson (eight)
This trio shares the record, but they each got there in different ways. Robinson hit exactly one home run in eight different Opening Day games. Griffey had a two-homer game in 1997, then hit one in six other games. And Dunn had two different Opening Day games with two homers, in 2005 and ’07, and one each in four other games.
Dunn is one of seven players on record (since 1904) with two multihomer games on Opening Day, along with Joe Torre, Xavier Nady, Raul Mondesi, Eddie Mathews, Juan González and Pujols, who has a chance to claim that record all for himself if he has another multihomer performance.
Active leaders: Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper (five)
Batting Average: Gabby Hartnett, Adrián González, Jeff Kent (.467)
Hartnett and González had identical 21-for-45 showings on Opening Day, while Kent went 28-for-60. That tied all three for the highest average in season openers, with a minimum of 50 career plate appearances. Hartnett set the standard, with his Opening Day appearances coming between 1922-41, then Kent matched it from 1993-2008 and González from 2006-18. Each slugged mightily on Opening Day as well, with slugging percentages all above .730.
Active leader (min 30 PA): Nolan Arenado (.370)
Hits: Pete Rose (31)
Rose recorded at least one hit in 17 different Opening Day games and had multiple hits in 11 of those, putting him three ahead of Joe Judge, Kent and Yastrzemski on the overall list.
With two hits this year, Pujols would land in a tie for 25th-most Opening Day hits since at least 1904 with 22. Notable players with exactly 22 Opening Day hits include Rickey Henderson, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Vladimir Guerrero.
Active leader: Albert Pujols (20)
RBIs: Adam Dunn (21)
Dunn had five RBIs on Opening Day in 2005, and four in each of ‘09 and ‘11. The rest of the top four includes Guerrero (19), Robinson (18) and Kent (18), before a large tie for fifth.
Active leader: Albert Pujols (15)