Who Has An Ace Up Their Sleeve?

In baseball, we have this term “ace.” For those new to the game, it’s used in two ways. One is to refer to a team’s best pitcher. As in, “Justin Verlander is the Tigers ace.” The other way refers to the best pitchers in the league. As in, “Justin Verlander is an ace.”

This post concerns the latter category. Every team, by definition, has the first kind of ace, but not everyone sports an ace in the second sense.

Below I offer my list of baseball’s aces. Some notes before we get started. First of all, I limited my number to less than 30 because it’s impossible for pitcher #31 to be anyone’s ace in a world of equality where the Phillies don’t have three just for themselves. Second, 2012 matters, but it is not exclusive. This means that you can’t become an ace based on only 2012 and you can’t lose ace status based on only 2012. So Chris Sale isn’t an ace and Roy Halladay still is. Finally, the order is fluid. I ranked them because people like you take a stand, but is Ace #8 really any better than Ace #9? Tough call. Also, I’ve included some also rans, or guys I thought about and decided against or guys who are on the verge but haven’t earned it just yet. Enjoy and feel free to sound off.

The Aces

15. Adam Wainwright (RHP-St. Louis Cardinals): Wainwright was a borderline case for me but after two strong seasons in 2009 and 2010, he bounced back from missing the 2011 season with another good year. In those three seasons, he threw 662 innings, posted a 2.95 ERA and a 3.50 K/BB ratio to go along 9 complete games and four shutouts and his 53-32 record. The strikeout numbers are good and the 5.7, 6.1, and 4.4 WAR in those seasons make me comfortable placing Wainwright at the bottom of the elite group.

14. Tim Lincecum (RHP-San Francisco Giants): The Freak was another tough one, but if I committed to the 2012 Doesn’t Define You Rule© then he has to make the cut. The 2012 version of Lincecum walked a lot more hitters than normal and gave up more homeruns, but from 2008-2011, the list of better pitchers was short. In that time, he threw 881.2 innings and posted a 2.81 ERA next to 10 K/9. And if you’re old school, a 62-36 record while pitching for a team that the fans claim played baseball akin to “torture” because they scored so few runs. So while he’s on shaky ground, it’s hard not to remember how dominant the 28 year old was over the last few seasons.

13. James Shields (RHP-Tampa Bay Rays): Big Game James might not crack a ton of these lists, especially if you chase ERA, which has only been below 3.00 once in his career. What does it for me are the innings. From 2007-2012, he’s thrown 200+ innings every year with a K/9 above 8.1 for each of the last three years. I guess I’m blinded by what he did last season in my favorite pitching categories, complete games. He had 11. No one has had that many since 1999. That screams ace to me.

12. Matt Cain (RHP-San Francisco Giants): Cain is another one of those guys who doesn’t light up a stat sheet, but just goes out there and provides his team innings in a big way. He stays healthy and gives you 32-34 starts and 200+ innings every year and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.15 in five years. Plus he’s still in the prime of his career at 28 and tossed one of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen against Houston this summer in route to a perfect game.

11. Stephen Strasburg (RHP-Washington Nationals): So I may have cheated here because most of his resume comes from what happened this year, but I couldn’t ignore him. Over the course of three seasons, he’s started 45 games and thrown 251 innings. He hasn’t stayed healthy, needing Tommy John surgery (you may have seen some coverage of this!), but if you buy the success rate of the procedure these days, you have no reason to expect another long layoff. But let’s look at those 251 innings like they’re a little more than one full season. His K/9 for his career is 11.20. ERA under 3.00. WHIP under 1.10. Forget the stats, the guy is bonkers good. Just watch him pitch and try not to say things like, “Bu…wha????? Dude…” Ace.

10. Jered Weaver (RHP- Los Angeles Angels): So I’m not a fan of Jeff Weaver’s little brother. Last year after Weaver yelled at Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen showed him up by pimping a homerun. And then Weaver came unhinged and tried to put a baseball in Alex Avila’s face. Alex Avila is one of the more diplomatic guys in the game and he was looking at a Weaver fastball because Weaver is, in layman’s terms, a child who can’t handle himself like an adult. But, he’s pretty good at pitching when he isn’t having a psychotic episode, so here he is. Good command, solid deception, stays healthy. I really just don’t want to say anything good about him, but also didn’t want to overly compromise my integrity by pretending he didn’t exist.

9. Zach Greinke (RHP- Los Angeles Angels): So this is how I react to looking a Greinke’s numbers from 2008-2012.

2008: Very solid. #2 starter. Kid’s got a future.

2009: HOLY $#@%!!!!!

2010: Pretty good year, a little unlucky maybe.

2011: Nice year, if he had been totally healthy, it would have been even better.

2012: Except for those first couple starts in LA, he was awesome.

So I’m not really sure how to quantify how that evens out, but I really like Greinke’s stuff and I think he sometimes gets a bad rap for being a reserved, introverted guy. He can flat out pitch. He’s also only 29. So watch for someone to pay him $11 zillion this offseason.

8. Cole Hamels (LHP-Philadelphia Phillies): Somehow, he’s the first lefty on this list. Actually he starts a string of five straight lefties. Hamels is a guy I really like and the higher I get on this list the less I believe I need to draw on statistics to tell you these guys are good. Hamels has been one of the better pitchers in the game for the last six seasons and his changeup would make Bugs Bunny proud. He’s done it in the playoffs and he’s done it in the regular season.

7. David Price (LHP-Tampa Bay Rays): In the four years that Price has been a full time starter his K/9 have improved every years, his BB/9 have declined, and his FIP have declined. The scary thing about Price is he’s only 27 and looks poised to enter his prime. The repertoire is impressive and he’s getting better. That should scare AL hitters.

6. Cliff Lee (LHP-Trading Block): Just kidding, he plays for the Phillies, but everyone is always trying to trade/trade for this guy. He’s been great in the playoffs and he’s great all the time. Since his reinvention after the 2007 season, Lee has been phenomenal. He’s averaged a 6.5 WAR and never walks anyone! His worst year was a 1.67 BB/9 and he’s been durable and the strikeouts are ticking up as well. His 2012 K/BB ratio was the best anyone has had since 2000 at a mind-blowing 10.28. Hard not to like what Lee does, even if it only got him 6 wins this season. Yeah, six. Hey! He’s six on this list too!

5. Clayton Kershaw (LHP-Los Angeles Dodgers): 24 years old. Career K/9 of 9.29. Career ERA 2.79. Walks coming down every year. Never made fewer than 30 starts in a full season. I don’t need to say much else except that I spent a lot of nights last summer staying up far too late to watch Vin Scully call games pitched by Kershaw on the west coast because he is Clear Your Schedule Good ©. Ace.

4. C.C. Sabathia (LHP-New York Yankees): 11 MLB seasons, never fewer than 28 starts or 180 innings. Lots of strikeouts and has seemed to get better against tougher competition in the AL East. He’s a work horse and pretty much any stat, sabermetric or traditional will tell you he’s great.

3. Roy Halladay (RHP-Philadelphia Phillies): If we had crafted this list before the 2011 season, I’d have put him #1. If we did it at the beginning of this season, I’d probably have put him at #1b. But this year he missed a lot of time and looked human, maybe even showed his age. But Halladay is brilliant. He’s a master craftsman at attacks the strike zone with surgeon like precision.

2. Felix Hernandez (RHP-Seattle Mariners): King Felix is awesome. I’m not even going to say anything else. He’s that good and he’s only 26. Seriously.

1. Justin Verlander (RHP-Detroit Tigers): Verlander has seven years of MLB experience under his belt and only failed to cross the 200 inning plateau when he was a rookie. Never missed a start. Four straight years with a WAR over 6.4. Three strikeout titles. MVP winner and should win his second Cy Young this year. Hard to say something that hasn’t already been said, but there’s poster of Verlander in every room of my apartment. So that should tell you something. His stuff is incredible and the results are awesome. You can’t turn away when he’s pitching. He has two no hitters and has come CLOSE three other times. Only four guys have three or more no-hitters and they’re all inner circle Hall of Famers (Ryan, Koufax, Young, Feller). He’s coming to join them.

In no particular order, here’s a list of guys I thought about for the list that didn’t make the cut: Gio Gonzalez, Yu Darvish, Johnny Cueto, RA Dickey, Max Scherzer, Jake Peavy, Madison Bumgarner, Dan Haren, Doug Fister, Chris Carpenter, Matt Garza, Jon Lester, Yovanni Gallardo, Chris Sale.

Pray for (no) rain!


One response

  1. […] signed extensions this season, but that doesn’t take away from how good Greinke is. He made my list of aces last month and I’m comfortable saying he would be the #1 or #2 starter on every team except the […]

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