Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is an Ace?

You hear it all the time..."The Pirates need an Ace pitcher" or "The Pirates need a true #1 pitcher, go get one Nutting and Neil".

Unfortunately, Ace Hardware does not sell Ace Pitchers. I checked.

The term "ace" is greatly abused and misunderstood by the mainstream media and even fans. You hear it when watching the games on FSN all the time that the Pirates are sending "their ace, Paul Maholm" against the opposing team's pitcher.

Fans all the time love to toss comps on players saying a draft pick can be a future #1 or #2, or that Pitcher X can become a #3 or this guy isn't any good, he'll just be a #5.

So I thought I would like to share my thoughts on what is an ace (a #1) and what I feel the classifications are for #2 through #5 pitchers.

Let's start at the top with an Ace (#1 pitcher). Here's some criteria that I have gleaned from various sources and my own statistical observations:
-- must pitch 200+ IP/year consistently
-- have a K rate greater than 9 per 9 IP
-- have a BB rate less than 3 per 9 IP
-- allow less than 9 hits per 9 IP
-- have a sub 3.00 ERA (yes, I know that ERA is not the best way anymore)

So who are today's Aces? It's a very exclusive group:
Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Zack Grienke, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren
That's it.

Noticeable by their absence are some big names that many commonly refer to as aces, but I don't feel meet the true criteria. CC Sabathia's K rate has dropped in recent years, Roy Halladay was never a strikeout pitcher instead relying on the best sinker in the game, Josh Beckett's K rate is dropping, Cliff Lee has never been a huge strikeout guy, Johan Santana is losing steam, and Felix Hernandez has never had more K's than IP.

All of these guys are #2's. That doesn't mean that with 1 game on the line I wouldn't ask ANY of those guys above to take the mound. I'm just saying that they are misclassified as #1's. And frankly, I would rather have two #2's than one #1 and a bunch of junk around him.

There are some young pitchers in the game who have the capability to be #1's in the very near future, as soon as 2010 actually. Guys to keep an eye on are:
Tommy Hanson
Neftali Feliz - if he starts full time
Stephen Strasburg
Chad Billingsley
Ubaldo Jimenez
Yovani Gallardo
Clayton Kershaw
Both Gallardo and Kershaw need to control their BB rate a little more and increase their IP into the 200 range.

Next post I'll detail what is a #2, #3, #4, and #5 pitcher.

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