Fun With Aces.


     It’s quite funny over at SoxandPinstripes, where the two dueling writers, Jeff and Vince, always grapple with one another as to who is or who is not an “Ace.”  Ace as we all know, is very subjective.  An undisclosed writer whose blog I frequent, :), came to a conclusion that pitchers with an “Adjusted ERA” of 115 or above should be deemed as “Aces” for the 2008 season.  But even though they may be Aces for a year, that doesn’t mean they should have obtained the “Ace” label for good.  One year does not deserve a permanent status as being the best at your position, or one of anyway.  Josh Beckett is a great example, because he has only had one great year, but he has mixed on multiple above average seasons, and two incredible postseasons in which he was the most valuable player on the team.  Jon Lester has merely one great season, and that is the only season that he has completed.  So I don’t feel that he is quite there, although he was easily an “Ace” during this season. 


     An “Ace” of course is defined as “High quality.”  So in this case, the highest tier of pitchers would be worthy, but there must be a line somewhere to indicate where pitchers fall, whether above or below.  And few should be above.  The Red Sox appeared on the surface to have 3 aces on their 2008 roster once the season finished.  But Dice-K is really a number 2.  Matsuzaka has pitched only one great playoff game (out of 6 total I think), walked far too many batters this season, and did not throw all that many innings compared to other number one starters.  Matsuzaka is good, and had a really good year, but he is not great, and is a number 2 in my opinion.  Jon Lester is going to be really good I think, but give the league some time to adjust to him.  Lester’s chances to become an Ace look very promising, but he has one season, One!  Beckett I do believe is there.  Truly great last season, right in his prime, and I like to think that he wasn’t fully healthy this postseason.  The reason for not thinking he was healthy?  Because they told us that he wasn’t. 


     On to the Aces


  • Roy Halladay:  Arguably as good as anyone.  Maybe not worthy to have won a Cy Young this season, but that is only because Cliff Lee was incredible.  It is true that Halladay has a good defense backing him up, and he is a sinkerball pitcher.  But his K numbers are legit, and the Hall of Fame isn’t out of the question.
  • Chein-Ming Wang:  Wang started off great this season, but eventually cooled off, and eventually was lost for the year.  But Wang may actually be slighty underrated because he has “failed” in the postseason.  I think that Wang is on the lower end of “Ace” status, but I have seen him dominate, and he has posted multiple seasons of quality.  Yankee stadium isn’t exactly friendly to righties either.  Wang joins Posada as the only underrated Yankees to ever play.  🙂
  • James Shields:  Low end again, but good.  Back to back good seasons for Shields.  If the undisclosed writer’s method is applied here, then Shields has had back-to-back years of ERA +’s over 115.  But neither has been spectacular, and that is why he qualifies on the lower end. 
  • Scott Kazmir:  I am slightly torn on this because Kazmir has four good seasons in a row, but only two in which he was healthy all the way through.  Kazmir’s stuff is lethal, but if he is not beaten, he can at least be dispatched earlier than other aces could.  Kazmir suffers from “Matsuzaka syndrome,” where he throws far too many pitches in too few innings. 
  • Josh Beckett:  After what he did last year, and the fact that he strikes out many batters, and walks only a few, he is one.  I expect him to come out firing next season to erase my doubts…


  • Cliff Lee:  Lee has had two above average seasons pre-2008, and one of them was pretty good.  I know that he has had only one great year, and I fully expect him to digress next season.  But this year was exceptional, truly exceptional.  ERA+ of 175. 
  • Justin Verlander:  Verlander had a crap year this year.  But Verlander posted great years in succession before this season.  I don’t know what was wrong with him, injury, etc.  But if he doesn’t pitch well next season, then I will be very, very surprised.
  • John Lackey:  May have made some comments that I didn’t like, but it is his opinion.  Lackey has pitched well for a long time now.  Cy Young caliber last season, and this season too.  2008 of course consisted of some injuries to start the season, but he was great when he pitched.  And unlike last season, Lackey was good in the postseason (I don’t hold anything against pitchers who don’t get to the postseason, because most of the time it isn’t their fault.  But I will give bonus points for pitching well if they do grab a berth in extended play). 
  • All of the Rangers pitchers combined are about as valuable as an ace… 
  • Felix Hernandez:  …Hernandez has a lot to prove, but has posted two consecutive better than average years, and he has extraordinary talent.  And let’s face it, that Seattle defense doesn’t exactly help the “King’s” ERA.  But the walk totals need to come down a little. 
  • Erik Bedard:  Another “iffy” candidate, but as bad and disappointing as Bedard was, and as injury plagued as his season ended up being, he was still 14% above average according to ERA+.  Bedard has sustained injuries, but he has great stuff, and has had two seasons of stellar performance. 


  • Johan Santana:  An ace among aces.  Maybe not clearly the best pitcher in baseball as he was for a period of time, but still right there with the best.  As a matter of absolute fact, Santana was one of the three best pitchers in the NL this year, even though the scouts told us he may be on the decline.  Santana is great, period.
  • Cole Hamels:  Incredible change-up, one that rivals his division counterpart Santana.  Hamels has produced two really good years in a row, and the playoffs have only added to a player that may become a legacy in the city of Philly. 
  • Tim Hudson:  Not many people seem to talk about Huddy anymore, even though everyone knows he is good.  But Hudson has put up ERA+’s of 120 or greater in seven of the past eight seasons.  2006 was a below average season for Hudson, but that is it.  Hudson is kind of an under the radar Ace.  We all know he is good, but no one ever discusses him with the best in baseball anymore. 
  • Carlos Zambrano:  Fiery ole Zambrano.  Everyone knows he is good, but he has been a workhorse for several years now.  Before 2008, Zambrano threw over 200 innings in five consecutive seasons.  And this season in “only” 188 innings, Zambrano was still 15% better than the average. 
  • CC Sabathia:  Among the best of all the Aces.  Sabathia eats a bunch of innings, and applies some of the best results to those innings.  CC will make a lot of money this season, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want him on my team.
  • Roy Oswalt:  Another semi under the radar Ace.  Anyone who knows baseball knows that he is great, but the casual fan may not know how good he is.  As bad as Oswalt’s season began this year, it ended pretty nicely.  Eight years in the big leagues and nothing short of a 120 ERA+. 
  • Tim Lincecum:  The Exception.  That is what I will call him.  A Felix Hernandez type where they need to prove us a little more, but the “Feel” is there.  And I cannot deny that I feel that feeling.  Why not Lester, but Lincecum and Felix you ask?  As much as I like Lester, and I really do like him, I don’t think he will be quite what these two will be. 
  • Jake Peavy:  There is a reason teams want to give up multiple quality prospects for him.  
  • Brandon Webb:  Sinkerballer in a hitters park.  The guy is good.
  • Dan Haren:  After I realized what Oakland does to pitchers, I felt that Haren may end up being a number two starter.  So far, I am wrong.  Haren has four consecutive solid seasons in a row, and the last two have been great.  Maybe the DBacks will add a bat since they sacrificed the farm anyway. 


     Aces?  Maybe, but not enough for me to label them that.

  • Brad Penny:  Not quite enough.
  • Kelvim Escobar:  My most difficult omission of this group, but being hurt every three years doesn’t help. 
  • Chris Carpenter:  Pitch, then we’ll talk.
  • John Smoltz:  He may be done, so even though he has been an Ace for many years now, he may be finished
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka:  Show me that your BABIP is no fluke.
  • Fausto Carmona:  Stay healthy in 2009.  The stuff is great.
  • Ben Sheets: Stay healthy, period. 
  • AJ Burnett:  I have given up on you staying healthy.
  • Aaron Harang:  Close, but I need a little more.  Although two good years, one that consisted of 234 innings, makes it tough to leave you off.
  • Zack Greinke:  Almost there…, probably are, just a little more though


Already there?  Maybe, just give me a little more

  • Jon Lester
  • John Danks
  • Francisco Liriano (health)
  • Dustin Macgowan:  Must wait until at least 2010 now.
  • Chad Billingsley:  More innings
  • Joba Chamberlain:  See above
  • Edinson Volquez:  Hanging out with Lester and Danks for a few more months.


     And of course there are many other promising young arms out there.  But “Ace” is subjective, at least the way I attacked it.  There is a way to do it by the numbers as well, but this was a little more fun. 


  1. Elizabeth D

    Hi, I have thoroughly enjoyed your analysis on aces and what not. Even though I am a Red Sox fan, I totally agree with you on your point about Dice-K Matsuzaka. I’ve heard rumors about him as a Cy Young candidate and I was surprised. I mean, the guy did go 18-3 and all, but he got so lucky with run support! He walked countless batters (but somehow managed to get out of jams), and failed to go deep into games. Also, I agree with your point about Josh Beckett. He’s so injury prone, but he has had two great postseasons. Before this season perhaps one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all times. I mean remember Game 5 of the ’07 ALCS, 11 strikeouts? Talk about a gem. But still, this year, he fell short. Only going 12-10 and was no where near dominant this postseason. I suppose it can be blamed on some of his injuries. I also agree with your point about Jon Lester. He had a great season, but ‘no hitter’ doesn’t equal ace (just look at Clay Buchholz), I think overtime, he’ll be able to prove himself.

  2. joefromnewhampshire

    I think “over time” Lester will be really good too. And I do have faith in Buchholz, even though he struggled a lot this year. But he has pitched well in the lower levels, just not in the majors (only showing flashes). Thanks for stopping by.

  3. joefromnewhampshire

    Yes, some teams were wanting to acquire Oswalt, because he is very good, and has a reasonable contract. But the Astros instead added a bunch of vets and made a run that fell short. Now their farm is depleted and the only way to replenish it anytime soon, is to trade away all those vets.

  4. mikeeff

    nobody could ever accuse you of being a “homer” here joe-and i admire you for it–makes for great reading.

    you and i discussed lester before this season and if you recall i was looking to see a breakout season for him–and you were a bit more hesitant–this is not an “i told you so” thing–but what surprises me is what i see as a hesitancy on your part about his talent-still. if i could have any pitcher on the red sox staff for the yankees it would be jon lester without even blinking an eyelash–listen to john farrel joe–he’ll back me up.

    dustin mcgowan–man–what a talent -even though he ids a blue jay i hate to see a year of that guys career set back–i really do think he has “it”

    lincecum could turn out to be the best of the bunch of them. i’m not sure greinke has the mental fortitude to make it as an ace. i know joba has the ‘mental” and the stuff..i hope he will be the next clemens

    danks—looking forward to see how he progresses this year- he looks like the real thing as well

    great piece joe

  5. joefromnewhampshire

    Trust me, I like Jon Lester, and I think after seeing him this season that he will become an ace. But, I just need to see him be great a little more to call him an “Ace.” I thought he would be “above average” this season, but never did I think he would be as great as he was, at least in 2008. That is why I titled that last one “already there? maybe…” But yes, you were right about Lester. 🙂

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