Who’s an Ace?

Um, wrong Ace.

This morning, I read something on Fangraphs that made me recall a conversation I had with a couple of friends several months ago about the very same topic: Let’s Define an Ace. We’ve all heard some analyst call the best pitcher of a staff “their ace”, even though the pitcher is no such thing when compared to true aces like Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez. At the same time, that definition seems very narrow–that someone has to be an elite pitcher to be an “Ace.” A pitcher can be excellent but not necessarily a future Hall of Famer to be an Ace. We can easily look at lists of the top pitchers and determine who are the best, and therefore the Aces, but where is the cut-off though? Who is an Ace pitcher? How many years of sustained great pitching performances do you need to be an Ace? If a pitcher comes up, and he has a fantastic year, he’s named an Ace his rookie year. But if that amazing year happens his second year, it’s a fluke unless his third year is fantastic. Is he then an Ace? When does the transformation into Ace happen? If the first year was terrible, throwing off his averages, how many years of good performances does he need to wipe out that awful first year?

Matt Harvey is frequently referred to as the Ace of the Mets’ pitching staff, but looking at the list I provided at the link above, it’s clear that if you’re going to name one Ace, the title belongs to DeGrom. However, I also think a team can have more than one Ace–they can be co-Aces. There may even be more than that in an extraordinarily good pitching staff. I know, right? Crazy talk. I also believe that being an Ace does not mean you are always an Ace. If performance declines, the title is stripped. For example, I believe Justin Verlander was once an Ace and is no longer an Ace.

The Fangraphs post includes the a poll for readers to vote for several pitchers as Ace or Not an Ace: Adam Wainright, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Martinez, Chris Archer, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Danny Salazar, Garrett Richards, Gerrit Cole, Jacob DeGrom, Johnny Cueto, Jose Fernandez, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Sonny Gray, Stephen Strasburg, Tyson Ross, and Yu Darvish. Go, make your voice heard.

There’s nothing else going on today, right?


57 thoughts on “Who’s an Ace?

        1. Dick Bong, greatest of all of ours. Died test-flying an F-80 with an experimental engine, which exploded. As a private pilot with over 3000 left seat hours, this is a hot subject with me – me, perhaps the greatest hangar pilot who ever lived….*

          But then there was Hartmann….352 allied planes shot down in WWII, more than the top ten US aces’ kills combined.

            • “Hangar pilot” – roughly equivalent to an air guitarist.


        2. Edward O’Hare was the first Navy ace and the first Naval Medal Of Honor recipient in WWII. After his death, the Orchard Field Airport in Chicago was renamed O’Hare Airport.


        3. No, two. He didn’t fly in Korea – he was “exiled” by upper brass he couldn’t help insulting and deriding to a country ANG base in Pennsylvania. He was going to quit the air force but he really liked shooting down other planes and hung on till ‘Nam where he got hisself a few more kills. Too bad he didn’t live to retire in the age of video games.

          Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy. He was a free spirit with a big mouth. Couple that with his flying skills and you’ve got a great character. Someone really needs to make a movie about him.


      1. It’s too close to fantasy auction time for me to be giving away any real detail about how I view various baseball players…including who is or isn’t an ace and how many aces there are in the sport, if indeed there are any at all.


        1. I notice everything.

          For example…it can be inferred that you think deGrom is better than Harvey. This tiny morsel of information may come in handy in the future.

          I also see that you don’t hold Verlander in the same esteem as you once did. That’s not really useful though, because that’s like saying Greg Maddux threw baseballs well. Yeah, no shit.


        2. DeGrom’s statistics from 2015 were slightly better than Harvey’s. That’s freely available information to anyone. If you think I go by one year of information, you’re underestimating me, and I like that. 🙂


        3. Good to know that you’ll be spending $45 on John Lackey, because I can’t see how you’d run the risk of someone else getting that stud on their roster…


        4. That picture is visual equivalent of a Jodeci cassette. I don’t even know how it happened, but I’m suddenly naked in a room full of rose petals and lit candles.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. For me it’s not the best pitcher on a staff (the #1, #2, etc) but top 10, maybe 15, in the league over a few years (so I wouldn’t consider you an ace for just one year). So a staff could have multiple if you have say, Greinke + Kershaw. But Tanaka isn’t an “ace” because he’s the best pitcher on the Yanks.


    1. Wel-l-l, let me abandon my pretense of androgen overloaded Stupourbowl Sunday transient misogyny and cut the wonderful Indy a little slack here. So, to be serious – itself merely a posture, of course – any number of young hotshots (like El Keed) or suddenly emergent former journeymen (like – let’s remember, folks – Jake Arrieta) are called the “ace of the staff,” as opposed to a “stud ace” with long stretches of dominance like Kershaw or, say, Tom Seaver. That’s kinda like the difference between a one star and brigadier general.


  2. Braves Ace: Probably Julio Teheran for now.
    NPB’s current Ace: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, Shohei Otani
    KBO’s current Ace: Kia Tigers, Yang Hyeon-Jong

    (But, no one can beat the true no.1 ACE pitcher)


      1. Atlanta doesn’t have an ace. They have a best pitcher….every team has a best pitcher. But they Braves have nothing that resembles and ace-like substance….which is true of many teams, including the one I root for.


        1. I know. I was kinda joking. But Julio is in fact the best starting pitcher on the Braces and he’s streaky as hell.

          A lot of people will use the term for best guy in your rotation. Those days when Yo Gallardo is an “ace” because he was the best pitcher on the Brewers. That sort of thing.

          An ace is ZG and Greinke, not Julio!


  3. Inda, I’m with you. You can definitely have co-aces. I’d like to remind readers of the Phillies rotation consisting of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels. At the time, they were all excellent pitchers who would have been the clear ace on any team, and yet were all on the same team.

    Also, my beloved 90s Braves. If you don’t say MadduxGlavineSmoltz in one breath you are clearly delusional.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I tried to post this before heading out….but the website was temporarily down….or something….anyway.

    This isn’t really that complicated, is it?

    As a concept, the Ace is the guy that will beat anyone. He’s the guy that, when he starts for your team, you assume you will win that day….the opponent that if your team wins, it feels like found money..it feels better than a normal win. All teams don’t have an ace, some teams have more than one. Aces are defined by ability, not teammates.

    There is some variation in opinion of who those pitchers are among fans or players….but mostly, we know who they are….and there are not many of them….in general, many fewer than there are teams…if you don’t feel super lucky when your team beats a guy, he’s not an ace…there are plenty of good pitchers that are tough to face, but aren’t really “aces”….again, the concept is he is the guy that will beat ANYONE…not the guy that will beat most people.


      1. I don’t think a track record is about gaining a reputation, but rather demonstrating their ace-level ability for more than one season, to prove that ability isn’t an outlier in their overall body of work.

        I mean…despite all his ability…Mark Prior was never really an “ace”, was he?

        Liked by 1 person

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