Ranking the Opening Day Starting Pitchers
I did this exercise last offseason and I found it quite amusing, so I decided to do it again. The term “ace” is one of the toughest terms to define in baseball. Some believe there are 30 aces, as in the number 1=one starter from each team. Others determine aces as a select group of starting pitchers that truly excel above the others. That list will generally include 7-15 players ranging from Justin Verlander to fringe candidates such as a Gio Gonzalez or James Shields. I personally follow the latter’s line of belief, as I think that there are currently 13 pitchers in baseball deserving of “ace” status. They are CC Sabathia, David Price, RA Dickey, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish (not included on this list since I expect Harrison to get the start over him), Stephen Strasburg, Roy Halladay (I’m optimistic), Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, and Zack Greinke, with apologies to Shields, Gonzalez, Mat Latos, and Cliff Lee. All of the above pitchers are elite and each should be considered a Cy Young contender year in and year out. Going along with some people’s belief that there are 30 number one type starters, I have decided to rank all 30 of the number one starters (one from each team) in baseball based on their proposed 2013 value ONLY. That means guys like Stephen Strasburg won’t get a bump just because of his potentially outstanding long-term value. I have only included guys that rank number 1 on their team’s depth chart. Some teams had number 2 starters that were equally as deserving of the “ace” tag (Nationals, Reds, Phillies, Dodgers). Plenty of fantastic pitchers were left off simply because of their team’s stalwart starting rotation depth, while a guy like Ricky Nolasco made it solely because of the Marlins lack of arms (or anything for that matter). Anyways, here is my ranking of all 30 “aces” in baseball:
*Disclaimer: All “aces” are according to the number one starting pitcher on each team’s page via MLB Depth Charts.
Tier 1: The Triumphant Trio
1. Justin Verlander- Tigers
2. Clayton Kershaw- Dodgers
3. Felix Hernandez- Mariners
Some may be against including Felix in this group, but I feel as if he has the capability to pitch with the other 2 players residing in this tier. Verlander and Kershaw is a true coin flip, and you could go either way.
Tier 2: The Next Best
4. David Price- Rays
5. Johnny Cueto- Reds
6. Matt Cain- Giants
The reigning AL Cy Young winner and 2 guys who were very much in the running for the 2012 NL Cy Young. All three of these guys are among the best in baseball, and 2013 should be no exception, barring injury of course.
Tier 3: They have their problems, but a pleasure to have
7. Jered Weaver- Angels
8. Stephen Strasburg- Nationals
9. RA Dickey- Blue Jays
10. CC Sabathia- Yankees
11. Roy Halladay- Phillies
When on, all 5 of these guys are among the best pitchers in baseball. Weaver has suffered a velocity drop the last couple years, but his results have still been outstanding. Sabathia and Halladay each suffered from injuries last year, but if they can maintain their health in 2013, then they should be back to their usual exemplary selves. Strasburg was shut down early in 2012, but he should be free to pitch ~190 innings next year. Over less than 160 innings last season, Strasburg was still among the best pitchers in the NL. Dickey is coming off a career year, but it was his first as an elite pitcher (he was really good, but not elite in 2010/2011) and I have some trouble in believing that he can repeat it.
Tier 4: Solid Number 2′s
12. James Shields- Royals
13. Matt Harrison- Rangers
14. Yovani Gallardo- Brewers
The tier just below “ace” level for me. You can make a case for either one of these guys to be in tier 3.
Tier 5: Injury Risks
15. Chris Sale- White Sox
16. Adam Wainwright- Cardinals
17. Brett Anderson- Athletics
When healthy, Sale, Wainwright, and Anderson are definitely capable of pitching at the same level as the players in tier 3. Sale had a monster year last season compiling a 5.7 WAR, and the only thing likely stopping him from being at least a 4 win pitcher again in 2013 is his rough arm action that has raised plenty of red flags among scouts. Wainwright, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, pitched nearly 200 innings with a 3.94 ERA. I don’t expect him to bounce back to his pre-surgery form, but he should be better in 2013. A 4-5 win season sounds reasonable. Anderson is the most inexperienced of the three as he hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues since his rookie year in 2009. Last season, he made 6 starts after recovering from his own Tommy John surgery, going 4-2 and a 2.57 ERA. While his health is a big question mark, he could potentially be 2013′s version of Chris Sale.
Tier 6: Bounce Back Candidates
18. Ian Kennedy- Diamondbacks
19. Jon Lester- Red Sox
Kennedy and Lester each posted 4+ win seasons in 2011 with Kennedy finishing 4th in NL Cy Young voting that year. Kennedy wasn’t terrible in 2012 (he still posted a 2.1 WAR season with a 103 ERA+), but he was nowhere near as brilliant as he was the previous year. While it’s probably unreasonable to expect him to repeat 2011, he should be good for an ERA in the mid to high 3′s while logging 200+ innings. Lester’s 2012 was much more disappointing as he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and a 90 ERA+. Despite having an off-year in 2012, he still could potentially bounce back strongly in 2013 as he was among the best pitchers in baseball from 2008 to 2011.
Tier 7: These guys are alright
20. Tim Hudson- Braves
21. Matt Garza- Cubs
22. Jason Hammel- Orioles
Hudson’s aging, but is still solid, Garza’s a solid number 2 or 3 starter who should be out of Chicago by midseason, and Hammel was excellent in 2012 before going down with an injury.
Tier 8: What is he?
23. AJ Burnett- Pirates
So who exactly is AJ Burnett? Is he the guy who posted 2 consecutive seasons with an ERA above 5.00 and was practically kicked out of New York? Or is he the guy who went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts in Pittsburgh last season? If the Pirates hope to end their record losing streak, Burnett needs to be the same guy he was last year.
Tier 9: Park Benefactor
24. Edinson Volquez- Padres
Volquez had an ERA+ of 69 in 2011 with the Reds, but his move to San Diego last season helped to boost his stock. Volquez was a bit of an enigma in 2012 as he struck out nearly one batter per inning, but also led the NL in walks allowed. There is no doubt that Petco Park was a big help to Volquez in 2012, but can he repeat it now that they are moving in the fences?
Tier 10: Not bad, but not a number 1
25. Ricky Nolasco- Marlins
26. Scott Diamond- Twins
Both of these guys happen to be quite solid, unfortunately they play for horrible teams. Nolasco isn’t “sexy,” but he still should be able to give you 180+ innings a year with an ERA in the mid 4′s. Nolasco is the top guy for Miami next season although in reality he is a back-end of the rotation type. Diamond came out of nowhere to have a fantastic season in 2012. He posted a 3.54 ERA over 173 innings with a 2.2 WAR for Minnesota last year. It should also be noted that Diamond is nowhere near a lock for the Twins’ Opening Day start as the Twins have a plethora of back-end of the rotation type arms.
Tier 11: The Veteran Disappointments
27. Johan Santana- Mets
28. Ubaldo Jimenez- Indians
Johan Santana used to have Verlander’s title as the best pitcher in baseball, but he missed all of 2011 and his 2012 was rather lackluster. Santana’s 4.85 ERA in 117 innings last year was far from his career norm, but is that the type of pitcher he is now? A combination of aging and injuries seem to point out that Santana’s regime as the best pitcher in baseball is well over. Jimenez himself was possibly the best pitcher in baseball over a stretch of time (the first half of 2010), but since then he has been nothing short of a disappointment. He is one of the few pitchers in baseball who actually got WORSE after leaving Coors field. Jimenez posted a 3.66 ERA over 6 seasons as a member of the Colorado Rockies, while he has a 5.32 ERA in roughly a season and a half as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Tier 12: Better Luck Next Season
29. Bud Norris- Astros
30. Jorge De la Rosa- Rockies
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