Monday, May 15, 2017

Is Ervin Santana An Ace?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
Teams are always looking for the one pitcher who can be their rock. The pitcher who always ends a team's losing streak. The pitcher who will pitch late into a game. The pitcher who lets the bullpen take the night off. The pitcher who is in contention for the Cy Young Award.

The Ace...

Unfortunately, there aren't exactly a plethora of aces lying around for teams to scoop up. It's been many years since the Twins have been able to call someone their ace. Johan Santana comes to mind but he hasn't put on a Twins jersey in close to a decade. In fact since Santana left, only two pitchers have led the Twins in WAR, Scott Baker and Kyle Gibson.

A spirited debate was circling Twitter over the weekend. Should Ervin Santana be considered an ace? He's off to a tremendous start but does he fit the criteria for being an ace.

What Is An Ace?
Sporting News compiled a few different theories when it comes to identifying an ace. Theory one was the best starting pitcher on each team. Santana clearly fits into this category as he leads the Twins staff in virtually every statistic. This theory has some holes as there are clearly teams who don't have an ace pitcher and their best starter shouldn't be considered an ace.

Theory two states that an ace should be the top 30 starters in the league. Santana would fail into this category again as his fast start has him near the top of the league in multiple categories. However, 30 aces seems like a lot especially when combining with both leagues to get to 60 pitchers. There aren't 60 aces across the baseball world.

Theory three says an ace should be better than a number one starter and theory four states that an ace should be higher than a chosen statistical threshold. Santana could meet both of those criteria this year but he clearly doesn't have the history to fit into the mold of an ace pitcher.

Santana's History
Santana has one lone All-Star selection in his career. That same season he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting and it was his only year he has received a vote. He only has one season where he has finished in the top-10 in WAR for pitchers. There have been two seasons where he finished in the top-10 for ERA and three seasons where he was in the top-10 for WHIP. He's done some good things during his career but his resume doesn't exactly scream ace.

While this season, he is on pace to finish the year near the top of the leader-board. Last week, I wrote about how it seems more likely for Santana to come back down to earth in the weeks ahead. His only hiccup has been against the Red Sox last Sunday. Based on his history, it seems like regression is on the horizon for the Santana instead of the Twins planning a Cy Young press conference for the off-season.

The Curious Case of Rick Porcello
Last season, Rick Porcello came out of nowhere to win the AL Cy Young. He'd hardly shown up on any major leader-board through out his career. He'd never been an All-Star. In fact, he'd only posted a positive WAR in three of his first seven seasons. At the end of the season, he was awarded one of baseball's highest honors but there are very few people who would call Porcello an ace even with last year's hardware over his mantel.

Porcello seems to have morphed back into his true self this season. His ERA is north of 4.00 and he leads all of baseball in losses and hits allowed. His WHIP has moved back over 1.33 which is much closer to his career mark than the 1.01 WHIP he compiled in 2016. Baseball is a weird game and pitchers can have great seasons but that shouldn't qualify them as an ace.

Less Is More
While the theories discussed above show some ways to select baseball's aces, there are still plenty of flaws. If I am creating a list of aces in baseball, the list isn't going to be very long. To me, it needs to be a player who has shown consistency for multiple seasons while being a top pitcher in all of baseball.

Here are the pitchers I would consider aces from both leagues (in alphabetical order):
Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, David Price, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander

There are only ten players on my list of aces. Ervin Santana is nowhere near making the cut. He could end up having a Porcello-like season and be in contention for the Cy Young but that wouldn't change my mind about it. He's not an ace.

Do you think Ervin Santana is an ace? Who would make your list of current aces in baseball? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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