Ace. It’s one of the most popular words in the baseball vernacular, but often the term is applied widely. Is a team’s top pitcher automatically “their” ace, or does the word only apply to the best of the best. I think it’s the latter, so today I’ll shine light on the true aces in the game. These are the pitchers who when they’re on the schedule against your team, you can pencil in the loss already. Presenting the true aces of baseball, in order of brilliance.
- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers- He’s the best pitcher of his generation, hands down. With three Cy Young awards and an MVP under his belt at age 29, Kershaw already has Cooperstown credentials. Now the only thing left for his resume is playoff success.
- Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals- The reigning NL Cy Young winner has consistently confounded opposing hitters, as both a Tiger and a National. He’s contributed at least six wins above replacement in each of the last four seasons and leads a talented Washington rotation.
- Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians- Kluber may have fallen short of a World Series title, but when he’s on his A game, the man is nearly unstoppable. He enters this season as the favorite to win his second Cy Young award and build off the Indians’ AL pennant.
- Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox- The strikeout king of baseball traded in his White Sox for Red Sox this offseason and joins one of the best teams in baseball in Boston. Sale is a strong contender for Cy Young and could vie for the pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA).
- Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians– The best reliever in baseball, Miller has played for four AL teams in a span of three seasons and excelled on each of them. He broke out last October by pitching just over 19 innings and just three earned runs for the AL champs, the Indians, and is one of the most dominant pitchers around despite not being a starter or reliever.
- Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles- When a closer finishes among the leaders in Cy Young voting, you know he’s special, and fourth-place finisher Zach Britton had a truly spectacular 2016. Britton’s miniscule 0.56 ERA and 47 saves speak for themselves, but the uproar surrounding manager Buck Showalter’s decision to not play Britton in the AL Wild Card game speaks for itself.
- Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants- MadBum is consistently one of the top pitchers in the National League but he cemented himself as the best playoff pitcher of his generation with three World Series championships and a World Series MVP. At 6 foot 5, he’s also one of the scariest pitchers to face and a home run threat at the plate.
- Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs– Arrieta’s incredible 0.75 second half ERA and NL Cy Young selection in 2015 showed that the former TCU pitcher is among the best in the game, and a World Series title cemented Arrieta as a Chicago hero. He’s also a no-hitter waiting to happen.
- Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs- Batting and pickoffs aside, Lester is consistently stellar. He’s exceeded 200 innings every season since 2012 and finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in two of his last three seasons. Oh, and he’s a three-time World Series winner and has a phenomenal 2.63 ERA in 22 career postseason games.
- Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets- The Mets have three starters with Cy Young potential with Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, but Syndergaard has been the most reliable and deadly of the three recently. “Thor” ranked in the top ten in the majors in wins above replacement (tenth at 5.3), ERA (third at 2.60), and strikeouts (ninth at 219).
- Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers- If anyone has a resume that could challenge Kershaw, it would be Justin Verlander. The 2011 AL MVP found his groove again last year, almost winning AL Cy Young and ranking first in the American League in strikeouts, WHIP, and WAR by a pitcher.
- Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees- Chapman blew the Cubs’ Game 7 World Series lead, but the truth is that the hardest-throwing man in the world is an elite closer. He’s exceeded 30 saves each of the past five seasons and has held an ERA below 2.00 in four of those seasons.
- Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers- Cole Hamels doesn’t have any Cy Youngs or highlight-worthy pitches in his arsenal, but he’s the poster boy for consistency. Hamels has seven straight 200-inning seasons and has eight double-digit win seasons in 11 seasons in the majors. Oh, and he has an NLCS MVP and World Series MVP.
- Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox– I’m not sold on Porcello, who won AL Cy Young last year, but a 22-win season is difficult to overlook. Add in another All Star season and Porcello deserves to be considered one of the best.
- Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners/Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks- Both star pitchers had down seasons in 2016 but have All Star credentials and should have bounce-back seasons.
Really, Really Close: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers; Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays; Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees; Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs; Jacob deGrom, New York Mets; Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
In Consideration: Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates; Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs; Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants; Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals; Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics; Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers; Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros; Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox