Earlier this week on the Baseball Today podcast, I went on what I thought was a somewhat surprising, minor and totally spur-of-the-moment rant about how I disagree with the popular notion of referring to 80 percent of the Philadelphia Phillies' rotation as "The Four Aces." It's certainly not a moniker without some merit, as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels are obviously established, veteran pitchers with impressive accomplishments, but my issue was in the term "ace." What really is an ace? Without really thinking, I burst out that I didn't consider Oswalt and Hamels aces, whatever the word really means, and the feedback floodgates opened wide. And, hey, I root for that team!
Reasonable minds can disagree about what an ace really is. Baseball Today co-host Keith Law, on Wednesday's show, said it meant being a "No. 1" pitcher. To others tweeting me (@karabellespn), it's about needing to supply requisite innings with strong peripherals, or how one stops losing streaks. To others, it might depend on financial implications. That's the beauty of this -- there's no absolute answer.
I wouldn't put much stock into malleable and often misleading statistics like won-loss record and ERA, that's for sure. We saw Felix Hernandez win a Cy Young award despite going 13-12, and I knew the minute I said that Hamels, an understated 22-22 the past two seasons, wasn't an ace and referred to his record, I was in for scorn. I'm guessing the term ace can be interpreted a bunch of different ways. In 2008, Hamels was certainly ace-like for an offensive powerhouse lacking much starting pitching, and he carried the Phillies to a World Series title. He just doesn't feel like an ace anymore.
Of course, most major league teams don't have aces. You can't tell me Bruce Chen and Kevin Correia fit the criteria solely because they are the best the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates possess. They're off to nice starts and, hey, good for them, but they aren't aces.
Basically, here are the pitchers I regard as aces, and, yes, it's kind of on a case-by-case basis and more based on gut feeling. I'm sure many of you will disagree, perhaps even SweetSpot stud David Schoenfield as well. That's why it's fun! And check out Schoenfield as he co-hosts Thursday's Baseball Today with me. I'm sure we'll end up delving into this topic yet again!
National League aces (eight): Halladay, Phillies; Tim Lincecum, Giants; Lee, Phillies; Chris Carpenter, Cardinals; Josh Johnson, Marlins; Zack Greinke, Brewers; Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers.
So, did I miss your guy? Let's hear from you!
Eric Karabell writes the Karablog for ESPN Insider and hosts the Baseball Today podcast.