Monday, March 7, 2011

2011 MLB Ace Rankings

Like Charlie Sheen, it's time to start the WINNING!
And the winning begins with the first official baseball season post of 2011: the ace rankings. The pitcher considered to be the top of the depth chart for all 30 Major League teams, with apologies to a few others who could be aces for any other team, are profiled here.
Let the winning begin...
30. Jeff Francis, Royals.
Francis has not been healthy for the last few years, but he was brought in to replace Zack Greinke and hopefully provide K.C. with a healthy season and signs of the Francis from the Rockies' 2007 World Series run. Apologies to former number one overall Luke Hochevar, whom has not taken the next step to ace level just yet. Right now, Francis is the most accomplished of the Royals' starters.
29. Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks.
What, did you think I'd pick Ian Kennedy? Saunders is a good number four or five starter on an American League team, but is considered an ace on a young, bad Arizona team. Saunders, with the Angels and D-Backs, went 9-17 with a 4.46 ERA last year. This will have to change if Arizona expects to lose less than 100 games.
28. Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles.
He will soon be replaced on this list by young stud Brian Matusz, but for now, Guthrie is probably the only "ace" on this list that has gotten away with 4+ ERA's and losing records for years now. That's because he plays for the Orioles, who are always high on offense, but extremely short on pitching.
27. John Lannan, Nationals.
With Stephen Strasburg out for the season, Lannan once again assumes the de facto role of Nationals' ace. If Chien-Ming Wang is healthy and regains the form that made him the Yankees' 19-game winning ace in 2006 and 2007, he could reach the top of the Nats' depth chart. And no, I will NOT put Livan Hernandez and his 83 mph fastball on this list.
26. Paul Maholm, Pirates.
Again, a de facto ace on a bad team. Ross Ohlendorf is simply too inconsistent, and can you name any other starting pitchers in the Pittsburgh rotation? Me neither. Steelers training camp is in 5 months (we assume).
25. Mike Pelfrey, Mets.
With Johan Santana out until at least the All-Star break, Big Pelf assumes the role of ace for the Me$$ for the first half. He has displayed signs of a future ace in the last two seasons, but needs to show more consistency if he wants to take over the #1 spot permanently.
24. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays.
Honestly, you can flip-flop Romero and Brett Cecil for the title of ace for this young pitching staff. If Kyle Drabek realizes his potential this year, he can ascend to this list quickly. Carlos Villanueva is a nice innings-eater, and Brandon Morrow has ace-like stuff, but not enough consistency.
23. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros.
Wandy is a nice number two, but not an ace in the true sense of the word. But with Roy Oswalt gone, Wandy assumes the role of ace on arguably the worst team in baseball. If Brett Myers stays healthy, he will be the ace of this staff.
22. Fausto Carmona, Indians.
Quick, name another starting pitcher on Cleveland's staff! Yep, I know. Carmona does have ace stuff, but like a few others on this list, needs to stay healthy. Expect him to be dealt elsewhere near the trade deadline.
21. Edinson Volquez, Reds.
Even battling injuries, Volquez has never recaptured the form that made him a star and compared to Pedro Martinez in his prime in 2008. If that form is regained, the NL Central should be very afraid.
20. C.J. Wilson, Rangers.
With Cliff Lee departed, Wilson assumes the role of #1. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first full season as a starter last year, and was arguably the team's best pitcher throughout 2010. If Neftali Feliz reaches his potential as a starter, he could push Wilson in the future.
19. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers.
The man Joe Torre compared to Sandy Koufax is certainly not at that level yet, but he has matured enough in the last year, finishing with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts, to be slated as Donnie Baseball's #1 starter this season. Ted Lilly and Jon Garland are nice innings eater, and Chad Billingsley is a fine #2. But Kershaw has the stuff to be a Major League ace, and here's his chance to show us why.
18. Francisco Liriano, Twins.
Regained the form that made him a superstar in 2006, but injuries are still a concern with Liriano. Trade rumors run abound with him, especially a potential future deal with the Yankees. If healthy, he can be one of the best left-handers in baseball.
17. Trevor Cahill, Athletics.
Broke out in a big way last year, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, remaining in the Cy Young conversation for the majority of the season. Could be even better this year with an improved A's team.
16. Mat Latos, Padres.
A breakout star on a young Padres team that finished one game short of the postseason last year. He will need to be better than that this year to put the Fathers over the top. Expect a 200 strikeout, 50 walk season.
15. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs.
If he stays out of trouble on and off the field, expect a huge season from Big Z. Otherwise, Matt Garza looms large behind him for the role of ace.
14. Jered Weaver, Angels.
Led the American League in strikeouts last season, along with 233 strikeouts and a 3.01 ERA, as Weaver developed into a full-blown ace in 2010. Expect a similar season in 2011.
13. Derek Lowe, Braves.
Not the true definition of an ace, but has the heart and grinding mentality of one. He stays healthy and is consistent. You always know what you are going to get out of him. A mid-season trade candidate if Atlanta can't duplicate last year's success.
12. Mark Buehrle, White Sox.
See Derek Lowe's profile. Very similar pitchers.
11. David Price, Rays.
Reached his full potential in 2010, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and finishing second in the AL Cy Young race. The anchor and leader of a young, hungry pitching staff, and at age 25, is already one of the most feared southpaws in baseball.
10. Justin Verlander, Tigers.
Showed a little inconsistency last year, but is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the AL. Went 18-8 last year with a 3.37 ERA and 219 strikeouts. Once again, he will be the key to the Tigers' success.
9. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies.
Had arguably the best first half of all time in 2010, but had a mediocre second half, which cost him the Cy Young award and his team a playoff spot. Needs to show consistency through all six months of the season, not just 3 or 4. But man, how can you hit that 101 MPH fastball?
8. Zack Greinke, Brewers.
Expect a better season from Greinke than his 2009 Cy Young season in KC with a change of scenery, a clearer head, and a better team. He has already electrified Milwaukee fans without throwing a pitch, and expect him to electrify them more and more as the season goes on. And why not? Milwaukee is a perfect fit for Greinke.
7. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals.
With Adam Wainwright out for the season, St. Louis MUST have Carpenter stay healthy for them to have a chance at postseason baseball in 2011. With Albert Pujols' free agency looming, no pitcher has more pressure on him than Carpenter to lead a pitching staff this season. If he stays healthy, he is more than capable.
6. Jon Lester, Red Sox.
Might be the best left-hander in the American League and now a perennial Cy Young candidate. Josh Beckett is now an ace in name only. It is now Lester and Clay Buchholz's time to shine. Expect his first twenty win season this year and possibly his first Cy Young award.
5. Josh Johnson, Marlins.
The best pitcher you've never heard of. Consistently hits 98-100 with his fastball, and at one point last season, had a lower ERA than Ubaldo Jimenez. He finished with a 2.30 ERA and only 48 walks. Imagine if he pitched in a bigger market. He'd be a superstar.
4. CC Sabathia, Yankees.
Other than Roy Halladay, probably the best workhorse pitcher in baseball. Won 20 games last season and finished third in the Cy Young voting. With Andy Pettitte retired and Cliff Lee in Philly, the pressure will be the highest it has ever been on the big man to produce for the Bronx Bombers. Losing 20 pounds on his non Cap'n Crunch diet is a start.
3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners.
His Cy Young award in 2010 despite a 13-12 record proves the win-loss thing doesn't matter nowadays. A 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts helps. Too bad he pitches on a bad team that is wasting his talent.
2. Tim Lincecum, Giants.
I place Timmy a notch above King Felix because of his two Cy Young awards, and now, a World Series ring. Did not have his best season by his standards last season, going 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA. He also showed signs of a heavy workload over the last few seasons, but improved enough in time to lead the Giants to their first title since 1954.
1. Roy Halladay, Phillies.
The absolute best at what he does, without argument. Last season was one of destiny for him and the Phillies, as he won his second Cy Young award, pitched a perfect game, and became only the second man ever to throw a no-hitter in postseason play. Of course, having Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels behind isn't bad, either. A World Series win with the Phillies should punch Doc's ticket to Cooperstown.
Honorable Mentions per team:
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Brett Cecil, Blue Jays
Jake Peavy, White Sox
Dan Haren, Angels
Brett Anderson, Athletics
Lee/Oswalt/Hamels, Phillies
Johan Santana, Mets
Matt Garza, Cubs
Bronson Arroyo, Reds
Brett Myers, Astros
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Matt Cain, Giants