Defining an Ace III: Who will rise above the Ace Line in 2016?

If you missed Parts 1 & 2 in this series, here they are: Defining an Ace and Introducing Ace Line Calendar.

As we gear up for the 2016 season, there are some “ace” questions on my mind. Specifically three…

  1. Which starting pitchers can we confidently call an “ace” entering the season?
  2. Which starters below the “ace line” are most likely to break into ace status this season?
  3. Are there any starters who are likely to backslide and lose their ace status in 2016?

If you haven’t used the Ace Line Calendar yet, here’s a refresher on how it works. Find today’s date on the calendar. Click over to Bill James Online’s Starting Pitcher Rankings and compare the values listed there to the ones on the calendar. If the value is higher than the “Obvious Yes” value, then he is obviously an ace. If it’s lower than the “Definite No” value, then he’s definitely not an ace. If it’s in between, then it’s open to some debate.

To further understand it, let’s look at our first question.

Who are the aces entering the 2016 MLB season?

Today is March 30, and the values for that date on the calendar are 486.4 and 474.6. When we embed those values into the current BJO SP Rankings, the rankings look like this…

  1. Clayton Kershaw – 596.4
  2. Zack Greinke – 554.6
  3. Max Scherzer – 540.5
  4. Jake Arrieta – 539.4
  5. David Price – 533.0
  6. Madison Bumgarner – 533.0
  7. Chris Sale – 512.1
  8. Corey Kluber – 504.0
  9. Dallas Keuchel – 502.5
  10. Jon Lester – 500.9
  11. Cole Hamels – 499.2
  12. Felix Hernandez – 488.6
    —— Obvious Yes Line – 486.4 ——
  13. Johnny Cueto – 481.6
  14. Jacob deGrom – 476.0
  15. Stephen Strasburg – 475.3
    —— Definite No Line – 474.6 ——
  16. John Lackey – 471.6
  17. Jordan Zimmerman – 465.1
  18. R.A. Dickey – 464.3
  19. Tyson Ross – 463.4
  20. Sonny Gray – 463.0
  21. James Shields – 462.5
  22. Chris Archer – 461.7
  23. Jose Quintana – 461.6
  24. Francisco Liriano – 459.1
  25. Gerrit Cole – 456.1
  26. Lance Lynn – 447.3
  27. Edinson Volquez – 445.0
  28. Julio Teheran – 444.5
  29. Carlos Carrasco – 442.1
  30. Wei-Yin Chen – 442.0

Based on the Ace Lines, your obvious aces entering the 2016 season are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. There is some hesitation in calling Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg aces, so they’re on the bubble right now, and everyone ranked lower than that is currently on the outside looking in.

Which brings us two question two…

Which current non-aces will reach ace status in 2016?

The obvious answers are Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. All it takes is one good start and they’re back in the club. Who is deeper on the list that we need to be watching for?

The first two names that come to mind are Matt Harvey (437.2) and Adam Wainwright (319.5) . Harvey could be in the mix as early as May or June he already had time to climb the ladder in 2015. Wainwright would have to pitch like Jake Arrieta did last season to come anywhere close to making it, but his name will be on the rise for sure.

Lots of folks are expecting Chris Archer (461.7) to break out in 2016 for the Rays, and I’m no different. I expect him to compete for AL Cy Young. His name will almost certainly be among the other aces by the end of the year. Carlos Carrasco (442.1) is currently behind Corey Kluber in the Indians rotation, but after back to back strong campaigns in 2014 and 2015, he is poised to make it there as well. It’s possible that Justin Verlander (433.0) might get his swagger back after fading significantly in 2014 and most of 2015, and Shelby Miller – the unluckiest pitcher in baseball in 2015 – could turn a corner now with the Diamondbacks, a team that plays solid defense and provides a lot of run support.

Finally, Gerrit Cole (456.1) is entering 2016 with a chip on his shoulder. He thinks he deserves a raise and an extension, and he’s probably right, but the Pirates aren’t budging and they certainly don’t have to. He’s set to make $541,000 in 2016 after going 19-6 with a 2.60 ERA in 2015, and he’s even more motivated this season. His name will almost certainly climb the rankings.

Of course, the names right around the line could rise or fade slightly, but those are the names I’ll be watching closely.

Any other names you’d expect to become obvious aces in 2016?

Which current aces will fall below the Ace Line in 2016?

Barring a season-altering injury, great pitchers don’t generally implode and turn terrible overnight, so predicting names to drop below the ace line in 2016 is tougher to pick, but there are a few names that could dip in 2016.

Madison Bumgarner has had a terrible spring. Granted, there is absolutely no correlation between Spring Training and regular season stats. Sometimes guys are trying out new pitches, or working on pitching inside or outside, locating pitches. Who knows? Winning isn’t important. It’s the practice that matters. But when the phrase “wasn’t very good” comes straight from the horses mouth, well…you have to wonder. He has lingering foot and ribcage injuries that he claims haven’t been nagging him, but you never know. When there’s smoke…

While we’re talking about the Giants, I’ll throw Johnny Cueto into the mix as well. We saw Cueto struggle with a new team, catcher and ballpark when he joined the Royals in the second half of last season. Developing rapport in Spring Training can only help, but I do wonder which Johnny Beisbol the Giants will see out the gate.

The only other name that gives me any pause is Corey Kluber, but I don’t think that’s founded on anything. His 2015 season was just bad luck. His 9-16 record looks awful, but his 2.97 FIP looks really nice. His 1.054 WHIP was down from 2014 and his K/BB rate was just as strong as well. I expect him to stay among the aces.

But really, everyone listed there belongs, and it’s hard to envision anyone who doesn’t belong among that group. Barring injury, I’d be surprised if any of them dropped below the line.

I’ll be monitoring this list throughout the season.

Is it April 3 yet?!

-apc.

Image cred: Getty Images, accessed via The Sporting News.

The Royals are coming home for Game 6, down 3-2: “Never tell me the odds.”

Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

That’s the word that keeps popping up in my text messages and twitter feed in reference to Madison Bumgarner. So nasty. He has beaten us twice now, and “beaten” is putting it mildly. If the Giants can close this series out over the next two games, there is zero question that Bumgarner will be the MVP.

As much as we can – and have and will – grill Ned Yost’s questionable management in Game 5, we can’t really cast blame at anyone in a Royals uniform. I went on a rant last night about it because I was frustrated, but my frustration should be directed at Madison Bumgarner, not Ned Yost. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

But I’m still frustrated.

The experience of baseball fandom is like riding a giant pendulum back and forth between hope and despair. Just last week, Kansas City was buzzing unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A week ago this same coffee shop was decked out in blue. Then we took a 2-1 series lead and we were about as hopeful as could be.

Today, it’s silent. Today, I’m one of only two people here wearing royals gear. No one is smiling at each other. We’re all just trying to go about our business without having to talk about last night’s poor performance. Eye contact is minimal, talking is non-existent. We’re all avoiding the painful royal blue elephant in the room*.

* – I want to add a line about Madison Bumgarner kicking the elephant in the crotch or something, but that metaphor breaks down and isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. Oh well. Whatever. That’s what today feels like.

The pendulum has swung us hard toward despair. For a fan, hope brings optimism, but with despair comes realism. Last week I talked a lot about how alive and optimistic this city felt because I was ultra-hopeful. Today, no one around here wants to feel anything. At this point, we just want to talk about our chances. What are the odds?  Is there still a chance?

Of course there’s a chance. There’s always a chance in baseball until the final out is recorded.

Mathematically, things look grim. Assuming baseball games are a coin flip, the Royals only have a 25% chance of coming up twice in a row. Fangraphs has the Giants at 73.7% to win the World Series – slightly better than 50-50, but still not great.

In an effort to try to grasp for some hope, other writers might reference the 1985 team being down 3-1 and coming back to win it all or the 2002 Giants being up 3-2 and losing two straight. They’ll tell you that teams down 3-2 coming home are 22-8 in Game 6…73.3%. They’ll tell you that since 1923 the road team has gone into Game 6 up 3-2 thirty different times. Of those 30 times, here’s the breakdown of how it played out…

  • Road Team in 6: 8 times.
  • Road Team in 7: 9 times.
  • Home Team in 7: 13 times

…13/30 times the home team has won two straight. That’s a 43.3% chance of winning, historically, and 43.3% is much much higher than 25%.

That’s all fun to talk about, I suppose, but these teams aren’t those teams. These teams are these teams. I don’t like looking at past stats as hopeful indicators of present situations. We don’t care about what teams have done in the past. We care about these teams over the nexts two games. Can we win two straight? Of course we can. In fact, these two upcoming games have already happened and the Royals won both of them. They’re rematches of Games 2 & 3.

If we can win the next two games, it will mark the third time we’ve won two straight vs the Giants this year. We won 3 straight when we faced them back in August. We won 2 straight last week in Games 2 & 3. We just have to do it one more time. Besides, if we’ve learned anything about this Royals team this postseason it’s this: with their backs against the wall, they have what it takes to fight out of it.

All that to say, I’m here to tell you that despite the numbers aginast us, the Royals are very much still in this series. Hope is not unrealistic. Sure, I’m feeling most of the way toward realism right now, but when we look ahead to Games 6 and 7 as individual matchups, we have to like what we see.

Game 6: Yordano Ventura vs. Jake Peavy

A rematch of Game 2 which the Royals won 7-2. Ventura scattered 8 hits over 5.1 innings allowing just two runs. He wasn’t flawless – especially in the first inning – but he was plenty good enough. Herrera pitched 1.2 while Davis and Holland threw 1 inning apiece. All scoreless.

Jake Peavy, miraculously managed to slip through 5 innings with only two runs allowed. He even retired 10 straight at one point, which may have led to the decision to let him face the heart of the Royals lineup a third time through. The Royals lit Peavy and the bullpen up for 5 runs in the 6th inning and never looked back.

I don’t see Peavy getting that opportunity again in Game 6. I think Bruce Bochy will have him on a short leash with Lincecum ready. Ned Yost needs to have Danny Duffy ready to do the same. This is a must win game, and Yost obviously needs to pull out all the stops.

That said, Yordano + Duffy >>>>>> Peavy + Timmy The Freak.

Yeah, James Shields pitched well yesterday, and he’s technically our “ace” – or at least his salary suggests he is – but I believe strongly that our actual ace(s) are the two guys lined up to appear tomorrow.

Yordano Days are the best days for a reason, you guys. Let’s just throw fire, okay?

It’s also important to mention that instead of Jarrod Dyson and the pitcher in the lineup, we will have Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. The offensive advantage shifts heavily in the Royals direction coming back home for these last two games.

Game 7: Guthrie(?) vs. Hudson

Another rematch of starters. Guthrie pitched well in Game 3 – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R – and he has earned my confidence over the past two months. Herrera, Finnegan, Davis and Holland combined for the final 12 outs and the Giants had no chance.

Tim Hudson went 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R. The Royals got to him with a run in the first and two more in the 6th – have we all noticed that these two innings are when the Royals score pretty much all of their runs? So far they’ve scored 15 runs in this series and 9 have come in the 1st or 6th innings. The Royals seem to have two trajectories: get on the board early and play with a lead, or let the starter cruise through 5 innings and get to him on the third trip through the lineup.

With pitchers having a short leash before the third time through, this makes it imperative that we strike early off of both Peavy and Hudson. Get em on, get em over, get em in, and early. We won’t see a pitcher three times in the same game over the next two games.

That said, I’m guessing that these will still be the starters for this game, but it’s possible that we could see someone throw on short rest. The Giants have announced Hudson will start Game 7, but the Royals haven’t said who it will be. Could be Guthrie or Vargas (or Duffy?). My money is on Guthrie, but it wouldn’t shock me if Ned threw Vargas and had Guthrie ready to go as well at any sign of things going wrong.

The starters from yesterday will likely be available too. James Shields threw 94 pitches yesterday while Madison Bumgarner threw 117. I can’t imagine either of these guys would be the first options for middle relief – Volgelsong and Vargas, Duffy and Lincecum would likely make an appearance first.

If this series goes to seven games, it will be so interesting to see how Ned Yost manages. If I were him, I’d have Herrera/Davis ready for relief at the first sign of trouble and let them go until Duffy/Vargas have had enough time to warm up completely and come in to start an inning. Then, same thing – first sign of trouble, have the other one ready to get out of the jam. If we can dowse the fires as they happen, our bullpen is good enough to bridge available starters together to get to Holland.

Maybe elimination Ned will be the Ned we’ve all been hoping for all this time. He sure seems like he’s learned a thing or two about managing over the past few weeks.

So what are the odds?

Obviously they’re in San Francisco’s favor overall, but not as much as the coin flip method or Fangraphs would make you think. I’d say the Royals have around a 60% chance of taking Game 6 behind Yordano/Duffman. Game 7 is probably closer to a coin flip, but the game being at home tilts it slightly in the Royals favor too. I’d say it’s 60-40 and 55-45, Royals the favorites in both, which puts us at a 33% overall chance for the Royals to take both games.

We’ve already seen both of these matchups before, and the Royals won both of them. Why wouldn’t we expect them to do it again? But I’m getting ahead of myself. First thing’s first, and that’s win tomorrow. And the Royals are the favorites to do exactly that.

A parade could still happen this weekend, and I got chills just typing that out.

-apc.

PS – If you aren’t aware, that’s a Han Solo quote in the title…for all you people who used to be my friends.