Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baseball's exploding ace pitcher situation

By Rick Morris

NOTE: This column was written for this week's FDH Fantasy Newsletter, but we will reprint material here when it has broader, non-fantasy implications. Certainly, this article fits that description as all real baseball fans would be interested to contemplate the nature of the ace pitcher in the game.

The FDH Breakdown of Baseball’s Exploding Ace Situation

It is our hypothesis that the game of baseball has changed rapidly over the past 12-24 months in terms of ace pitchers in the game. Let’s start by examining a list of those who have definitively stepped away from the game during that span:

^ Roger Clemens
^ Randy Johnson
^ Curt Schilling

Now, here are the ones who have, in our estimation, embodied the status of aces over the past few years:

^ Josh Beckett
^ Chris Carpenter
^ Roy Halladay
^ Dan Haren
^ Roy Oswalt
^ Jake Peavy
^ CC Sabathia
^ Johan Santana
^ Justin Verlander
^ Brandon Webb

Just to show that the net is not being cast excessively wide, here is our list of those who are not, for reasons of consistency, health or both, considered legit aces:

^ Mark Buehrle
^ AJ Burnett
^ Cole Hamels
^ Rich Harden
^ John Lackey (this one hurts, because we have touted him so much over the past few years!)
^ Mike Pelfrey (he’s been an assassin this year, but his ERA has been above five for three of his four full seasons)
^ Brad Penny
^ Ben Sheets
^ Carlos Zambrano
^ Barry Zito

Now, here is the list of pitchers who seem to have turned the corner relatively recently to become aces:

^ Matt Cain
^ Yovani Gallardo
^ Zack Greinke
^ Tommy Hanson
^ “King” Felix Hernandez
^ Phil Hughes
^ Ubaldo Jimenez
^ Josh Johnson
^ Clayton Kershaw
^ Cliff Lee (kind of a late bloomer, but the numbers have been at this level since ‘08)
^ Jon Lester
^ Tim Lincecum
^ Francisco Liriano (actually only now reclaiming his ’06 status after a few years of arm woes)
^ David Price
^ Adam Wainwright

As with the established aces, we have a list of pitchers who we are not quite ready to proclaim at that level:

^ Brett Anderson
^ Chad Billingsley
^ Johnny Cueto
^ Wade Davis
^ Matt Garza
^ Jair Jurrjens
^ Ricky Romero
^ Edinson Volquez

And as an addendum to that list, we have a very short list of likely aces in the making – with the proviso that it is way too soon to put them at that level:

^ Aroldis Chapman
^ Stephen Strasburg

Perhaps some will quibble with our designations, but even if you substitute one name for another on various lists, you will probably come up with a similar number for each grouping.

These lists bear out the hypothesis stated at the beginning: the number of legitimate aces, real #1 pitchers, has just about doubled inside of the last two years. Again, even if you dispute the 10 existing aces and 15 new aces that we listed, if you are using legitimate criteria, your numbers will be exceedingly close to ours regardless of the pitchers you have on them.

The fantasy implications are obvious in the supply-and-demand picture. Surely the most obvious one is that top-shelf pitching is the cheapest it has been since the steroid era first exploded in the mid-‘90s. Indeed, a case could be made that the anchor arms of the game will be enjoying one of the greatest heydays in the history of the game over the next half-decade – at least.

The broader effect on the game’s power is clear as well. While the HR and RBI numbers have been off the recent peak of 1998-2001 for the last decade, they have gone through ebbs and flows. With about two dozen shutdown wings now firmly in place, a sustained downward spike in overall power is likely over the past few years. Indeed, the “canary in the coal mine” for this notion is the presence of several players at the top of the HR list who are – based on all indications – riding out hot early-season rides (Paul Konerko, Jose Bautista, Ty Wigginton and Kelly Johnson). Subtract them from the mix and you have many of the usual suspects looking to top out in the neighborhood of 40 HRs – a classic pre-steroid era plateau.

So while this trend is not gaining significant traction in the fantasy baseball media, it is clearly evident nonetheless and it carries with it transformative notions about how rosters should be assembled in the next several years.

No comments: