Over the next couple of weeks, I will be putting out a series of articles ranking the MLB teams by each position. I will divide the articles by league, separating the AL and NL. What better place to start than with each team's "ace"?
These are the guys that each respective team relies upon to stop a losing streak or to toss a gem when it matters most. For teams with two ace quality pitchers (i.e. Phillies), I'm using the pitcher listed as the No. 1 pitcher on each team's depth chart.
Note: The statistical projections that are listed are not personal projections, they are courtesy of MLB.com.
Hunter got touched up for a 5.06 ERA with the O's last season. However, there were good signs for Hunter, as he only walked 10 batters in almost 70 innings of work with Baltimore.
Hunter is never going to strike out a lot of batters, though, which leads to a lot of balls being put in play. Even if his BABIP is around league average, he is going to give up a lot of runs because of how many balls he allows to be put into play.
MLB.com projections: 6-8, 135 IP, 77 Ks, 4.67 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
While Hochevar didn't have the best overall season last year, there were flashes of ace-like ability.
Hochevar progressed as the season went along, posting a 3.52 ERA after the all-star break. He also had a few individual game performances that showed why the Royals took him with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.
While Hochevar might not ever live up to being the first overall pick, the Royals are content with having him as their ace right now.
MLB.com projections: 11-11, 195 IP, 144 Ks, 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Colby Lewis takes over the spot that C.J. Wilson manned last season. Lewis' 4.40 ERA doesn't look great, but some of his secondary statistics are promising. He posted a 1.21 WHIP and only walked 56 batters in 200.1 innings, while striking out 169.
The thing that hurt Lewis the most last season was actually his home field. He had a problem with home runs last year, giving up 22 of them in the Rangers' hitter-friendly ballpark, while posting a 5.54 ERA.
He fared much better away from Arlington, giving up only 13 home runs with a 3.43 ERA.
If Lewis can manage to get the home run numbers down, there is ace-like potential for this workhorse of a pitcher.
MLB.com projections: 14-11, 210 IP, 177 Ks, 3.69 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
After the A's overhauled their team, Brandon McCarthy will step in as their ace.
McCarthy managed to have a pretty good year last season with a 3.32 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Normally that would translate to better than a 9-9 record, but that's what pitching for the A's got him.
He still doesn't have much of an offense to give him run support, so the record might not be great, but there is definitely potential for McCarthy. He looks to head into the 2012 season in the same fashion he finished 2011, by posting a 2.19 ERA over 37 innings while batters hit just .200 against him.
The only reason I have McCarthy at No. 11 and not at No. 9 is because he has only really had one good year.
MLB.com projections: 11-12, 194 IP, 148 Ks, 3.39 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Baker was well on his way to having a career year before an elbow injury effectively ended his season in July. Before getting hurt, Baker had a 3.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP through 134.2 innings.
One thing Baker was really enjoying about the 2011 season was the home cooking. He was 5-1 at Target Field, with a 2.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Batters were also only hitting .227 against him there.
The Twins are hoping that Baker is fully recovered from his injury and will come back and pitch like he was last year before getting hurt.
MLB.com projections: 13-10, 178 IP, 160 Ks, 3.64 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
John Danks takes over the ace role for the White Sox after longtime top-of-the-rotation mainstay Mark Buerhle left in free agency for Miami.
The White Sox are hoping that the June through August version of Danks is the one that they get in 2012, and not the one from the bookends of 2011.
In June through August, Danks went 6-1 with a 2.03 ERA. However, in April, May and September, Danks went 2-11 with an ERA around 6.00.
We'll have to wait and see which Danks shows up in 2012, but I have a feeling it'll be a little more of the former. Look for Danks to rebound with a quality season.
MLB.com projections: 11-10, 198 IP, 155 Ks, 3.64 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Jimenez's 2011 season was quite a disappointment after how good his 2010 season was. After posting a 4.46 ERA in the beginning of the year with Colorado, the Indians traded for Ubaldo hoping he would return to his 2010 form with a change in scenery.
It never happened.
In 65.1 innings pitched with Cleveland, Jimenez had an ERA over 5.00. Pretty much every statistic of Jimenez's was down from his previous year, and if he wants to stay atop the Cleveland rotation, he needs to rediscover his 2010 form.
If he can do that, Jimenez will move a lot further up this list.
MLB.com projections: 12-11, 190 IP, 168 Ks, 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Now we move on to someone who I believe is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball: Ricky Romero.
Romero very quietly finished 2011 with a sub-3.00 ERA in the very dangerous AL East. If I had asked you before the 2011 season to guess which AL East ace would finish the year with the best ERA, would you have ever guessed Ricky Romero? Didn't think so.
His numbers might see a small rise this year, as the chances are slim that he'll be able to sustain a 79.2 percent strand rate, but I still see quality numbers in his future.
MLB.com projections: 15-9, 224 IP, 180 Ks, 3.42 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
After the Red Sox's historic collapse in 2011, a fair share of blame was put on Lester. He had a pretty good season, but he went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in September, which is when it matters most.
Look for Lester to come out in 2012 and be determined to put the final month of last season behind him. He is still a top-tier pitcher with above-average stuff. I expect Lester to have an ace-like season.
MLB.com projections: 17-9, 208 IP, 195 Ks, 3.38 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
David Price didn't appear to have the type of season you want to see out of your ace last year, only posting a 12-13 record. But that record can be deceiving.
All of Price's individual statistics were still quite good. A 3.49 ERA might not be the best in the league, but a 1.14 WHIP is nothing to scoff at. Price also got better as the year went along, posting a 3.70 ERA pre all-star break and a 3.21 post break.
Price is a big-time arm who is going to strike out a lot of hitters. His win-loss record should more accurately reflect his level of pitching this season.
MLB.com projections: 17-10, 230 IP, 213 Ks, 3.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Making it four AL East pitchers in a row is C.C. Sabathia, one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball. He seems to always reach around 20 wins with an ERA in the low threes. He also will always give you 220-plus innings.
The ability for your ace to go deep into games is very underrated. Not only does it keep your best pitcher in the game longer, but it also allows you to give your bullpen some rest.
Sabathia has very good command, walking only 61 batters in 237.1 innings last year. There's always questions about his weight, but at only 31 years old, I don't see Sabathia slowing down just yet.
MLB.com projections: 19-11, 230 IP, 216 Ks, 3.05 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
It took a lot of time to choose between Weaver and the No. 2 pitcher on this list, for these two spots could essentially be determined by a coin flip.
If there was any debate between who was the Angels' ace, Weaver or Haren, Jered Weaver settled that debate last year. Weaver had a spectacular season, posting the second best ERA in baseball with a 2.41.
He was also great at keeping runners off the bases with a 1.01 WHIP and only 56 walks in 235.2 innings. Weaver's strikeout numbers might have dropped, but basically every other statistic improved greatly.
Weaver has improved steadily in his last three seasons, and if he somehow manages to improve again this year, look out American League.
MLB.com projections: 16-10, 230 IP, 200 Ks, 2.90 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
Edging out Weaver for the No. 2 spot is Felix Hernandez.
There's not much I can say about King Felix that you all don't already know. One of the most consistently great pitchers in the MLB, Hernandez's brilliance is not quite reflected by his win-loss record. That's thanks in part to a very bad Mariners team.
Hernandez's ERA dropped a little last year to 3.47, but I contribute that to a slightly unlucky BABIP. I don't see any way that with the stuff he has, King Felix's ERA is above 3.00 again this year.
MLB.com projections: 15-12, 230 IP, 212 Ks, 2.62 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
What else can you say about the man that became the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win both the Cy Young and the MVP award?
There were times last year when it didn't look like anyone would ever get a hit off Verlander again. There was a day where that was actually true, as Verlander no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays on May 7th.
No matter which statistics you look at, they all show how truly dominant Verlander was last year. He walked only 57 batters in 251 innings, while posting a spectacular WHIP of 0.92. He won 24 games, while only dropping 5. He had a component ERA of 1.92. The guy was just flat out phenomenal.
The MLB.com projections have him seeing a bit of a drop off, but I don't think it will be as much as they are predicting. I'm expecting more of the same from Verlander in 2012.
MLB.com projections: 20-8, 239 IP, 238 Ks, 2.79 ERA, 1.10 WHIP