In Major League Baseball, every team is supposed to have an ace. If your team is in a losing streak, he's the pitcher who gets your team back on the right track. In some ways, the ace's role is similar to a quarterback's in football.
The problem is, just like in football, not all aces are created equal. Some pitchers who are not equal to the task are put in that position for one reason or another.
For these rankings, I looked at the awards they have won, their won-loss record, how deep they pitch into games and if they have been consistent over a number of years.
With only three years in MLB, Bud Norris is the most experienced pitcher on a young Astros starting rotation. Even though he is the ace, his 7-13 record and 4.65 ERA last season wasn't very ace-like.
Norris is not a bad pitcher by any means, but he is much more suited for the back of a rotation.
The Rockies have never been known for their pitching, and it doesn't look like much will change in 2013.
Jorge De La Rosa only pitched in three games last year and had an ERA of 9.28. But these numbers are due to his battle with a number of injuries. When he is healthy, he is the ace of this rotation.
De La Rosa has been with the Rockies since 2008 and has been a roller-coaster ride. He was one of the big reasons the Rockies won a wild-card berth in the NL playoffs in 2009. However, he had to have Tommy John surgery in 2011 and is still trying to get back to full strength.
When teams are ranked this low on the list, who will be the ace can be open to discussion. Scott Diamond pitched well last year, going 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA and could end up in that role by the end of 2013.
However, Vance Worley is my pick as the ace of the Minnesota Twins' staff due to his experience. He was acquired this offseason from the Phillies for outfielder Ben Revere.
He struggled a bit last year, finishing with a 6-9 record and a 4.20 ERA. So it will be interesting to see how he makes the transition from the National League to the American League.
Wei-Yin Chen led the Orioles in quality starts, wins, strikeouts and ERA last year and had a great first season in the tough AL East.
It remains to be seen if Chen was a one-hit wonder. If he is able to show he can consistently put up those numbers, he would move up in these rankings.
If this list had been compiled before the 2011 season, Ian Kennedy would have been about five to 10 spots higher. He was coming off a season in which he had a 21-6 record, an ERA of 2.88 and a WHIP of 1.09. At that time, he was considered one of the top young pitchers in the game.
His 2012 season wasn't bad by any means. He was 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA. But to be considered an ace, pitchers need to be consistent from start to start and year to year.
If Kennedy is able to rebound and be closer to his 2011 self, he should move back up this list.
Johan Santana has to be one of the unluckier pitchers in the game. He had to sit out the entire 2011 season due to shoulder surgery and looked like he would be back to his dominant self in 2012.
He had an ERA of 2.38 and a 3-2 record over his first 11 starts, with one of those being the first no-hitter in Mets' history. However, his performance deteriorated after that, as he gave up 45 runs and had an ERA of 8.43 over his final 10 starts.
He was then shut down for the season in mid-August with back problems. If Santana did not have so many injury issues, he would be much higher on this list.
After a few disappointing years in New York, A.J. Burnett had a bounce-back year in Pittsburgh. He finished 16-10, which isn't as good as some may think considering he started the year 10-2.
Despite not winning as many games the second half of the season, Burnett had a lower ERA, fewer walks and more strikeouts than in the first half.
With Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez leading the way, the Pirates should feel good about their pitching rotation heading into 2013.
Brett Anderson is a talented pitcher. But like others toward the bottom of this list, he has struggled with injuries and had the dreaded Tommy John surgery. However, Anderson seemed to pitch better than ever after he came back from the surgery.
It was a small sample size, but he went 4-2 in six starts during the regular season with an ERA of 2.57. His most impressive start came in the postseason when he shut out the Detroit Tigers over six innings and was able to lead the A's to a 2-0 win.
If he continues to pitch in 2013 like he did at the end of 2012, he will definitely move up this list.
Many had high hopes for Edinson Volquez after he went 17-6 and looked like a future star in his first year in Cincinnati. But the next three seasons he struggled with injuries and saw his stats drop.
He started over in San Diego last year and began o look like the pitcher from 2008. One of the reasons may have been that he was able to leave the Great American Ball Park and call pitcher-friendly Petco Park his home.
If he is able to put together another decent season, he should move up the ranks.
Usually when pitchers leave Coors Field their stats improve. However, that has not been the case for Ubaldo Jimenez. His first full season in Cleveland was the worst of his six-year career, as he went 9-17, had an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.61.
These numbers are a far cry from his 2010 season when he went 19-8 with four complete games, a 2.88 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Time will tell if Jimenez can get back to his 2010 form.
Until that happens, he will remain near the bottom of this list.
After the Marlins' fire sale this offseason, Ricky Nolasco gets the title of ace by default. Only one time in the past seven years has he had an ERA below four and only twice in his career has he pitched more than 200 innings.
He showed some flashes of possible turning a corner last year with three complete games and two shutouts, which were both career highs.
To be an ace, he will need to demonstrate a better ability to pitch late into games. If he can do that, he has the talent to move up this list.
Jake Peavy is the veteran and some may give him the nod. But after the season Chris Sale had last year, he should be considered the ace of this staff. This was his first year as a starter and Sale shined in the role.
He finished sixth in the Cy Young race and was selected for the All-Star Game because of his performance over the first half of the season. Entering the All-Star break, he was 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA. As expected with the increased workload, Sale slowed down in the second half.
He was 7-6 over his final 14 starts and saw his ERA almost double to 4.03. Considering he almost tripled his innings pitch from the year before, that was understandable.
If Sale can develop consistency over a full season, the White Sox could have their ace.
Yu Darvish could be considered the ace of the Texas Rangers. But some believe, myself included, that he needs to prove it over a complete season. Richard Durrett of ESPN.com breaks down what Darvish needs to do in this article.
If Darvish is out of the discussion, that leaves Derek Holland, who has pitched well over the past two seasons, going 28-12. However, he has seen his ERA jump almost three quarters of a run from 3.95 to 4.67 during that time.
With a lower ERA, he would have ranked much higher on this list.
The Brewers were able to trade Zack Greinke last season because they knew Yovani Gallardo could be the ace of this rotation. He has risen to the occasion since the Greinke trade, going 9-3 over his final 15 starts with an ERA of 3.57.
There are a lot of things to like about Gallardo. He is 26, has never had a record below .500 in his six years in the bigs and has been able to pitch more than 200 innings in each of the past two seasons.
This is not to say there isn't room for improvement. One of the reasons he is as low as he is on this list is because he only has one All-Star appearance and has only been in the Cy Young race once, finishing seventh in 2010.
Matt Garza saw his stats slide last year, but that can be attributed to a right triceps and elbow injury that ended his season in July. He was only able to make 18 starts, which is his lowest total since he made 15 with the Minnesota Twins in 2007.
However, Garza already had demonstrated the ability to to be a workhorse with three straight seasons of close to or more than 200 innings pitched.
He was a potential trade candidate at the deadline last season but was unable to be moved due to the injury. With the Cubs' moves this offseason, they may no longer be sellers and looking to move Garza.
Like a number of other pitchers on this list, Tim Hudson had to battle back from Tommy John surgery and has pitched very well the past three seasons. He has been a great veteran presence for a young, developing rotation with great potential.
Over the past three years, Hudson has gone 49-27, averaging almost 32 starts and 207 innings pitched each season. He has, however, seen his ERA jump almost a run from 2.83 to 3.62 and opponents' batting average go from .229 to .248.
This trend raises the question of how many more years as top-tier pitcher this 37-year-old has left.
Heading into the 2013 season, there are more questions about R.A. Dickey than any other pitcher in baseball.
He is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and is coming off an impressive season. But he came out of nowhere to claim the award and will now have to pitch in the tough AL East.
The knuckleballer was trending in the right direction over the past few seasons. But no one expected the type of season he had in 2012. He had five complete games, three shutouts, with career numbers in innings pitched, wins, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP.
Johnny Cueto is one of the better young pitchers in the game. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race with an impressive 19-9 record and 2.78 ERA, and helped the Reds get into the playoffs.
One of the key attributes of an ace is an ability to go deep into games. By that measure, Cueto, who averages six innings per start, falls short. But that number has improved to 6.5 over the past two seasons.
He's had five complete games since 2011, compared to only one over his first three seasons in the league.
Nothing went right for the Boston Red Sox in 2012, including Jon Lester's season. For the first time in five years, he was not able to win more than 10 games and had career highs in hits, earned runs and home runs.
Even though he struggled in 2012, Lester is still one of the top pitchers in the game and should be able to rebound in 2013. He has a career winning percentage of .639, averages 211 innings pitched a year and has an ERA of 3.76.
Five years from now, it would surprise no one if a case could be made for Stephen Strasburg as the best pitcher in the game. However, at this point, with his injury history and the inning limit put on him by the organization this past season, he is not able to move further up this list.
He is one of the game's most talented pitchers and has electric stuff. But he does not have a large enough body of work to make a fair evaluation. He has made only 45 starts over the past three seasons and has a career ERA of 2.94 and 21 wins.
There are questions about whether he can pitch deep into games or complete a season. If Strasburg is able to stay consistent with a full workload over an entire season, he should be able to jump a couple of spots on this list.
Chris Carpenter has been the ace of the Cardinals for quite a while. But the torch has been slowly passed to Adam Wainwright over the past couple of seasons. Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in the game in 2009 and 2010, finishing third and second, respectively, in the NL Cy Young voting.
However, he had to have Tommy John surgery and missed the 2011 season. He was able to return to start 2012 and was a key component of a Cardinals team that made it all the way to the NLCS, despite finishing with a less-than-impressive 14-13 record and 3.94 ERA.
Those numbers don't tell the whole story, though, as he pitched better as the season went on. In April he was 0-3 with a 7.28 ERA, But he started pitching like his old self after the All-Star break, going 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA and holding opponents to a .240 batting average.
The Royals should be very happy after acquiring one of the top aces in the game. James Shields has been a model of consistency over the past six seasons, with double-digit wins and more than 200 innings pitched every season.
The past two years, though, he has really hit his stride, striking out more than 200 batters each season to go with 14 complete games and six shutouts.
That he was able to this in a very tough AL East is especially good news for the Royals, who play in a much weaker AL Central.
CC Sabathia has not disappointed the Yankees since joining the club as a free agent before the 2009 season. He has finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three of the four years, as well as being selected for three All-Star games.
Over the past four years, Sabathia has compiled a record of 74-29, averaging seven innings pitched per start, and a 3.22 ERA.
The concern with Sabathia is that he could be slowing down due to the heavy workload the past few years.
Matt Cain has been the definition of dependable for the San Francisco Giants. It is almost a guarantee that he will throw at least 200 innings, something he has accomplished the past six seasons, earn double-digit wins, which he has done the past four seasons, and compile an ERA below three, an achievement he's reached three of the past four years.
This past season was his best, though, as he joined an exclusive club pitching a perfect game against the Houston Astros. He was able to finish off a great season by pitching the majority of the fourth and deciding game of the Giants' World Series' sweep of the Detroit Tigers but came one out short of getting the win.
Roy Halladay has been one of the best pitchers in the game for the better part of a decade. But there may be signs that he is slowing down.
He is an eight time All-Star, won both an AL and NL Cy Young Award, and pitched a perfect game in 2010. One accomplishment that gives him the edge over someone like Cain was his postseason no-hitter in 2010, a feat that only one other pitcher has accomplished in the history of the sport.
There is some concern about how much Halladay has left in the tank at 35 years of age and coming off a down year. He finished a respectable 11-8 but saw his ERA almost double to 4.49.
Generally, Halladay has bounced back. But only time will tell if he can do so again in 2013.
Baseball is a team sport and an ace can only do so much. If there is any question about this, fans need to look no further than Felix Hernandez. The Mariners have finished last in the AL West four of the past five seasons while Hernandez has finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three of those years.
He actually was able to win the award in 2010, even though he only had a deceptively mediocre record of 13-12. He won the award because of his other numbers. He threw 249.2 innings, faced more than 1,000 batters and held them to a batting average of .212.
If Hernandez ever leaves the Mariners either via trade or free agency and has a respectable offense supporting him, he would most likely be in discussions for the Cy Young every year.
The scary part about him is that he may not have even hit his prime yet. He's only 26 years old.
David Price is the reigning AL Cy Young winner. If he could improve his consistency from year to year, he would be in the top three on this list. This past season was by far the best of his career, as he went 20-5 with an ERA of 2.56, which is impressive pitching in the AL East.
Price has developed a reputation as a workhorse, pitching at least 200 innings, striking out 200 batters and holding opponents to a batting average around .225. The only concern with Price is his postseason performance, where he is 0-3 as a starter with an ERA above four.
At 27 years old, he should have plenty of time to wipe that doubt from people's mind.
With Zack Greinke leaving the Angels this offseason, there is no question that Jered Weaver is the ace of this staff. Luckily for the Angels, they still have one of the game's best pitchers.
Weaver has had a better than .500 record every year he has pitched in the big leagues and finished last season with 20 wins. He has seen his ERA steadily improve, from 4.33 in 2008 to 2.81 last season.
This same trend that can be seen in a number of other categories as well, such as WHIP and opponents' batting average.
Clayton Kershaw has been lights-out for the better part of two years now and been a big part of the Dodgers' turnaround. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2011 and was the runner-up last season to R.A. Dickey.
Over the past two seasons, he has compiled a record of 35-14 while averaging almost seven innings pitched per game and has had an ERA under 2.50.
Like a number of pitchers at the top of this list, Kershaw is still young at 24 years old and should be able to continue this level performance for a number of years to come.
It is hard to argue against Justin Verlander as the best pitcher in the game today. He has the hardware, winning Rookie of the Year in 2006, and the AL Cy Young and MVP in 2010. He has been to four straight All-Star Games and has averaged 19.5 wins over the past four years.
He has been pretty much unhittable over the past two seasons, with opponents only hitting .204 against him during the regular season. The only thing that has eluded Verlander is a World Series title, as some have questioned his postseason performance.
Before this past season, Verlander had struggled in the postseason, going 3-3 over six starts with an ERA above five. But he was able to improve during the Tigers' 2012 postseason run, finishing October with a 3-1 record, a 2.22 ERA and a WHIP of 0.78.