Power Ranking the Aces of the AL Central Division
With the first week of the season underway, it's a good time to look into the ace pitchers in the AL Central.
While many readers might assume that each AL Central team has an ace on their staff, in my opinion, that doesn't have to be the case.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an ace pitcher is "the best pitcher on a baseball team", but I disagree with that.
I believe that an ace is a pitcher who a team is not afraid to put on the mound in any situation and is expected to win regardless of the lineup he is facing. An ace also has to have the ability to step into any other major league team's starting rotation and provide an improvement.
I was debating about adding Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez as an ace in the AL Central, but I'm not ultimately convinced he will be able to recapture the success he had with the Colorado Rockies.
Let's take a look at the ace pitchers of the AL Central.
Honorable Mention: Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister may not be considered a typical ace pitcher, but he is quietly effective.
Fister, who was traded to Detroit in July 2011, pitched brilliantly with the Seattle Mariners, but was a victim of low-run support. Before being traded to the Tigers in 2011, Fister was 3-12, but had a 3.33 earned run average.
Many fans outside of Detroit overlook Fister when discussing top starters, but he can pitch in any game and give his team a great chance to win.
While Fister isn't known as a strikeout pitcher, he did have average 7.6 strikeout per nine innings in 2012 and set an AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts.
That is why any team would love to have Fister in their rotation.
Honorable Mention: Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals pitcher Wade Davis is on this list due to his potential and the fact that he is now pitching outside of the AL East.
A natural starter, Davis was forced to work out of the bullpen last year for the Tampa Bay Rays before being traded this past offseason, a result of the Rays' pitching surplus rather than of Davis' ability to pitch.
Davis has had previous success as a starter and his role last season helped allow him to mature. Most teams would love Davis in their starting rotation as he can shut down opposing lineups.
While Davis didn't have great numbers in spring training, avergaging 3.9 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine innings, his other numbers need to be examined closely. Davis didn't allow a home run in spring training and looks ready to shine.
While some other fans might disagree, Davis could be pitching in big games by the end of the year for a potential dark-horse AL wild-card contender.
Don't bet against Davis as he has already pitched 7.1 innings in the postseason where he has a 2.45 earned run average.
5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale flew under the radar last season, but if he pitches as well in 2012, he'll get the recognition he deserves.
Sale began his career as a reliever before making the transition to starter in 2012 with overwhelming success as he was quietly one of the best pitchers in baseball and looks to have a long productive career ahead of him.
Only 24, Sale just signed a contract extension to keep him in the Windy City through the 2017 season.
Sale went 17-8 last season with a 3.05 earned run average, but more impressive was the fact that he found the success after starting his career as a reliever.
Compared to all pitchers in the AL last year, Sale had the fourth-best WAR (5.9), fifth-best WHIP (1.135) and the fourth-best ratio for strikeouts per nine innings (9.0).
Based on those numbers, Sale could be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Why I have him only listed as the fifth-best pitcher in the AL Central is because he needs to prove that he can produce beyond last season.
Sale struggled after the All-Star break, but if he can follow suit from last year, expect him to be a lot higher in the power rankings next season.
4. Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy can be considered an ace pitcher as he was one of the best pitchers in baseball when he was with the San Diego Padres.
Traded from the Padres to the White Sox in 2009, Peavy won two ERA titles with the Padres and the NL Cy Young in 2007. However, he didn't have the success that was expected of him when he first arrived with the White Sox.
At 31 years old, Peavy has adapted to the AL after dealing with unique injuries although he was extremely successful last season.
While Peavy's record was only 11-12, he had a 3.37 earned run average, averaging eight strikeouts and two walks per nine innings over 219 innings.
I expect Peavy to post similar numbers this season and be the No. 1 starter for the White Sox.
3. Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer would be the No. 1 pitcher for most teams, but he's not even the best pitcher on the Tigers' starting staff.
Scherzer is a strikeout pitcher who experienced a breakout season last year, leading the league with an average of 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.274 WHIP. Scherzer came in second in the AL strikeout race with 231 and with a 16-7 record.
The only questions surrounding Scherzer are that with a violent delivery, can he stay healthy? He's never thrown over 200 innings in a regular season, but you can bank on Scherzer giving the Tigers a chance to win any game—the definiton of an ace.
2. James Shields, Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals acquired pitcher James Shields this past offseason in the trade that also brought Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Shields is a strikeout pitcher who gives the Royals a legitimate No. 1 starter—something they haven't had over the past several seasons.
Shields was tied in the AL for the third-most strikeouts in 2012 with 223, pitching 227.2 innings while only allowing 2.3 walks per nine innings.
Shields has had success pitching in the AL East and should adapt nicely in the AL Central. He will be able to eat up innings after having led the league in complete games in 2011 and will be able to save the Royals' bullpen on nights that he pitches.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
There should be no surprise about Justin Verlander appearing at No. 1 on this list.
Verlander, who just signed a massive extension with the Detroit Tigers, is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and the poster child for the definition of an ace pitcher.
The AL MVP and the AL Cy Young Award-winner in 2011, Verlander followed up with an equally impressive 2012 season, leading the league in strikeouts with 239 and the highest WAR of any pitcher with a 7.7.
He also went 17-8 with a 2.64 earned run average as the Tigers' workhorse led the league in innings pitched (238.1) and in complete games (six).
In 2011, Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown after leading the league in wins (24), earned run average (2.40) and strikeouts (250) along with leading the league in innings pitched (251).
Verlander has stayed healthy and has a solid delivery, so it looks like he'll be able to still be successful even if he loses something off his 100-plus miles per hour fastball.
Verlander not only is the best pitcher in the AL Central, but would be considered the best pitcher on any team. The Tigers are lucky to have the possible future Hall of Famer on their team.
*All statistics are as of April 3
**All statistics are from baseball-reference.com