The 2013 Major League Baseball season is now two weeks old. So much has happened in such a small amount of time. In two weeks, we have seen questionable calls, improbable victories and even an ugly bench-clearing brawl.
We have also been able to watch some of baseball's finest pitchers take the stage two to three times for their respective ballclubs. Some have excelled in typical fashion, while others have gotten off to a slow start in the new campaign. After all, with an entire offseason of downtime, it takes some time for pitchers to shake off the rust, particularly as they age.
As we enter the midpoint of the season's first month, let's take a look at how each MLB ace has fared so far. Remember, an "ace" doesn't necessarily refer to the hurler who took the mound on his team's Opening Day. An ace of a pitching staff is someone who can normally be relied upon to give his team a chance to win every fifth game. Get your red pens out...it's time to grade!
Keep in mind, there are no A+ pitchers on this list. An A+ represents perfection, and it is rather impossible for a pitcher to maintain absolute perfection over the course of a season.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-0, 2.50 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.000 WHIP)
Tim Hudson's performance on Saturday propelled his mid-April grade into the upper echelon. As his Atlanta Braves took on their division foe Washington Nationals, Hudson twirled seven brilliant innings. He permitted one run on four hits, striking out three without allowing a walk, in the 3-1 victory.
Prior to Saturday, Hudson had made two starts for the Atlanta Braves. In his first start, on Opening Day, he lasted just 4.1 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. He only gave up three earned runs, but he labored through the outing, needing 90 pitches to record 13 outs. Hudson actually left the game with the lead, a lead the Braves would not relinquish, but he couldn't secure his own victory.
He rebounded nicely in his second start, however, beating the Chicago Cubs. This time, Hudson pitched into the seventh inning, allowing just one earned run on three hits. He struck out seven and walked two and was in cruise control most of the game.
Mid-April Grade: C+ (1-1, 5.79 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.500 WHIP)
Ian Kennedy has been good but not great for the Arizona Diamondbacks so far in 2013. At the very least, he's been able to eat up innings in his three starts, going at least six innings in two of the three.
However, while he gave up just two earned runs to the St. Louis Cardinals in his first start, he coughed up four against the Milwaukee Brewers his next time out. He followed that up by surrendering six earned in 5.2 innings against the Dodgers on Saturday.
He sports a respectable 7.7 K/9 ratio and has only issued six free passes and two long balls on the year. But with fellow right-hander Daniel Hudson out until at least midseason, the D-Backs will rely on Kennedy to anchor this staff, and he will need to right the ship before the trouble gets any worse.
Mid-April Grade: B- (2-1, 4.34 ERA, 4.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.071 WHIP)
In most rotations, Jason Hammel would likely not be considered an ace. With the Orioles rich in young pitching talent, it may not be long before someone replaces him. But for now, he leads the rotation, despite his 4.34 ERA through three starts.
He's been able to eat up innings for the O's so far, going at least six innings in all three of his starts. But after allowing three earned runs to the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day, he surrendered four more to the Minnesota Twins in his second outing. He was impressive against the New York Yankees on Saturday, but he did scatter eight hits over six innings.
He hasn't missed any bats either, totaling just nine punchouts in the three appearances.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-0, 1.42 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.947 WHIP)
After a disappointing year in 2012, Jon Lester is in need of a bounceback 2013 campaign. So far, with three superb outings, he is well on his way.
The Boston Red Sox southpaw has mowed through three division rivals, including two of the toughest lineups he will face, defeating division rivals the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, allowing just two earned runs combined.
On Saturday, he locked up with the Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, and Lester was magnificent. He allowed one run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out five and walked one in the no-decision.
He looks to be back to his pre-2012 form, which is something the Red Sox desperately need.
Mid-April Grade: B+ (1-2, 2.75 ERA, 12.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.966 WHIP)
Jeff Samardzija's numbers are slightly misleading. In three starts for the Chicago Cubs in 2013, the tall right-hander has only one win to show. He's been effective in all three starts, though, while the Cubs offense has seemingly slept through his performances.
He dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates on Opening Day, twirling eight shutout innings and striking out nine en route to a 3-1 victory. In his next start against the Atlanta Braves, he only went 5.2 innings, allowing four earned on four hits with four walks. But he also struck out a baker's dozen worth of hitters.
On Saturday, he held the San Francisco Giants to two earned runs on seven hits over six innings, striking out "just" five on the afternoon.
Overall, "Shark" has looked composed on the mound and looks to have a true breakout campaign in 2013.
Mid-April Grade: B (2-1, 3.93 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 0.5 BB/9, 1.036 WHIP)
It's hard to believe that Jake Peavy will only turn 32 years old on May 31. It seems like he's been pitching forever. While battling numerous injuries, he's found a way to stay effective, and in 2012 he had a bit of a resurgence with the Chicago White Sox.
So far, his success from last year has largely carried over into 2013. Aside from one rough start in which he gave up six earned runs to the Washington Nationals, Peavy has been sharp. He was brilliant in his last start on Sunday. He struck out 11 Cleveland Indians, allowing just one earned run over seven innings.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Peavy has allowed just one walk the entire season, which came in last Tuesday's start. If he is able to have another fully healthy season, he could surpass his 2012 numbers and resemble the Peavy who pitched for the San Diego Padres from 2002 to 2009.
Mid-April Grade: B (0-0, 3.26 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1.190 WHIP)
After a dominant 2012 season in which he won 14 games for the Cincinnati Reds, Mat Latos has looked steady here in April, but he's yet to notch a decision in three starts.
In his first start against the Los Angeles Angels, Latos left the game with a one-run lead, but the bullpen squandered that lead (the Reds won in walk-off fashion in the ninth, however).
In his second appearance, facing St. Louis, Cardinals pitching silenced the Reds offense until they put up a nine-spot in the top of the ninth, winning 13-4. The Reds defense (namely Shin-Soo Choo) also failed Latos, as two errors lead to three unearned runs.
Finally, on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the bullpen once again let Latos down, allowing the Pirates to come back from a 5-4 deficit to win 10-7. But in these three starts, Latos has pitched well enough to win, and given his track record, he and the Reds should be just fine moving forward.
Mid-April Grade: A (3-0, 0.41 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.818 WHIP)
Justin Masterson has been just masterful for the Cleveland Indians so far through his first three starts of 2013. In 22 innings pitched, he has given up just one run...one!
He absolutely shined in his last start on Friday against the Chicago White Sox. He and Sox starter Jose Quintana locked horns in a pitcher's duel. But Masterson, with the help of Nick Swisher's walk-off heroics, came out on top with a complete-game shutout, needing just 113 pitches to complete the nine-inning affair. He struck out seven and issued one free pass.
There has always been a lot expected of the former second-round draft pick, but injuries have prohibited him from fully reaching his potential. It's only three starts, but it looks as if Masterson is ready to break out in 2013.
Mid-April Grade: B (2-0, 1.96 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.982 WHIP)
Jhoulys Chacin has certainly looked impressive to start the 2013 campaign for the Colorado Rockies. But only one of the 25-year-old's three starts has come at hitter-friendly Coors Field, and in two of his starts he faced the light-hitting San Diego Padres.
He hasn't missed a ton of bats, recording just 11 strikeouts in his three starts, six of them coming on Opening Day against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, the right-hander has some good counting stats with a nifty 1.96 ERA. He can be capable of maintaining his success. But he will have to prove that he can handle more offensively-minded lineups if he aims to reach true ace status.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-1, 1.96 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.145 WHIP)
So far in 2013, Justin Verlander has been...well...Justin Verlander. In three 2013 starts for the Detroit Tigers, the former MVP has allowed a total of four earned runs while recording 17 strikeouts.
There aren't too many times Verlander won't make an A grade, as he is one of the top five pitchers in the game.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-1, 1.96 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.091 WHIP)
The Houston Astros have four wins in 2013, and Bud Norris has half of those victories. Expectations out of Houston are not all that high for the Astros' first season in the American League West. But if they continue to get performances like they've gotten out of Norris, they could actually surprise some people.
The right-hander opened the season by mowing through a very tough Texas Rangers lineup on Opening Day, allowing just two earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched. But his best start was his third start of the year, coming on Friday night against another divisional foe, the Los Angeles Angels.
Norris pitched seven shutout innings against another potent lineup, striking out five and walking two. He allowed just three hits on the evening and was in complete control of the game.
So far, Norris has made three starts, all against AL West rivals, and all three starts have been respectable at minimum. The Astros have to feel confident every fifth day that they will get a good pitching performance out of their 28-year-old.
Mid-April Grade: B (1-2, 3.43 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 1.095 WHIP)
The Kansas City Royals made a splash this offseason when they acquired right-hander James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays in a deal that included star prospect Wil Myers going to Tampa. While Shields' first three starts haven't been spectacular, he's certainly getting the job done as the Royals' ace.
In his most recent start on Saturday, he took a complete-game loss against the hot-hitting Toronto Blue Jays. He allowed three earned runs on two hits—one a costly home run to Jose Bautista—as the Jays took the 3-2 victory. It was the sixth time in his career that Shields finished with a complete-game loss.
But that's exactly what he'll provide the Royals. He'll eat up tons of innings and keep his club in the game. All three of his starts have resulted in a one-run differential. He should be fine for the long haul of the season.
Mid-April Grade: B- (0-1, 4.91 ERA, 4.9 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 1.364 WHIP)
The 2013 season has not been very kind to the Los Angeles Angels or their right-handed ace Jered Weaver. The Angels have just four wins on the season, while Weaver showed inconsistency over his two starts and now resides on the 15-day disabled list.
In his last start against the Texas Rangers on April 7, Weaver landed awkwardly trying to avoid a Mitch Moreland comebacker. The result was a broken left (non-throwing) elbow, which will sideline him for at least a month.
But with concern over his velocity, Weaver wasn't very sharp during his two starts. Hopefully for him and the Halos, he will be back to his normal self once he recovers from this injury stint.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-1, 1.16 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 0.686 WHIP)
The runner-up in the 2012 NL Cy Young Award race, left-handed ace Dodgers Clayton Kershaw has been absolutely brilliant to start the 2013 campaign. It took until his third start on Friday to allow a run—he gave up three earned over 7.1 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His Opening Day start was one of the best pitcher performances we've seen in quite some time. Not only did Kershaw shut out the San Francisco Giants, but it was his solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that broke a scoreless tie and led his team to victory.
Friday's little hiccup is nothing to be concerned with. Many pitchers dream of a pitching line that includes nine strikeouts and three earned runs while pitching into the eighth inning. Kershaw was the runner-up last season, but in 2013 he could be the best pitcher in the National League.
Mid-April Grade: B (0-1, 3.12 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.269 WHIP)
It's no easy task being a pitcher for the Miami Marlins in 2013, as clearly evidenced by Ricky Nolasco's stat line. With a respectable 3.12 ERA, he has no wins to show over three solid starts.
He hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of the starts and failed to pitch six innings just once (5.1 innings in his second start against the New York Mets). He could stand to fix his control a bit; a 9:6 K/BB ratio is not all that impressive.
Still, Nolasco has been steady and effective, but a lack of run support and a faltering bullpen have left the right-hander with zero wins so far.
Mid-April Grade: C (0-1, 6.61 ERA, 5.0 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.776 WHIP)
Milwaukee Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo has simply not looked good in the regular season following his appearance in the World Baseball Classic last month. In three starts for the Brew Crew, the right-hander has allowed a whopping 12 earned runs in 16.1 innings pitched.
His strikeouts are down as well; he's recorded only nine punchouts on the young season.
It's not time to panic yet, as Gallardo has been one of the more consistent hurlers over recent years. But in a tough NL Central division, the Brewers will need Gallardo to right the ship quickly if they wish to stay in contention.
Mid-April Grade: B+ (0-1, 3.14 ERA, 1.9 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 1.186 WHIP)
Kevin Correia was supposed to make his third start of the season for the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, but snow postponed the matchup with the New York Mets.
You can't say the right-hander hasn't been consistent over the past few seasons—he has the exact same win-loss record (12-11) in three of the last four seasons.
So far this year, over two starts, Correia has been exactly what the Twins were hoping for in his first season in the Twin Cities. He has pitched at least seven innings in both appearances and given up just five earned runs on the season.
He hasn't missed a ton of bats with just three strikeouts to speak of, but he's kept his team in the game, though his Twins offense has not given him much run support early on.
Mid-April Grade: B (2-0, 3.57 ERA, 5.1 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.415 WHIP)
Following Jon Niese's impressive breakout campaign in 2012, the Mets expected a lot of the left-hander coming into the 2013 season. So far, though, he's been a fortunate recipient of some unexpected offense from the Mets lineup, most notably in his most recent start against the Minnesota Twins.
On Friday night, pitching around snow flurries in Minneapolis, Niese surrendered four earned runs to the Twins over five innings. But the Mets put up 16 runs in his support, giving him his second win of the season.
With only 10 strikeouts on the year, the Mets hope he can start missing some more bats and would love for him to start going deeper into games as the season progresses, though he did go 6.2 impressive innings on Opening Day.
Mid-April Grade: B+ (2-1, 2.25 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.350 WHIP)
After a rough start to the 2013 season, it's back to business for CC Sabathia.
The burly left-hander allowed four earned runs over five innings to the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day en route to an 8-2 loss. But since then, the Yankees ace has been practically unhittable. In his two subsequent starts, Sabathia allowed a total of two runs (one earned) while recording 13 of his 18 season strikeouts.
At a time where injuries and ineffectiveness run rampant through the Yankees lineup, it's critical for Sabathia to maintain course and lead the Bombers rotation in 2013.
Mid-April Grade: B (1-2, 4.34 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 1.393 WHIP)
Brett Anderson, the Oakland A's young left-hander, was highly touted when he debuted in 2009. But after an impressive rookie season, Anderson has been riddled with injuries and hasn't made 20 starts since his debut campaign.
Now, in 2013, Oakland has tabbed him with leading an equally young rotation following its magical 2012 season. His season got off to a good start with two consecutive quality starts. But a snap back to reality will show that those two starts came against the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros—not exactly murderers' row.
In his most recent start on Saturday he fell victim to a tough Detroit Tigers lineup, surrendering seven earned runs in 5.2 innings.
If he can remain healthy for the majority of the season, Anderson can certainly put together a fine campaign. But he'll have to maintain control on the mound to be successful (he's walked nine batters, compared to his 18 strikeouts).
Mid-April Grade: B- (1-2, 7.63 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.565 WHIP)
Well, that's more like it. After a horrendous spring training, Roy Halladay got off to the worst start of his career with two abysmal starts. Against the Atlanta Braves in his first start, he lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits and three walks (though he did strike out nine batters).
Next came the New York Mets, and this time Halladay surrendered seven earned runs in four innings. After those two starts, Doc's ERA was up in the stratosphere at 14.73.
But on Sunday he looked more like himself against the Miami Marlins. He twirled eight brilliant innings, allowing just one run on five hits. Granted, it is the Marlins, with one of the worst offenses in the league, but Halladay needed something to right the ship, and hopefully this was the turning point for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Mid-April Grade: B+ (0-2, 3.71 ERA, 14.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.412 WHIP)
A.J. Burnett's downfalls so far in 2013 really haven't been his fault. In 17 innings, he has struck out 27 batters, leading to a lot of deep counts and high pitch totals. In three starts, he has reached 98, 108 and 106 pitches respectively, never pitching more than six innings in any of them.
That, coupled with the lack of run support the Pittsburgh Pirates have given him, has resulted in two losses and a no-decision—the latter of which came on Friday night after Andrew McCutchen provided late-inning heroics against the Cincinnati Reds.
Burnett is the ace and the horse of the staff. As the season progresses into the summer months, as long as he's healthy, the right-hander should start racking up the innings and continue to be a steady force for the Buccos.
Mid-April Grade: D (0-3, 11.68 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 2.270 WHIP)
Remember when, prior to the 2008 season, the Cincinnati Reds acquired Edinson Volquez from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Josh Hamilton? And remember when Volquez won 17 games for the Reds as an All-Star that season? Seems like ages ago, doesn't it?
Now in his second season in San Diego, Volquez was expected to be the horse of the rotation. Instead, he's been the goat thus far. In 2013, he's made three starts, and it's rather difficult to find the best of the three. He's given up a whopping 21 hits and 16 earned runs over a cumulative 12.1 innings pitched.
There's still time for the right-hander to correct course and right the ship, but he'd better fix his issues quickly if the Padres hope to stay afloat in the NL West in 2013.
Mid-April Grade: B (0-1, 5.94 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.380 WHIP)
If it weren't for an abnormal stinker in his second start, San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain would almost certainly receive an A.
On April 7, Cain coughed up nine earned runs to the St. Louis Cardinals in 3.2 innings, with all nine runs coming in the fourth inning. The Giants wound up getting pounded 14-3 by the Cardinals.
His other two starts were much more Cain-like, however.
On Opening Day, he fired six shutout innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers but fell to another ace, Clayton Kershaw. In Cain's most recent start on Friday, he gave up two earned runs in seven innings against the Chicago Cubs, recording a no-decision. He struck out six and walked a pair.
The game against the Cardinals is an abnormality for Cain. The last time he gave up nine or more runs was against the Cardinals as well, back in April 2008.
Mid-April Grade: B (1-2, 3.05 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.161 WHIP)
The start of the 2013 season has been rather uncharacteristic for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner. After tossing 7.2 shutout innings on Opening Day against the Oakland A's, Felix Hernandez has coughed up four runs in both of his subsequent starts (including one unearned run).
What's even more noticeable is his lack of strikeouts. He recorded eight punchouts in the opener but has just eight more combined in the other two starts. There is a concern over his drop in velocity, and after inking a huge contract extension during the offseason, concern may be warranted.
Still, it's far too early to panic about the results for King Felix. As long as there's no physical ailment causing the poor performances, he should be just fine going forward.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-1, 2.05 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 1.000 WHIP)
You would never know the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander missed the entire 2011 season by the way he has been throwing the ball of late. In particular, he's been just about phenomenal in 2013.
In three starts, he has allowed just five earned runs and recorded 24 strikeouts. He has yet to walk a single batter, nor has he given up a home run.
He had a rather rough start on Opening Day, allowing four runs (three earned) on 11 hits to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But he shined in his latest start on Saturday. He twirled a complete-game, four-hit shutout against the Brewers. He struck out an even dozen on the afternoon and looks poised to have possibly the best season of his impressive career.
Mid-April Grade: B- (0-1, 5.82 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.647 WHIP)
In two of his three starts, David Price has looked like himself. But there was the forgettable start on April 7 against the Cleveland Indians that has ballooned the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner's ERA. In that start, he allowed a career-high eight earned runs in five innings en route to a 13-0 defeat.
That anomaly aside, though, Price has looked fine. On Opening Day, he took a no-decision against the Orioles, pitching six innings and allowing just two earned runs, and on Saturday, he and the Red Sox's Jon Lester matched up in a pitcher's duel at Fenway. Price struck out eight and allowed one run in six innings.
The left-hander will be fine moving forward for the rest of the season. After all, even the greatest pitchers are susceptible to one or two rough starts.
Mid-April Grade: A (2-1, 2.75 ERA, 12.8 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.763 WHIP)
So far in 2013, Yu Darvish has picked right up where he left off in 2012. Over three starts, he has yet to allow a home run and has recorded a league-best 28 strikeouts (including 14 in his first start against the Houston Astros).
He's developed a blister on his pitching hand that has pushed his next start back a couple of days. But he showed no ill signs in his start on Friday, when he struck out eight Mariners in six innings. He allowed three earned runs and got saddled with a loss, but the Rangers' bats forgot to show up, as they could only muster up one run.
As long as the blister issue doesn't escalate, Darvish looks poised to build on his solid rookie campaign and should be in line for a very nice season in 2013.
Mid-April Grade: C+ (1-2, 5.82 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.647 WHIP)
After R.A. Dickey silenced critics by winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2012, the New York Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter. Toronto expected Dickey, as part of a revamped and powerhouse ballclub, to maintain his newfound success and lead the Jays rotation. So far, however, the results have been less than spectacular.
In his first two starts of the season Dickey allowed 10 earned runs over 10.2 innings, striking out only three more batters than he walked.
However, he improved in his latest start on Saturday, allowing just one earned run over 6.1 innings against the Kansas City Royals. He only had four strikeouts, but he picked up his first victory of the season and looked more like the knuckleballer everyone saw in 2012.
Hopefully for the Blue Jays, their new ace can build on his last start and keep momentum on his side.
Mid-April Grade: A (1-2, 2.95 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.200 WHIP)
After the controversy surrounding Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg last year, there was (and still is) a lot of anticipation to see what the hard-throwing righty can do in a full big league season.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the team expects Strasburg to pitch a full season for the first time in his career. So far, he has made three starts, totaling 18.1 innings. He dominated the Miami Marlins on Opening Day but struggled mightily in his second start against the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed a career-high six earned runs over 5.1 innings, striking out five and walking four.
However, he rebounded nicely against a tough opponent in the Atlanta Braves on Saturday. In six innings, he gave up two unearned runs and struck out seven while walking just one. Unfortunately, Tim Hudson was even better for the Braves, and Strasburg had to settle for his second loss of the season.
With his poor start forgotten about, Strasburg has looked locked in to start the new season, with all of the distractions from a year ago completely behind him.