Projecting Each MLB Team's Pitching Ace 5 Years from Now
Let's pretend for a few minutes that you've just been named the new general manager of your favorite team.
Congratulations on your new gig, but it's time to get down to business.
According to someone who knows more about computers and projections than you could possibly understand, the 2018 season is shaping up to be a World Series that your franchise can win if it plays its cards right.
Coincidentally, every starting pitcher within the organization is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, and there's only enough money in the budget to sign one guy through 2018.
(I did warn you that we're using our imaginations here.)
Which guy would you choose to keep?
That's the mindset from which these possible, eventual aces were chosen.
We'll start out with some healthy debates over 10 teams with several viable options and close with the remaining teams for which the decision is a no-brainer for one reason or the other.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Monday, June 10.
Possible Candidates: Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran
The Braves have an embarrassment of riches in their pitching staff. So much so that even the manager doesn't know what to do when Beachy returns from the DL.
The stats on these four guys as starters over the past two-plus seasons are just unfair. The highest ERA of the bunch is Minor's 3.71. The lowest K/9 is Teheran's 6.55. The eldest statesman is Kris Medlen at 27 years old.
If upper management can keep the whole band together for another few seasons, they'll more than likely become the next fanbase to start wearing those annoying four aces shirts.
But we have to pick one guy to become the ace of spades, and my money is on Mike Minor.
Over the past calendar year, he has the fourth-lowest ERA in the majors. In terms of wins, strikeouts and ERA, he has indisputably been the ace of the staff so far this season. He's only 25 years old, so who's to say he isn't going to get even better?
We'll give a nod to Teheran as a strong candidate as well, since he's three years younger than Minor and had a near no-hitter that's still fresh in our mind.
I'd shy away from Beachy because his violent delivery could make him prone to more injuries in the future. I wouldn't pick Medlen, either, because this is his fifth season in the majors, and he has yet to make more than 14 starts in a season due to a combination of injuries and simply bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation.
Possible Candidates: Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman
Take your pick from these unproven poisons.
Bundy was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. His legend spread like wildfire last season while he pitched 30 innings for the Orioles' Single-A affiliate—the Delmarva Shorebirds. During those eight starts—none of which lasted more than five innings—Bundy had 40 strikeouts against two walks and didn't allow a single earned run to score.
As he got promoted to high-A ball and eventually Double-A, his ERA and walk rate increased while his strikeout numbers decreased. Coupled with the arm injury that has kept him from pitching all season, the allure has dissipated a bit, but there's still a lot of understandable optimism that he could be the guy of the future.
Kevin Gausman was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He didn't do much of anything in the farm system that year, but pitched very well this season for the Bowie Baysox (Baltimore's Double-A affiliate) before getting the call to the majors a few weeks ago.
The big leagues haven't been very kind to the rookie.
He did pick up a quality start against the Tigers, but that came sandwiched between a pair of seven-run outings against the Nationals and the Rays.
If forced to choose between the two guys today, I'd go with Gausman. When in doubt, choose the guy who's healthy and already in the majors. Gausman's 8.84 ERA will eventually come way down as he makes the necessary adjustments to facing major league bats.
Possible Candidates: Tony Cingrani, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos
Quite the trio of young intrigue here.
Starting with the youngest of the bunch, Cingrani has posted a double-digit K/9 rate at each level in each season of his brief career. Save for getting victimized by seven home run balls in his six starts, Cingrani dazzled while filling in for Cueto earlier this season.
Speaking of Cueto, he's working on his third consecutive season with an ERA below 2.80. He has improved his strikeout rate in each of those seasons and has done a stellar job of limiting home runs while pitching home games in the Great American Ballpark.
However, Mat Latos has quietly been one of the best and most durable pitchers over the past three-plus seasons. His 3.25 ERA since the start of the 2010 season ranks 14th among pitchers that have logged at least 650 innings pitched. That puts him just behind Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia and a little bit ahead of Tim Hudson and James Shields.
His 8.47 K/9 ranks 12th among the same group of players, between established whiff masters David Price and Anibal Sanchez.
He's only 25 years old and already has ace material. This seems like a good time to remind you that the Padres traded Latos away two years ago for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez.
Possible Candidates: Trevor Bauer, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister
I'm not particularly fond of any of these options.
Trevor Bauer is possibly the most frustrating pitcher in all of baseball right now. There's so much talent there, but seemingly no control whatsoever. He's like Carlos Marmol or Henry Rodriguez if you had to rely on them for six innings per appearance. (Apologies to Cubs and Nationals fans for inducing that gag reflex.)
His best walk rate at any stop in his career was 3.84 BB/9 in 14 starts with the Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate in 2012. That's his best. And there are only seven qualified starters over the past two years who have been worse.
In two trial runs in the majors, he walked 28 batters in 32.2 innings. Among the 487 pitchers with at least 30 innings of work since the beginning of the 2012 season, Bauer's is the worst walk rate. Do you really want to let your 2018 World Series hopes hinge on him?
Then you've got Dr. Justin and Mr. Masterson. Excluding this season, Masterson has had two seasons with an ERA below 3.25 and three seasons with an ERA over 4.50 and nothing in between. He's either giving you borderline ace stuff or borderline Triple-A stuff, and there's no way to tell what you're going to get.
That's why my vote is for McAllister. He's not exactly an ace today, but he has the best chance at being there five years from now.
Possible Candidates: Jose Alvarez, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander
If you've started a game for the Tigers this season, you're a strong candidate to be an ace five years from now.
Jose Alvarez gets a vote because he'll theoretically be hitting his prime as a 28-year-old at the start of the 2018 season. He has been hit-or-miss in the minors over the past few years, but if 2013 is a sign of things to come, watch out American League Central.
Doug Fister gets a vote for having the fifth-best K/BB ratio in the majors and for having an impressive 3.09 FIP over the past two-plus seasons. He is sixth among all pitchers in WAR since the start of the 2011 season.
Rick Porcello gets a vote because he's only 24 years old and has already logged more than 750 innings in the majors. His strikeout rate is at a career high and his walk rate is the lowest it has ever been. He might finally be figuring this game out.
Justin Verlander gets a vote because he's Justin Freaking Verlander. If the Tigers were willing to sign him to a $180 million extension through 2019, you have to assume they think he'll still be an ace in 2018.
Max Scherzer gets my vote, though. He has the stuff to win a pitching triple crown (league leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts) and will "only" be 33 years old at the start of the 2018 season. He isn't far behind Fister in K/BB, he isn't far behind Sanchez in K/9 and he shouldn't be far behind Justin Verlander when it comes to signing massive contract extensions.
Possible Candidates: Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily
Despite that love fest over the Detroit Tigers pitching staff, I believe the A's are in the position to have the most terrifyingly dominant pitching staff over the next decade.
Tommy Milone is almost a full year older than any of the other candidates, and he doesn't turn 27 until next February.
If you can only pick one, though, you're more than likely going with Jarrod Parker.
Parker got off to a rough start in 2013, but he's still a 24-year-old with a career ERA of 3.74 that should only improve with age and increased control. According to the A's depth chart on ESPN, he's already the ace of the staff.
He's young enough to maintain that role for another decade.
Possible Candidates: Tyler Cloyd, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone
With Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee presumably out of the picture, we're left to decide whether the ace of the Phillies' future will come from a pair of guys currently playing second fiddle or a pair of names that no casual fan has likely heard.
Cole Hamels might be the best option, but maybe not the safest one. He'll be 34 at the start of the 2018 season, and starters at least that age have been a bit all over the map so far this season. Cliff Lee has been typically outstanding, but Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse and Jason Marquis appear to have worn down drastically.
Kyle Kendrick is only eight months younger than Hamels, but he doesn't have that typical ace material. He has a career WAR of 3.7, K/9 of 4.76 and K/BB of 1.84. Not only does he not strike as an ace right now, but with those peripheral numbers and a career ERA of 4.19, it doesn't appear he'll ever get there.
Tyler Cloyd is young enough to fit the description, but the 26-year-old doesn't appear to be good enough. Over his last 18 starts (including seven at Triple-A), Cloyd has a 5.19 ERA and has allowed 1.7 home runs per nine innings pitched.
That leaves Pettibone as the likely man to beat. The 22-year-old posted an ERA better than 3.50 in each of the past three seasons in the minors and has a 3.70 ERA in 10 starts this season with the big league club. Pettibone's K/9 and K/BB aren't much more intimidating than Kendrick's, but he also has six years of maturing to do before we start evaluating him the same way.
St. Louis Cardinals
Possible Candidates: Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha
It would appear that we've reached a point with the Cardinals where we can just trust every pitcher to be a stud the moment he "graduates" from the farm system.
Lance Lynn has been a strikeout machine in his two-plus years at the big league level and boasts a career FIP of 3.23. If he could reduce his BB/9 ratio by even 0.5 walks, he could be a legitimate Cy Young candidate for years to come.
If and when he's healthy, Jaime Garcia has been an extremely serviceable middle-of-the-rotation southpaw, posting a 3.45 ERA in 551 career innings of work.
Michael Wacha has been solid in his first two career starts, and he is the only person I've ever encountered that posted a negative FIP for a portion of their career—for whatever that's worth.
However, Shelby Miller is the guy you want. The 22-year-old has a 1.82 ERA in 89 career innings of work. His 9.81 K/9 is the sixth-highest among starting pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched since the start of 2012.
If you were starting a franchise from scratch today, would you honestly consider taking one of these other three options ahead of Miller?
Tampa Bay Rays
Possible Candidates: Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, David Price
Given those future options, it's no wonder the Rays were willing to trade away James Shields and Wade Davis for a guy they're apparently going to leave in the minors until he hits nine home runs in one game.
You're entitled to your opinion if you'd rather have one of the young guns, but my money would be invested in David Price.
2013 was not kind to Price before he landed on the DL, but we're talking about a 27-year-old guy who won the AL Cy Young in 2012 after finishing second in the balloting in 2010.
Your best-case scenario with the other Tampa Bay options is that they figure out how to correct the primary thing plaguing them to become the next David Price.
For example, Matt Moore is a great pitcher, but the sky-high walk rate that everyone has been warning you about for weeks has resulted in about two months' worth of regression condensed in a span of two terrible starts.
Until his name is no longer near the top of the BB/9 "leaderboard," it's hard to take him seriously as a long-term ace.
Until then, though, I'll continue presuming Price is the king until he's actually dethroned.
Possible Candidates: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann
I love Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez as much as the next guy, but this is a two-horse race for which you might as well just flip a coin and be happy with the result.
If you asked 100 Nationals fans which starting pitcher they would most want five years from now, 99 of those fans would say Strasburg.
The one fan that votes for Zimmermann would have a pretty compelling case, though.
His first two seasons were a little rough around the edges, but Zimmermann has recovered from Tommy John surgery to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. His 2.83 ERA since the start of the 2011 season is the sixth-best in baseball. His ERA since the start of last season is second to only Clayton Kershaw.
He doesn't have the ridiculous strikeout numbers that Strasburg has (no one does), but he gets the job done as well as anyone else in the league.
AL No-Brainers Part One (Certified Aces)
Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz
You'll quickly notice a theme with these no-brainers. If the guy is already the ace of the staff and is going to be under 35 in 2018, let's just assume he'll still be a stud then.
Buchholz will be 33 years old at the onset of the 2018 season, and he seems to have really figured out how to put it all together this season. Unless you're buying stock in Allen Webster or Felix Doubront, he'll be younger and better than any other option Boston has at the moment.
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale
The White Sox do have a couple of other solid, young options already at the big league level—most notably Jose Quintana—but Chris Sale is just 24 and already one of the best pitchers in the American league.
Houston Astros: Mark Appel
Of the last three pitchers to be taken first overall, David Price and Stephen Strasburg have fared pretty well, and we'll see on Tuesday night whether Gerrit Cole can carry his dominance in the minors into the majors.
Really, though, who else are you taking from the Astros' roster? Bud Norris? Brad Peacock?
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
Easily the biggest no-brainer out there. Not only is he a bonafide ace, but there's really no one else on the roster you would even consider.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
On many rosters, you could make a compelling case for Derek Holland, but not this one. Darvish is just a freak of nature on the mound, and you would be insane to let him go.
AL No-Brainers Part Two (Only Reasonable Choices)
Kansas City Royals: Danny Duffy
Of the guys currently in the starting rotation, Wade Davis is the only one who will be under the age of 34 at the start of 2018—and let's just say that Davis hasn't exactly inspired confidence as a starter in his career.
Chances are someone will demand justice for a more promising guy that I've never heard of from the Royals farm system, but I was starting to like what I saw from Duffy last season before his Tommy John surgery.
Los Angeles Angels: Tommy Hanson
Hanson is literally the only person listed as a SP on the Angels roster who will be under 35 in 2018. Even if there were other candidates, Hanson would be a solid one. He's just 26 and was very good from 2009-11.
Minnesota Twins: Scott Diamond
The Twins' Opening Day starter has already been demoted to Triple-A, so there's not a whole lot of competition here. Diamond hasn't much impressed in 2013 and is unlikely to ever post the prototypical strikeout numbers you expect from an ace, but the Twins' pitching situation is pretty dire.
New York Yankees: David Phelps
CC Sabathia will be 37 years old at the start of the 2018 season. Both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are already older than that.
Operating under the assumption that Michael Pineda will never be healthy and Phil Hughes will never figure out how to avoid having three-to-five memorably awful starts per season, Phelps is about all the Yankees have left.
Toronto Blue Jays: Sean Nolin
An honorable mention to Josh Johnson—who will be 34 at the start of the 2018 season—but he just can't seem to ever stay healthy.
NL No-Brainers Part One (Certified Aces)
Arizona Diamondbacks: Patrick Corbin
Maybe by the end of the season I'll be willing to welcome Tyler Skaggs into the discussion, but Corbin has been just unbelievably good all year long. Youth and consistent quality on the mound are rare, but beautiful bedfellows.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Hyun-Jin Ryu has impressed so far, but come on. If you could choose any pitcher in all of baseball to be your ace of the future, Kershaw would definitely be one of the three most popular picks.
Miami Marlins: Jose Fernandez
In reality, the 20-year-old is more likely to be an ace for virtually any other team in the league, since the Marlins will eventually sell him for parts. Thus far, though, it's hard not to like what we've seen from him. Jacob Turner might eventually give Fernandez a run for his money, but it's an easy decision at the moment.
New York Mets: Matt Harvey
With an honorable mention to the legend of Zack Wheeler, Harvey is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball right now.
San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner
A 23-year-old who is on pace for a third consecutive season with at least 190 strikeouts and a sub-4.00 ERA? Yes, please!
NL No-Brainers Part Two (Only Reasonable Choices)
Chicago Cubs: Jeff Samardzija
No disrespect to Travis Wood's incredible 2013 season, but he simply isn't ace material. Samardzija has much better top-of-the-rotation potential. His career K/9 is eighth-best in the majors since 2008.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
Tyler Chatwood has been solid through six starts this season, but his 46 appearances over the previous two seasons are the ones keeping you from wanting to commit to him long term. Juan Nicasio is young enough to fit the bill, but his control on the mound hasn't been the same since Ian Desmond nearly killed him with a line drive. That leaves Chacin as the de facto ace-to-be.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
Maybe two months ago this would have been a solid three-way debate including Hiram Burgos and Wily Peralta, but they have both been quite awful this season. Gallardo hasn't been that much better, but at least we've seen him pitch like an ace in pretty much every other season of his career.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole
A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez will most likely have retired by 2018, and no one in their right mind would sign an injury-prone Francisco Liriano to a long-term contract. That pretty much leaves Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole as the only viable options, and Locke's career BB/9 of 3.99 and FIP of 4.47 are pretty terrifying.
San Diego Padres: Joe Wieland?
If you have any friends or family members who are lifelong fans of the Padres, make sure you treat them well over the next decade or so. It's not looking like their favorite baseball team will be giving them much to smile about any time soon.
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