Let’s Define an Ace

Let’s define an ace. Together, I mean, while acknowledging it can’t really be done. Not conclusively, because of the reason leading to this post in the first place — there is no definition, and there never has been. No one has ever been in the presence of a stone tablet inscribed with a divine description of what makes an ace starting pitcher, so there’s plenty of leeway, making this one of the great baseball arguments. No one denies that there are obvious ace starting pitchers, just as no one denies that there are obvious Hall-of-Famers. The difference is where you draw the cut-off. There’s only one definition of, I don’t know, “bookshelf”. There are countless definitions of “ace”. For everyone who thinks about it, it’s a feel thing.

Neatly, though, feel things can be quantified. And that’s the goal of this post, which contains 20 very simple polls. Below, you’ll find the names of 20 starting pitchers, and then for each there’s the yes-or-no question: Is this pitcher an ace? And I want for you to reply based on however you feel. Maybe you have an immediate feeling, or maybe you want to think a little bit, in which case you’ll notice I’ve linked to the player pages. Think however much or little you want, then choose an answer and move on. You might be able to do all of them in less than a minute.

The pitchers were chosen semi-randomly, so not every good pitcher is included. Some names are surely going to get a lot more yes votes than others, and I’m interested in seeing where the support dips below 50%, assuming that it ever does. That’s my own arbitrary cutoff, but I’m keeping things simple — to me, if the majority of this community thinks a guy’s an ace, then he counts as an ace, even if he’s got one vote over half. When the results are in, then we can review them to see what makes a guy an ace, in the eyes of the community, and then why other pitchers fall short. The results won’t be inarguable, because all of this is subjective, but we can at least try to apply some logic to a nebulous idea.

It’s time to crowdsource the definition of an ace. In the end, we’ll have a definition plenty of people still disagree with. So it’s like trying to solve an unsolvable problem, but this should still be an illuminating exercise. Have fun! Or don’t. You’re your own boss.

Adam Wainwright

Carlos Carrasco

Carlos Martinez

Chris Archer

Clayton Kershaw

Dallas Keuchel

Danny Salazar

Garrett Richards

Gerrit Cole

Jacob deGrom

Johnny Cueto

Jose Fernandez

Jose Quintana

Justin Verlander

Marcus Stroman

Noah Syndergaard

Sonny Gray

Stephen Strasburg

Tyson Ross

Yu Darvish

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

I feel like this whole article could have been two words: Clayton Kershaw.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Just under 2% so far!

I'm Your Huckleberry
6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

I felt voting “No” for Kershaw was my duty to society

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

You should have included Roger Clemens to get the maximum dumb responses.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Kershaw is NOT “an ace”. He is THE ace.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jay_B

So you voted “No” then?

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

You gotta pay the poll troll if you want to get in that boys soul

6 years ago
Reply to  Aaron

So the list was arbitrary?? What about Zack Greinke (Yes), Mad Bumgarner (yes) or Felix Hernandez (yes)??

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

But why Wainwright then? Hasn’t pitched in a while, so who knows how he’ll look when he comes back.

Jason Bmember
6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

OMG ARE WE REALLY HAVING THIS DISCUSSION. Not everyone is included. These are selections of Jeff’s choosing. Lawd.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Wainwright is more interesting. Everybody knows what the answer to Kershaw will be, just like they know the answer to Greinke and Bumgarner and Felix. It’s the borderline guys (due to stuff, injury, youth/age, track record, whatever) that are the interesting cases. Verlander wouldn’t have been an interesting one in this list a few years ago, falling in the Kershawian Obvious camp then, but he’s more interesting question now.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

If by “hasn’t pitched in a while” you mean September and October 2015, then yes, like every other MLB pitcher he hasn’t pitched in a while.

Was he limited to just 28 regular-season innings in 2015 due to a non-pitching-related injury? Yes.

Was he a top-3 Cy Young finisher in 2013 and 2014? Yes and yes.

That’s an ace.

6 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlocker

Yes, it was arbitrary. That explains why all the other aces aren’t listed.

6 years ago
Reply to  Aaron

While he is a good example of an ace, he’s a terrible definition of one. Thus, every other pitcher, like say Roy Halladay, could never be an ace.