The Dying Art of the Ace Pitchers in Major League Baseball
*****WRITTEN BY ESPN 99.1 INTERN MAX "ALAN" BOYUM. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER******
Are “ace-pitchers” overrated?
Somewhere, right now, Bryce Harper is smiling as he looks at his league-wide to-do list, “Make Baseball Fun Again” - Check.
This postseason has captivated the nation by delivering a plethora of exciting matchups that eventually featured the country’s four biggest markets, population-wise, in both the AL and NL Championship series.
Watching the postseason unfold, my reaction quickly became, “What is the point of having a starting pitcher that you expect to give you a quality start, when they end up barely lasting three innings?”
For the purposes of this observation, I’m not going to fall victim to the alleged conspiracy surrounding the baseballs and whether they are “juiced” or not. Didn’t baseball become a pitcher’s league? Weren’t we at the pinnacle of pitchers where teams’ offenses were reduced to swinging buffoons? What happened?
The last three seasons have shown a steady increase in strikeouts, but we have also seen a similar increase in homeruns. In fact, according to Baseball Reference, we saw the most league-wide homeruns for a single season in Major League history.
In 2013, The Week ran a story titled, “How Major League Baseball became a pitchers' league.” Looking back, that seems like a bit of an overreaction. Offenses today seem as potent as they have ever been, which begs the question, should we move beyond the era of the traditional starting pitcher?
Up until the start of the World Series, starting postseason pitchers averaged 423 innings and had an average ERA of 6.82. There are few teams in the league that can boast an actual ace, but for the 26 other teams that don’t have their go-to Verlander, Kershaw, Scherzer, or Sale, what is there to do?
Most teams can tip their caps to someone they consider their ace but the likes of Corey Kluber, Luis Serverino and Doug Fister all underperformed at times. It is time for these ace-less teams to follow the lead of the NFL and NBA and focus more on building their teams around athletes, rather than position players. Think of the mindset of the NFL teams who drafted players like Heisman-contender Christian McCaffrey and Prince of the Position-less Jabrill Peppers. Skill position players in the NFL are becoming obsolete as these players aren’t limited to just one position and thrive through their practicality. It is more apparent in the NBA. What we knew at as 1-5 position league is dead when LeBron can successfully play all of those positions and future players like Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are transcending what is “normal” day in and day out.
Instead of throwing starting pitcher money at a guy who more than likely won’t be worth the multi-year deal **cough Matt Cain cough** - instead, teams could throw shorter contracts and smaller amounts at relief pitchers, who, combined, could be an ace.
This postseason proved to be showtime for teams’ bullpens. We saw the likes of the Yankees, the Indians and the Dodgers flex their bullpens when their starting pitchers underperformed. With a lethal combination of speed, rest and variety, these teams forced opposing offenses to try and jump out to an early lead in hopes of avoiding these stellar bullpens.
Is this something that will work? Maybe. Is it feasible? Absolutely. You can’t tell me that teams like the Tigers and the Giants aren’t looking for a way to beat division aces who don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, Kershaw and Kluber. To me, most of the bottom-tier teams have nothing else to lose and need any competitive advantage they can.