The debate has been going on ever since the Sox sent Jon Lester out west. The fire was fueled more recently by comments by Cherington saying that an ace is nice to have, but wasn’t going to be the sole focus of this team. That sounds like a pretty sound strategy to me. But, it didn’t stop the questions. What are the Sox going to do next year without an ace?
My favorite part of that question is that it’s the first time that I’ve almost universally heard Lester referred to as an ace. But, that’s another matter.
Or, is it?
I guess this whole thing hinges on what you call an ace. Does every team have an ace? Personally, I say no. Sure, everyone has an ace of their staff. For instance, the Sox ace right now is probably Clay Buchholz. But, in every five man ranking, someone has to be on top. Even if only by default. That doesn’t make Clay an “ace.” In the last 20 years or so, I’d say the Sox have only had one ace. Unless you count Beckett for one season…or maybe just the postseason. To me when your ace pitches, you expect to win. When Pedro pitched, I expected the Sox to win. When Pedro got a lead, he didn’t give it up. If the Sox lost four in a row, the streak ended with Pedro. You almost didn’t have to watch the game, unless it was to see what record he might set. Contrast that with someone like Curt Schilling, or Lester himself. When they pitched, I knew the Sox had a good shot. Depending on the opposing pitcher, maybe a really good shot. Curt would keep the Sox in the game and give them a chance to win. With Pedro? I didn’t care who the opposing pitcher was. Pedro didn’t keep the Sox in the game. He kept the opposing team out of the game.
So, can the Sox win the World Series without an ace? Of course. They just did it last year. The Giants have done it a couple times. Is it better if you have an ace? Absolutely. But, as Cherington pointed out, you need the rest of the team too.
Remember Pedro’s glory years? The Pedro-Saberhagen led rotation? Pedro was such an ace that he almost carried those teams to the World Series himself. Almost. But, he needed a team around him. Even Pedro. In those years, I often wondered if teams were better off in the playoffs throwing their worst pitchers against Pedro. He was going to lose anyway. Why not save their best pitcher to actually get a win against someone else. Imagine if the Indians had shifted Colon off Pedro.
Which is sort of what an ace-less staff would do. Say the Sox went out this offseason and spent on a big ace. Lester, if he’s suddenly an ace. Or Scherzer. Or whatever they can get. But, then are left with Clay and three youngsters to finish it off. Sure, the guy at the top would win most of his starts. But, the Sox would lose most of the others. What if, instead, the Sox filled their staff with #2 caliber pitchers? Instead of overpaying for an ace, they filled the entire staff with really good pitchers. As you go through the season, you’d be facing another team’s 1-2-3-4-5 rotation, but countering that with a 2-2-3-3-4. So, if you go on paper…1 beats 2, 2 beats 3 and so on…In those five games, the Sox would go 3-2, assuming you split the 2-2 and 3-3 games. That’s better than 1-4.
And, that’s assuming that they go as they would on paper. But, was John Lackey the ace of the Red Sox last season? I’m thinking “no.” But, did he beat the aces of other teams? I’m thinking “yes.” He even took down a couple true aces along the way in Price and Verlander. Would the Pedro-Saberhagen rotation have been able to do that? If Pedro wasn’t facing them? Doubt it. But, because the Sox rotation had balance instead of being top-heavy they were able to beat three teams in the playoffs that had pitchers who might have been true aces.
Naturally, I’m not saying the Sox would have been worse off last year if ’99-’00 Pedro was at the top of the rotation, taking the place of Peavy’s starts. As Cherington said, an ace is certainly something every team would like. And, I would certainly endorse spending every cent of John Henry’s money to get a rotation full of aces. But, since nobody has one of those at the moment, a balanced attack might just be the way to go. It worked last year.
Why not next year?