Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Winning with Aces

There has been a lot of discussion this off-season about aces. Specifically, about the Red Sox lacking one. You need one if you’re going to compete, they say. Especially in the playoffs, you need that true ace to lead the way. Which, admittedly, is a valid point. It sure is handy if you have a true ace. If you can count those games as automatic wins, it makes it easier on your other starters. So, I wondered. How many Cy Young winners were also World Champions? How many pitchers added the award to their mantle the same year they added a ring to their finger? Well, the last time that happened was Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks. In 2001. Before that? Greg Maddux with the 1995 Braves. Those are the only two that I could come up with since the strike. So, it’s never happened with an AL team since then.


I then looked at World Series winners who even had a former Cy Young winner on the team. The problem with that is teams like the Giants and Red Sox the last three years who had pitchers like Peavy, Lincecum, and Zito on the team. They weren’t exactly pitching like an ace as they won their rings. Best I could tell, the last former Cy Young winner to lead his team to a ring was Sabathia with the 2009 Yankees. But, that might be up for debate.

What does that mean? Not a ton, obviously. After all, just because a player didn’t win the Cy Young Award, it doesn’t mean they weren’t a damn fine pitcher. Heck, Josh Beckett probably should have won the award in 2007 on his way to a ring. But, it does mean that in 18 of the last 20 years, the World Series Champion didn’t have the best pitcher in the league.

I’m also not suggesting that adding the Cy Young winner to any of the teams that won would have been a bad thing. All things being equal, replacing Jake Peavy with Clayton Kershaw last year would not have made the Giants any worse. (OK. Maybe Kershaw is a bad example.) But, I think it speaks to the balance that you need to have in a roster. After all, even with a true ace, you need 24 other guys as well. If you can’t get quality guys in those spots, it doesn’t matter how good the ace is. (See 1999-00 Pedro Martinez.)

Because, even with an ace, a couple things can happen. He can actually lose the games he pitches. Sometimes even an MVP like Kershaw gets lit up in a game, and the team loses. Then that win you were counting on goes away, and the rest of your scrubs have a much taller order. Or, the specifics of the playoffs come into play. Take Pedro in 1999. He won every game he pitched in the ALCS. But, because he needed to pitch game five of the ALDS, he only appeared in one ALCS game. The rest of the rotation couldn’t get him to a second start.

So, one way around that is to add more aces. After all, even Johnson had Schilling in 2001. And, the Braves #2 and #3 starters in 1995 weren’t exactly John Wasdin. Then you’re not relying on the single ace. You have multiple aces to fall back on.

But, then again, didn’t the Tigers just have a rotation with the three previous Cy Young winners in it? Didn’t they lose to an aceless Orioles team?

Or, you go the other way. I’ve laid it out here before. I always wondered if it was a better move to concede a game against Pedro in the playoffs. Throw a bullpen guy against him, and save your ace to win game two. Which is almost like what the Sox are looking at. Throw game one, but compete in all the others. Instead of winning the battle of the aces, win the battle of the #4.

That might just work as well as any other plan.

The Cy Young plan doesn’t work.

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