Saturday, July 13, 2013

No Ace In the Hole

St. Louis has Adam Wainwright.  For the Dodgers, there is Clayton Kershaw.  And while the Braves got to him on Thursday night, the Reds do have Mat Latos and also, No-Hitter Homer Bailey.  Chasing Atlanta, the Nationals have Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.
But the Atlanta Braves don't have an ace.  I don't use that phrase as a cliche.  Atlanta lacks the number one pitcher who matches up with an opposing team's number one.  Their top pitcher if fWAR is Mike Minor, who ranks 31st in baseball with 2.0 WAR.  Of the 30 that are ahead of him, three pitch for the Cardinals, two are Reds, one is a National, another is a Dodger, and one is a Diamondback.  These are teams the Braves would likely have to go through in the playoffs.  Of the NL contenders, only the Pirates have a similar problem.  While former Braves farmhand Jeff Locke is an All-Star, he is 60th in fWAR.  Teammate A.J. Burnett is 50th. 

The Braves counter the idea of having an ace with having depth.  After Minor at 31st in fWAR, Julio Teheran is 47th, Tim Hudson is 48th.  Kris Medlen ranks 65th and Paul Maholm is 66.  93 different major leaguers qualify or the ERA title and thus rank among starters in WAR.  No starter is bad, but none is great. 

How concerning is this?  When was the last time a team won the World Series without a pitcher ranking in the Top 30 in fWAR?  The 1999 New York Yankees.  Much like Atlanta, it's not that the Yankees didn't have any good starters.  David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, and Roger Clemens were good for the time period while Andy Pettitte and Hideki Irabu gave the Yankees at least 360 average innings.  Cone finished 31st in WAR, Hernandez 33rd, and Clemens 41st. 

Now, despite their lack of a true stud on top of their rotation, the Yankees finished second in ERA and third in K's in the American League.  The Braves are second in the NL in ERA and 8th in K's.  The big difference between the two squads is, of course, the offense.  The 1999 Yanks had two regulars with an OPS under .800.  The Braves have half of their lineup under .800 and often, they are significantly well under .800. 

However, is it concerning if the Braves fail to have a player in the Top 30 fWAR.  Yes, it can be.  Obviously, you would rather have a guy who is considered ace-quality to match up in a possible Game One with Wainwright or Kershaw.  And considering Atlanta's feast-or-famine tendancies on offense, the Braves might need their starters to trade goose-eggs with the elite hurlers.

But the Braves do have some hope here.  Minor's numbers were much better before a recent slide.  Teheran has slid a little of late, too.  Medlen was tremendous down the stretch last year.  And who knows where and if Brandon Beachy fits over the last two-plus months.  Not having a full-season ace does not have to mean you don't have a guy pitching like one in September and October.  The Braves will probably have to have a starter pitching out-of-his-mind late to have a shot in October. 

If not...hopefully, the Legend of Evan Gattis grows tenfold in October.

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