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Is Ervin Santana An Ace?

Teams are always looking for the one pitcher who can be their rock. The pitcher who always ends a team's losing streak. The pitcher who will pitch late into a game. The pitcher who lets the bullpen take the night off. The pitcher who is in contention for the Cy Young Award.

The Ace...

Unfortunately, there aren't exactly a plethora of aces lying around for teams to scoop up. It's been many years since the Twins have been able to call someone their ace. Johan Santana comes to mind but he hasn't put on a Twins jersey in close to a decade. In fact since Santana left, only two pitchers have led the Twins in WAR, Scott Baker and Kyle Gibson.

A spirited debate was circling Twitter over the weekend. Should Ervin Santana be considered an ace? He's off to a tremendous start but does he fit the criteria for being an ace.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
What Is An Ace?
Sporting News compiled a few different theorieswhen it comes to identifying an ace. Theory one was the best starting pitcher on each team. Santana clearly fits into this category as he leads the Twins staff in virtually every statistic. This theory has some holes as there are clearly teams who don't have an ace pitcher and their best starter shouldn't be considered an ace.

Theory two states that an ace should be among the top 30 starters in the league. Santana would fail into this category again as his fast start has him near the top of the league in multiple categories. However, 30 aces seems like a lot especially when combining both leagues to get to 60 pitchers. There aren't 60 aces across the baseball world.

Theory three says an ace should be better than a number one starter and theory four states that an ace should be higher than a chosen statistical threshold. Santana could meet both of those criteria this year but he clearly doesn't have the history to fit into the mold of an ace pitcher.

Santana's History
Santana has one lone All-Star selection in his career. That same season he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting and it was the only year he has received a vote. He only has one season where he has finished in the top-10 in WAR for pitchers. There have been two seasons where he finished in the top-10 for ERA and three seasons where he was in the top-10 for WHIP. He's done some good things during his career but his resume doesn't exactly scream ace.

This season he is on pace to finish the year near the top of the leader-board. Last week, I wrote about how it seems more likely for Santana to come back down to earth in the weeks ahead. His only hiccup has been against the Red Sox last Sunday. Based on his history, it seems like regression is on the horizon for Santana instead of the Twins planning a Cy Young press conference for the off-season.

The Curious Case of Rick Porcello
Last season, Rick Porcello came out of nowhere to win the AL Cy Young. He'd hardly shown up on any major leader-board through out his career. He'd never been an All-Star. In fact, he'd only posted a positive WAR in three of his first seven seasons. At the end of the season, he was awarded one of baseball's highest honors but there are very few people who would call Porcello an ace even with last year's hardware over his mantel.

Porcello seems to have morphed back into his true self this season. His ERA is north of 4.00 and he leads all of baseball in losses and hits allowed. His WHIP has moved back over 1.33 which is much closer to his career mark than the 1.01 WHIP he compiled in 2016. Baseball is a weird game and pitchers can have great seasons but that shouldn't qualify them as an ace.

Less Is More
While the theories discussed above show some ways to select baseball's aces, there are still plenty of flaws. If I am creating a list of aces in baseball, the list isn't going to be very long. To me, an ace needs to be a player who has shown consistency for multiple seasons while being a top pitcher in all of baseball.

Here are the pitchers I would consider aces from both leagues (in alphabetical order):
Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, David Price, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander

There are only ten players on my list of aces. Ervin Santana is nowhere near making the cut. He could end up having a Porcello-like season and be in contention for the Cy Young but that wouldn't change my mind about it. He's not an ace.

Do you think Ervin Santana is an ace? Who would make your list of current aces in baseball? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.


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55 Comments

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FlauerPauer
May 15 2017 08:44 PM

Doesn't matter if he helps the Twins make the playoffs.

    • Seth Stohs and SF Twins Fan like this

In the land of #5 starters, a #2.5 starter is an ACE.

 

But no, will not be seen as an ACE by other clubs at the trade deadline which is what matters most.

 

He IS a wonderful signing and a great pitcher to have.

    • Oldgoat_MN, HitInAPinch, Platoon and 1 other like this

For me, the problem here is defining "ace." You have referred to four theories, then added an additional qualification, which is "a player who has shown consistency for multiple seasons while being a top pitcher in all of baseball."

 

It seems to me that if you drop the multiple seasons test, then Santana is easily an ace. I would also argue that Liriano was an ace for one season.

 

As a long-suffering Twins fan, I am just glad that we can even argue that a Twins starter is an ace. It makes me happy to think that we will have an ace on the mound at least once in every 5 games, so you sadden me a little when you question Santana's ace status.

 

I also wonder when bad pitching for a while makes a starter stop being an ace. Here is an article about that:  http://www.cbssports...b-ace-pitchers/

 

Perhaps the solution is to break this down into two categories -- current aces and long-term aces?

 

 

    • Mike Sixel and gil4 like this

I think there are very few ACEs (5-10 at most).

 

They need to consistently (>2 yrs) be able to dominate elite hitters and line ups hopefully to include high pressure playoff situations if needed. 

    • chpettit19 likes this
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Bill Brown69
May 15 2017 09:17 PM

Top of my head but Zack Grienke was't an ACE last year so ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

 

I would define an ACE as the top 10 pitchers in baseball each year with a select few being on that list multiple times. For those I would use HOF to define them!

    • Circus Boy likes this

Combining both leagues to get 60 pitchers? There are not 60 teams in baseball. Makes the whole article suspect.

Do you also consider Sandy Koufax an ace? If you're going with guys like Felix who used to be aces, you kind of have to. Felix hasn't had an elite season since 2014. This isn't "who has been a great pitcher during their career".

 

Also, why didn't you explore the statistical basis theory (#4)? It's the only one that is actually interesting - #1 is barely a theory, #2 isn't particularly fascinating unless you like debating who the #25 to #35 pitchers are and #3 is basically a "which pitchers are great IMO" exercise. You stated that #4 existed but never stated anything to define or even open discussion on it. It's the only one with any scientific rigor.

    • 70charger and hybridbear like this

To answer the original question: no.He is an above average #3 starter who is going through a good stretch.

 

For the 2020 Twins, the current farm team will provide a number of wonderful 3-5 starters, and an above average bullpen.But (extrapolating to 2020 prices), a contender will have to buy two $30 million per starters.

 

Even with that, and with Polanco, Sano, Buxton, Kepler under some kind of team control, there could (insert prayer here) be a contending ball club for under $140 million.

    • Mike Sixel and chpettit19 like this
He's a staff ace for this team.

I equate him to what Radke was, Radke got the Twins to the cusp of contending, then Johan came along and got us to the next level.

Hopefully Berrios can be that.

Berrios and Santana could be a solid 1-2 IMO. Not perfect, but not bad.
    • Steve Lein, Mike Sixel, pbrezeasap and 6 others like this
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Turd Furgeson
May 16 2017 03:23 AM

I don't think he's an ace. He's playing like one this year and that's what matters but an ace is someone who has an elite skillset that has pitched 220+ innings in recent seasons. Consistency over multiple seasons is very important. 

    • h2oface and Don Walcott like this
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The Wise One
May 16 2017 03:47 AM

A pitcher is an Ace number 2, or number 3 is as pointless of debate as there is. Recent teams with great starters won what? Cody's list of Aces has how many rings between them for all of their seasons?Detroit, Tampa, the Mets, the Nationals have won how many with their Aces and Twos?Felix Hernandez has pitched how many times in the playoffs?Aces give you wonderful regular seasons. When the playoffs hit something happens. Players rising to the occasion. Many here on this site grouse about the Twins not winning but one series when they had their run under Gardenhire.Players that can rise to the occasion. Morris did in 91. Would not have had the chance without Puckett rising to the occasion.A Twin's  batter carrying the team during the playoffs during Gardenhire's tenure? Not that I can recallSo, it really did not matter that Santana was an Ace, Radke a two.Did it matter Volquez,, Ventura, Guthrie or Duffy in 2015 would not be anyone's idea of an Ace, or a two.Maybe not even a three.Cueto an Ace? A two?. His half regular season play in KC made him a four, or five?ALDS his play was at a high level. Toronto rocked him. Ace, not Ace, Ace for the WS?Labels do not really matter.

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this
He is the Twins Ace, and a nice solid MLB pitcher. As someone noted above if put out at the curb for the June garage sale, he will not be considered an Ace for trade purposes. We always overvalue our own players. But I will say this. Four pitchers like him, and another guy who could find his glove before the game would take you a long way!
    • Blackjack likes this
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...
    • brvama likes this

I'd define an ace as a showstopper, a losing streak stopper, and and innings eater; a pitcher who pitches above and beyond the norm in the league.  Instead of saying there should be XX number of aces, I would do some kind of statistical plot showing which pitchers are outliers from the glut of mediocre pitchers.  I can't find anything like this at the moment, but it's safe to say that Santana has been an Ace this year.

    • Vanimal46 and Don Walcott like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
May 16 2017 06:06 AM

To determine whether a pitcher is an ace, you must ask the following question: "The ace of what?" Is Ervin the ace of the Twins' 2017 starting pitchers? Yes. Is he the ace of the American League for 2017? So far this season, probably yes. Is he the ace of all MLB for 2017? Maybe...so far. Is he "an" ace of mlb for the last 10 years? No he is not. It all depends on the comparisons. Like most things in life, this question is one of relativity. Compared to what? But for us at Twins Daily we only need to ask, "Do I want him to pitch for the Twins every 5th day". Absolutely! 

    • brvama and DocBauer like this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 16 2017 06:20 AM

I'd argue 30 aces total and go with top 30 pitchers... just me.Probably still a bit higher there, as number 30 on the list may not be a shut down pitcher in the mold that we want..

 

that said, I'd call Santana a #2 at worst, as 2s can have ace seasons (which Santana is having thus far).No question so far though that he's an ace. If we are out of contention at the deadline, there's a real question as to whether to trade the 1.5 years of Santana for a prospect haul (and I'd have to think he'd get a nice return) or keep him. 

    • 70charger and goulik like this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 16 2017 07:11 AM

 

He's a staff ace for this team.

I equate him to what Radke was, Radke got the Twins to the cusp of contending, then Johan came along and got us to the next level.

Hopefully Berrios can be that.

Berrios and Santana could be a solid 1-2 IMO. Not perfect, but not bad.

Yeah, this is pretty much my take as well. Maybe "staff leader" is a good phrase for it; a veteran that posts good numbers and helps establish the younger guys.

 

In a perfect world, you'd like a third pitcher slotted somewhere ahead of Santana and possibly Berrios but if both can post ERAs south of 4.00 for the season, the Twins should do pretty well for themselves considering the offense.

    • ChiTownTwinsFan and Mike Sixel like this

If you have to ask the question whether someone is an ace, he's probably not an ace. Nothing wrong with it, as I believe there are only ~5 true ACES out there in baseball. 

 

Staff leader is a good term to describe Erv. He's been lights out and a good signing for this team. 

    • Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan, Platoon and 1 other like this

 

I'd define an ace as a showstopper, a losing streak stopper, and and innings eater; a pitcher who pitches above and beyond the norm in the league.  Instead of saying there should be XX number of aces, I would do some kind of statistical plot showing which pitchers are outliers from the glut of mediocre pitchers.  I can't find anything like this at the moment, but it's safe to say that Santana has been an Ace this year.

 

I agree with you definition of an ace. And through May 16th this season, Erv can be described as such. Another huge piece to truly being called an ace IMO is doing all of those things for several years in a row. That's where Erv falls short....

He is definitely the "Staff Ace," and he's throwing like a #1 so far this year, and did for a long stretch to end last year as well.

 

But no, I don't think he' fits in the true MLB "Ace" category, and as you mention, that is a really hard thing to do.

 

But who cares about that title, he's been really, really good and that's all that matters.

    • brvama and DocBauer like this

An Ace stops losing streaks, holds his own against the number 1 pitcher on the other team and sets the standard for the rotation.  So far this year Santana has been our ace and it does not matter what others are doing on their teams - he is our pitching leader.  He took Berrios under his wing, he has given us consistent performances and is the only pitcher that I currently expect to win or come close in every start. 

But on your list I think  Arrieta has fallen far from that rating, but was one the last two years,  Madison Bumgarner is injured but a true Ace among Aces, Zack Greinke is a number 2 and last year was not even that, Felix Hernandez has to figure something out or his Ace days are over, Clayton Kershaw ranks Ace of Aces with Bumgarner, Corey Kluber ace, David Price used to be an ace, Chris Sale is an Ace, Max Scherzer the third Ace among Aces, Justin Verlander is a shadow of his old Ace days.  

 

So we have three HOF type aces, some number one starter aces, and a lot of  downward spirals.  Few Aces sustain that rating so celebrate Santana's rise and enjoy it as long as it lasts. 

    • h2oface likes this
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birdwatcher
May 16 2017 08:21 AM

1-2; 1-2; 2-3; 2-3; 3-4; 3-4; 4​-5; 4-5; 5-6; 5-6; 6-7; 6-7;

 

This is how I think about pitchers.

 

In my mind, Ervin is a career 2-3 who is having a 1-2 season so far. I'm hoping he finishes by giving us a 1-2 full season. Or that someone takes stupid pills and gives us a 1-2 prospect haul at the deadline.

 

Hughes is a career 3-4 at best, giving us a 4-5 season at best so far.

    • Mike Sixel, Sssuperdave, h2oface and 2 others like this

Who cares? He's the best pitcher we have. Leave it at that.

    • The Wise One likes this

 

1-2; 1-2; 2-3; 2-3; 3-4; 3-4; 4​-5; 4-5; 5-6; 5-6; 6-7; 6-7;

 

This is how I think about pitchers.

 

In my mind, Ervin is a career 2-3 who is having a 1-2 season so far. I'm hoping he finishes by giving us a 1-2 full season. Or that someone takes stupid pills and gives us a 1-2 prospect haul at the deadline.

 

Hughes is a career 3-4 at best, giving us a 4-5 season at best so far.

 

Agreed.

    • h2oface likes this

He is a guy that I feel good about making starts if the Twins were to make the playoffs. That's all that matters to me. 

 

Do I see him as an "Ace?" No. But he's clearly the Twins ace, and he's been a good pitcher for a decade, minus a couple of seasons... 

 

 

    • Mike Sixel, pbrezeasap, DaveW and 1 other like this

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