As the Nats merrily roll along...
I think in the past week I've heard each pitcher on the Nats staff described as the "ace". It's a completely arbitrary and unimportant distinction that might have been settled for the time being by another completely arbitrary and unimportant distinction. Jordan Zimmermann got named to the All-Star team, no one else did - so he's the ace! Right?
Well I don't really care but hey, it's a Monday the Nats are rolling. Werth, Zimmerman, Ramos, and Desmond are all hitting. Even Span isn't doing bad. So unless you want to focus on a slow start by Bryce back from injury (which is completely expected) we've really got no issues to discuss right now. So let's delve into the mind of the John Q Fan. Who should be the Nats "ace"?
If you're looking at who is the best pitcher - just flat out who has the best stuff - of course that falls to Strasburg. Leads the starters in K/9 by more than a strikeout over #2 Gio and is 2nd in the majors. Leads in K/BB too and is 5th in the majors in that. xFIP is 3rd lowest in the majors which suggests (but doesn't verify - let's not confuse the two) that if everything broke fairly for Stephen he'd be among the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately the results don't line up with this. It may be unfair to pin the W/L record on him, but we're not talking about being fair, we're talking about calling a guy an "ace". An ace is still supposed to produce wins and Stephen hasn't done anything special. Everyone on the Nats has 7 or 6 wins and is over .500.
So what about the All-Star Jordan Zimmermann? Best ERA on the team, good fancy stats (xFIP good, 2nd out of starters in K%-BB% (17th in MLB to Stras's 2nd)). Plus fans love him for reasons I can't really explain. I mean come on, it's not like he's brimming with personality and he pretty openly has talked about leaving the team when his time is up. Another thing about Zimmermann is that his "ace-ness" is based more on consistency than electric performance. By the Game Score metric ZNN only 3 of the Top 20 performances (though all in the Top 10). 7IP and 2 runs is nice but "ace"?
Who is the shut-down guy? Well that's probably Gio. He owns 7 of the Top 20 performances and 2 of the Top 5. If you asked me which Nats pitcher is most likely to go 8 innings, strikeout 10, and give up no runs, I'd bet on Gio. Of course the flipside is that Gio gives you the stinker more often than any other guy (3 of the bottom 10 performances). An ace is someone you can count on to shut down the other team not someone who might bomb out.
Fister is the guy least likely to give you a bad performance. Since that Oakland game to start out the season, he's given two mediocre outings and the rest have been good to very good. He's got the best results, too with a 7-2 record, tied for most wins on staff despite missing a month. For nonsense like this, that matters. But he lacks the great performance and he may not have the stuff to get it. Fister's stuff makes ZNN look like Nolan Ryan. Working that no-walk, GB thing to the extreme he's a very good pitcher that no one is afraid of because they can get the bat on the ball. Plus he's new.
Roark? It's not Roark. He is tied for the team lead in wins and has two of the best three starts for the team. But really you are going to hang the "ace" title on someone who is 7-6, is easily the 5th most accomplished pitcher for his career on the staff, and even this year ranks maybe 3rd out of the starters? A guy who in his last two starts (both vs the Cubs mind you) have given up 19 hits and 8 runs in 13 innings? That's your "ace"?
So again "who cares" is going to win out if you are asking my honest opinion, but let's finish this exercise. I'm ruling out Roark because he's Roark. I don't trust him and he's either gone out early or been hit hard in his last 5 starts. He may be a good pitcher but he's no one's ace. I'm going to cut Gio next because like I said Gio can very easily go out there and give up 8 runs in 3 innings and no one would be surprised. In fact I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen again by August. That's not an ace. I'll pull Strasburg off the table now. If this was a "best pitcher" argument, he could win, but it isn't. This is about feelings and even though it makes no sense Strasburg giving up 3 runs in 7IP feels like a failure while ZNN or Fister doing it would feel like a success. Your ace doesn't constantly disappoint if you have a choice.
So Fister or ZNN? Despite the nearly perfect post-Oakland run, I'm going to go with ZNN, mainly because he won 19 games last year, and he made the All-Star game which are big things when it comes to nonsense like calling someone an "ace".
Now would he be an "elite" NFL QB?