Nationals Baseball: Monday quickie - Who is the Nats ace?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Monday quickie - Who is the Nats ace?

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?


Jimmy said...

Znn number 1 for me as you know exactly what your going to get. That is quality pitching that will be good enough to win the game. Honestly I could buy arguments for all three of Gio, Stras, and Znn; however, Znn is who I feel the most confident in.

Donald said...

No real argument from me on this, though I think I'd still pick Strasburg for one reason. His stuff can be so electric that every start you get the feeling like you could see something historic. Two years ago, someone, maybe Boz, called it Strasmas for that special feeling of anticipation he got before a Strasburg start. I think the edge has certainly worn off of that a bit which is why Znn is a fine choice, but I would still rather watch Strasburg pitch.

Section 220 said...

Might as well hang the meaningless ace label on him now and enjoy it while we can, because someone's going to give him something like 6 years/150 million and it's not going to be the Nats.

Tyler said...

"7IP and 2 runs is nice but 'ace'?"

That could be an argument against Strasburg too. Not sure you can be an ace if you hardly ever pitch 8 innings. Another thing is, I've seen multiple starts of Strasburg's this year where he's started out strong and appeared to have his good stuff, but ended up going 6 IP, 1 R, or 7 IP, 3 R. The start in Pittsburgh comes to mind as an example. If you've got your good stuff and your an ace, you should be something close to dominant. You also probably don't want your ace to be a guy who shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes whenever someone makes an error behind him, but now I'm getting off track on things that don't really matter much, I guess.

Bryan said...

I've always thought of tiers of QBs rather than "elite" or not.

Teir 1 guys have all the tools, win consistently almost no matter what and can put it all on their back. Their performance varies, buts its almost always high level and can often dominate.

Tier 2 is good, and can perform like a Tier 1 guy, but lacks something, be it a tool, or the ability to carry a team or what have you. Their performance varies more - they can dominate, but more often they are just good and will sometimes throw in a clunker.

Tier 3 guys are just guys; too flawed to really be anything more, they are fine. They can perform really good, but rarely if ever dominate. Kyle Kendrick is a perfect example. He can be very good, but isn't often dominate, and he's also capable of long stretches of absolutely poor performance.

Tier 4 guys are just happy to have jobs.

Most of our pitchers are either Tier 1 or 2, with maybe Roark being 3 and flirting with 2?

If not one of those guys is "elite" (or an "ace" in this convo), I'm completely fine with that.

Bryan said...

Based on the above:

Tier 1: Stras, Gio
Tier 2: ZNN
Tier 3: Roark

I haven't seen enough of Fister to really know where to put him. I'm guessing somewhere above Tier 3, but not quite Tier 2 yet. Maybe I'm undervaluing him? I really like him, but I'm not sure I've seen enough to go higher.

JWLumley said...

First of all, when to NN openly discuss leaving the team when his time is up? This is cause for concern, down the road/future concern, but concern.

Personally, I'd go Fister. He's probably the most underrated pitcher in baseball even after the heist of the century in the offseason. Since 2011 he's 12th in all of baseball in fWAR among pitchers and 22nd in ERA despite playing in the AL. He's also the best fielding pitcher in baseball and is literally the only adult I've ever seen with more energy than my 6 year old. I love NN too though, so stoic, very humble and just paints. I think he's kicking it into another gear and will soon be the Nats clear and undisputed "Ace" as well as one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball.

I love Gio too, he's probably the most likely pitcher in baseball to start talking to the baseball and go all Mark Fydrych (sp?). He defines effectively wild and he's the guy I most enjoy watching pitch.

DezoPenguin said...


Based on his last several years of performance, Fister's clearly what you'd call Tier 2. Lack of Strasburg's overwhelming stuff keeps him from being a true "ace," but the results over time speak for themselves. He's basically a 4-WAR pitcher, on an annual basis (and that's not even getting into stuff like his insane 2011 run down the stretch with Detroit).

Me? If I had to, I'd line 'em up Znn/Fister/Stras/Gio/Roark, but honestly, I'm just enjoying the fact that we're having this discussion at all.

JWLumley said...

@Dezo Agree, this is a great staff, and it doesn't end with the starters there's almost no one on the staff that makes me cringe when they're pitching, outside of maybe Blevins against righties. Easily the best staff in baseball and probably the best starting staff even after the A's trade.

Bote Man said...

Gio is a f@cking headcase. He's lights out until he isn't, then he's a nukular reactor in full meltdown mode.

Strasburg has become less headcase-y, although he still exhibits signs of a warp core breach on occasions.

That is what is behind the "love" for Zimmermann: when he's not effective he doesn't wear it on his sleeve, he still goes about his job with a poker face until the manager yanks him out of the game.

That's why this is so touchy-feely and not easy to define, as Harper G. indicates.

Chaz R said...

I take everyone back to Harper's earlier posting about Strasburg:

Stras is a very good pitcher, but not a great pitcher (yet). I think most Nats fans are disappointed in Stras as our expectations for him have been so high.

I think the reality is we have a staff of good to very good pitchers, but none of them are an elite ace.

JWLumley said...

@Chaz I can kind of see that. I would put nearly all of their starters--except Roark--in that 10-30 range if you were ranking starting pitchers across baseball, but none in the top 10, although, as I mentioned, I think NN will be there soon.

Jay said...

I think Strasburg is the closest thing to an ace on this staff, but he isn't an ace yet. Last night is a perfect example. Pitched great except for 1 pitch which gave up 2 runs. I don't know that any of the staff has truly gone out and carried the team and won a big game for the Nats - my definition of an ace.

Also, why in the world is Ryan Zimmerman still playing 3rd at all? Poor guy has no arm left. If feel bad for him that he is just being taking advantage of by the dummy known as Matt Williams. Hopefully, he doesn't hurt his shoulder again and ruin the rest of his career.

Anonymous said...

gotta go with stras. this article, though a couple of weeks old and touching on stuff already discussed, puts the argument into some pretty charts

Bjd1207 said...

@Jay - I think the Zim stuff is hugely overblown. He had his first error since he's been back last night and it didn't end up in a run. This is "working as intended"

We know he's going to have some sketchy throws. But so far for every poor throw he's had 2 or 3 gold-glove caliber glove plays.

But as I've said here until I'm breathless, the defense barely matters. We need his bat so he's gotta play somewhere in the field. With LaRoche still cooking and no justification for putting Danny on the field ahead of anyone, Zim at 3b, Harper in LF, Rendon at 2b is the right call.

Froggy said...

I like Stras for ace 'stuff' but the problem is 96 miles an hour gets out of here at over 110 when hitters are guessing right. I don't know the numbers on his slider and curve HR's given up but they are definitely pitches that when he is on, he is almost impossible to hit. Right now though, I think Zimmermann is our 'Mr Consistent' (Ace), with Fister right behind for the simple reasons that they don't let anything show regardless of how they are getting hit.

@Bjd1207 and Jay, I think ZIM is just biding time until they trade LaRoche in a couple weeks. But, to your point, it hurts me every time I see him throw to first! As to Harper, isn't he like 4-24 since coming off the DL? Me thinks the 7 hole is a perfect place for him to just 'shut up, and color'. Stay between the lines Bryce, the lines are your friends!

MrHooshenry said...

I know it's Wednesday and I'm just getting around to reading the Monday Quickie...hey, I guess we all need an all-star break. Anyways, can you expand on the mention that ZNN is leaving once his contract is up? I guess I don't pay close enough attention, but this is a first for me. Is he not happy? When is his contract up?