Ace(s) Up Our Sleeves: The Wonderful Dilemma of Having Two Staff Aces

By: Ryan Smith

While discussing the idea of this article with the Cream City Cables brain trust, the unavoidable question was finally asked:

How do we define “ace” in the baseball world?

There’s a number of different ways one could approach this term. The ace is the #1 starter in the rotation. The ace is the best pitcher on a given team. The ace is the guy who pitches on Opening Day.

Personally, while I think all of these definitions have some truth to them, they don’t say enough. All of these definitions imply that each team has a true ace while I feel that is not the case at all; I only have to point to my Pittsburgh Pirates preview to prove that not every team has an ace.

Before I go off on a tangent about how terrible the Pirates’ rotation is going to be, let’s go back to my initial thought. What is the definition for ace?

When I think of a staff’s ace, I think of the guy you would want on the mound in a must-win situation. That could mean that your team is in Game 7 of the NLCS, or it could mean you are on a four-game losing streak in May and need to stop the bleeding. Either way, you need to win. You want the ball in the hands of your ace.

Sabathia's run as Brewers' ace was short-lived, but it did end a 26-year playoff drought.

In the last decade or so, the Brewers have rarely been known for their pitching prowess. Ben Sheets was certainly ace-quality, but his best years were squandered on embarrassing squads. In 2008, GM Doug Melvin made a big splash by trading for CC Sabathia, an ace-for-hire who pitched the Brew Crew into the playoffs and then headed off to New York and the deep pockets of the Yankees.

Enough about the past; it’s 2012. A new season is on the horizon. Pitchers and catchers report soon. And the 2012 Brewers have two aces at the top of the rotation.

So I’m here to tackle a different question.

Yovani Gallardo or Zack Greinke: Who is the true ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers?

This is certainly unfamiliar territory for Brewers fans. A few years ago, the idea of having two dominant starters in the Brewers’ rotation only seemed possible in the video game world. Instead, thanks again to Melvin’s go-for-it attitude, here we are.

2011 was the first year that we saw the Greinke/Gallardo pairing, though we had to wait longer than expected because of a certain pitcher’s tendency to play pick-up games of basketball and then get hurt during said basketball games. But I digress.

For the most part, the first edition of Zack & Yo was a smashing success. Let’s take a look at their individual numbers from last season.

In 33 starts, Gallardo went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA. He struck out 207 and walked 59 over 207.1 innings pitched. That last part might be the most impressive stat that I mentioned thus far. Before 2011, Gallardo’s career-high for innings pitched was 185.2. It always seemed that he fell in love with the strikeout, driving his pitch count up in the early innings and forcing the bullpen into action before the 7th inning.

Taking a look at some of Gallardo’s advanced stats, you’ll see his K/9 was 8.99 – his lowest in three years. His 2.56 BB/9 was a career-best, as was his 3.19 xFIP. All of these stats basically support what I was alluding to in the previous paragraph; in 2011, Gallardo finally matured into the pitcher we had seen flashes over the previous few seasons.

While fans had to wait a little bit longer to see Greinke take the mound, he proved to be well worth the wait. In 28 starts, Greinke went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA. He struck out 201 while walking only 45 in 171.2 innings pitched.

The advanced stats get even more impressive for Greinke, who posted a career-high 10.54 K/9 while maintaining a 2.36 BB/9, which is right around his career norm. Finally, he posted an astounding 2.56 xFIP, which was the best in all of baseball.

So while Gallardo was having a coming-of-age season, Greinke reached back and pitched a lot like his 2009 Cy Young-winning self.

While the regular season seems to have been a dead-heat, the postseason paints a different picture.

In three 2011 postseason starts, Gallardo went 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He struck out 16 while walking eight in 19.0 innings pitched.

Greinke struggled a bit more in October. In his three 2011 postseason starts, Greinke also went 1-1, but he finished with a whopping 6.48 ERA. He struck out 13 while only walking four in 16.2 innings pitched.

So I’ve thrown a lot of stats out there, but I haven’t really addressed the question at hand. Who is our ace for 2012?

Well, while Gallardo has proved to be a consistent pitcher who seems to be getting better every year, Greinke is my choice for the ace of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers, and here’s why.

While I think Gallardo will continue to grow as a pitcher, I’m not sure we can expect him to improve on all of these career-best numbers while coming off of a season where he pitched 40 more innings than he ever had pitched before. It’s true that the Brewers defense should be improved (hello, Alex Gonzalez!) but I still can’t expect Gallardo to keep posting better numbers. Greinke, on the other hand, didn’t even have his best season last year. He had over 200 innings pitched in three consecutive seasons before 2011, so he won’t have to deal with the same growing pains that will face Gallardo.

With 2012 being a contract year, I predict that Greinke will pitch like the ace that he truly is.

And of course, there’s one other factor that I haven’t mentioned yet. 2012 will be a contract year for Mr. Greinke. History tends to show that players often rise to the occasion when they’re working for a new contract, and I don’t think Greinke will be any different.

Now, I know Greinke is currently representing himself, and some of you might argue that this could cause a distraction to him during the season. I don’t buy it. Greinke is a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. He knows that if he pitches up to his ability, he is going to have no shortage of teams vying for his services. And if you think he’s doing the whole “agentless” thing without any sort of advisor or consultant, you’re kidding yourself.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter which player is considered the ace of the staff. If the Brewers plan on contending this year, they are going to need both of these guys to bring their best every time they step on the mound.

So, instead of worrying about who the ace is, why don’t we just enjoy the fact that we have two of the best pitchers in baseball playing for our beloved Milwaukee Brewers?

Of course, I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic, so feel free to comment below, praising my selection or telling me to pull my head out of a certain orifice. Either way, I’d love to hear from some of my readers.

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5 thoughts on “Ace(s) Up Our Sleeves: The Wonderful Dilemma of Having Two Staff Aces

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