The Pirates Lack of an Ace may not Matter
By David Hill
The Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation certainly appears to be solid. A.J. Burnett has proven that he can perform at a relatively high level in Pittsburgh. Francisco Liriano has moments when he can look like a top of the rotation starter, but is generally another solid arm. Gerrit Cole could be an ace some day, but is still developing. The Pirates rotation, while solid, just does not have that ace pitcher that most people seem to believe is needed to win, especially in the postseason.
Looking through the last few World Series winning teams, that ace starter was an essential part of their title. The Giants had Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, back when The Freak was still an ace caliber pitcher. The Red Sox had Jon Lester. The Cardinals in 2011 had Chris Carpenter. While a team can make the postseason without an ace starter, having one can dramatically increase the chances of winning a championship.
However, do the Pirates truly need an ace? Or, at the very least, a pitcher considered to be an ace currently? Just look at some of the teams to make the postseason in recent years. The Orioles certainly did not. The Royals had James Shields, who is considered an ace, but he really is not one. In fact, there may really be only ten or twelve truly ‘ace’ caliber pitchers in baseball.
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Quite simply, there just are not enough ace caliber pitchers to go around. Teams like the Pirates, who have excellent rotational depth, can sort of mitigate that lack of an ace, just by having four or five pitchers who would likely be a second or third starter on those teams. Players like Liriano and Burnett have had success at the major league level. Vance Worley has been better than perhaps all of us thought. Charlie Morton, when healthy, has been a solid pitcher.
The Wild Card for the Pirates is likely to be Gerrit Cole. He has displayed flashes of brilliance in his 41 career starts, and is considered to be a likely candidate to truly breakout in the upcoming season. If he does take that next step, Cole could well end up as the Pirates de facto ace next season, and be an anchor for what could be an exciting and young pitching staff in the next couple of years.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may not have a traditional ace currently, but it may not matter. Their pitching depth could be enough to trump that lack of a true number one starter.