Does the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation need an ace?


The Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation in 2015 will consist of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, and either Vance Worley or Jeff Locke. At first glance, Pirates fans should expect plenty of success from this bunch. Liriano, Cole, Morton, and Locke have all had ERAs under 4 in each of the past 2 seasons, Burnett had an ERA under 4 in each of his previous 2 seasons in Pittsburgh, and Worley had an ERA of 2.85 in a little over 110 innings pitched last year.

Clearly the Pirates will have a rotation full of good pitchers entering the season. But do they have one guy that can go up against the best pitchers in baseball in game seven of the World Series, a great pitcher? Do they have an ace? And do they really need one?

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While in years past the he himself has tried to emulate former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay, Charlie Morton doesn’t think the Pirates having an ace is that important. Coming off hip surgery that ended his 2014 campaign, Morton is hoping and expected to be ready for Opening Day. All signs point to this being the case, as he has looked healthy and strong in his spring work.  He joined “The Fan Morning Show” on 93.7 The Fan this past Tuesday, discussing, in part, what it might take for Gerrit Cole to ascend to acedom (you can listen to the full interview here).

"“To me, if you’re quote unquote an ace, that’s stuff that you guys talk about,” Morton told The Fan, referring to the media. “…we all have a responsibility. When we get the ball, we gotta go pitch. We gotta be the ace that day.” He goes on to say, “I’ve been asked that question, like who’s the ace of this staff? And I personally don’t care…I don’t think that anybody cares, and if they do, it’s an ego thing.”"

Morton may be right about what the pitchers themselves think about being an ace. Many successful teams are made up of players with a team-first mentality. But from an outsider’s perspective, if the Pirates want to win the World Series, they may need Cole to take that next step that fans are so eagerly awaiting.

Clearly the Pirates will have a rotation full of good pitchers entering the season. But…Do they have an ace? Do they really need one?

If we look at recent World Series champions, we can begin to understand how important a staff ace is to a team’s success. Out of the past 10 World Series champions, 9 of them have had at least one starter with a postseason ERA of less than 3 (the one exception being the 2011 Cardinals, in which 3-time NL MVP Albert Pujols had a postseason OPS of 1.155 to go along with 5 dingers and 16 RBIs in his farewell postseason in St. Louis). Most of these teams were the ones with bona fide, top-tier aces, too. The Pirates know first-hand what Madison Bumgarner did last postseason and the Red Sox had Jon Lester‘s playoff magic in 2013. The San Francisco Giants’ 3 championship teams featured the likes of Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum (when he was still “The Freak”), and the last 10 years also saw great postseason performances from CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Josh Beckett, and Chris Carpenter.

Of course, this Pirates team hasn’t gotten to the NLCS under manager Clint Hurdle yet, who maintains that a major goal for this season is to win the division first. This may be Hurdle’s best roster yet, but winning the division will require overtaking the ever-present Cardinals, who have a true ace of their own in Adam Wainwright. And if the Pirates want to go further than a division title and call themselves World Series champions, they made need Cole to take the next step towards being their rotation ace.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates' priorities in spring training