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Is ‘Ace’ the most misused word in Major League Baseball?

It may be time to take a good look at our baseball lexicon and redefine who a true ace really is.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB trade deadline is looming and that means the rumor mill is overflowing. One of those such rumors is that the Tampa Bay Rays Chris Archer may be on the move.

Here’s the thing. Is Chris Archer really an ace? Maybe it is nitpicking, but it’s about time the term ace gets redefined in today’s baseball of extremely subpar pitching.

My biggest problem used to be the overuse of the word superstar. Don’t get me wrong, it still happens, but a team’s best player is not a superstar by default. A team’s most marketable player is not a superstar because the word sounds better. But that didn’t stop people from calling those players a superstar.

I mean, come on. I understand the New York media hype train is some of the best at marketing, but was Matt Harvey ever really a superstar? A potential superstar, maybe? Sure. But a superstar transcends the game, they do things that are extraordinary or super, and they do it for a while. What’s that crazy Mike Trout stat? He’s never gone more than two games without reaching base? That’s a superstar. Kris Bryant won the Golden Spikes Award, followed by Minor League Player of the Year honors, followed by a Rookie of the Year campaign and then followed that up with an MVP, curse-breaking performance. Last year was a “down” year for him and he had a .946 OPS. He’s a superstar. Matt Harvey was labeled a superstar after 36 starts. Now, he’s a punchline.

But I digress. We’re here to talk about the overuse of the word ace. Living in Atlanta, we hear it all the time, mainly in how Julio Teheran is not the team’s ace. No kidding. He never was.

I get it. The ace used to be a team’s No. 1 starter. But times have changed a lot since the term was conceived in the 19th century (supposedly from Asa Brainard, who was nicknamed Ace and incidentally, was not very good). For one, there are 30 teams (and counting) these days and there just isn’t enough pitching to go around. Secondly, too many pitchers don’t pitch enough to be an ace.

Jose Urena is considered the Marlins ace and he hasn’t made it through six innings since the middle of June. The San Diego Padres don’t have a starting pitcher with a FIP under 4.29, so they merit an “ace” simply because someone has to restart the rotation every five days? Let’s not forget, Jon Gray was the ace of the 2017 playoff Colorado Rockies and he got sent to the minors last month.

The point is, calling Teheran or Clayton Richard an ace is insulting to the few true aces that are in the game today. Clayton Kershaw has battled injuries and simply hasn’t looked himself for much of the season. That said his ERA is 2.64, his WHIP is 1.09 (the highest it’s been since last decade) and his FIP is 3.22, the highest it’s been since his 2008 rookie campaign. So, basically, Kershaw at his worst is better than half the league. Are you seriously going to put Teheran and his inconsistencies and declining velocity in the same category as him?

Baseball has been rewritten and so should its lexicon. The 1990s Atlanta Braves had three Hall of Famers in its rotation. Are you going to sit there and tell me Javier Vazquez was the Montreal Expos ace because he led the rotation, and Tom Glavine wasn’t one? It’s simple. Not every team has an ace, and sometimes, when we’re lucky we can see a team have one or two. The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were lucky like that and look where it got them.

So, before we get back to the Chris Archer question, who are baseball’s aces? How do we define an ace? Let’s figure that out.

An ace has to have a bit of old school to him for sure. He needs to pitch into games and be counted on for a quality start at the very least. He doesn’t have to lead the rotation, because Kershaw and Zack Greinke did just fine as an ace-combo. He has to be the guy that you say I want him to get the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series (or in modern day baseball the possible ONLY game of a playoff series). And he has to be good. Like really good. Like the kind of good that has staying power and you have the drunken conversation, “is so and so a Hall of Famer?” type of good.

So, by those standards, today’s aces are (in no particular order):

· Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

· Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

· Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

· Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

· Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

· Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

Six. For the most part, that’s it, with a few outliers, of course. The aforementioned Greinke is probably worthy of true ace-dom. He’s not the pitcher he was, but he is certainly the guy that I want pitching in a one-game playoff if I’m the D-backs. Take C.C. Sabathia for example. He’s still active, he somehow still gets it done, so maybe he’s like the old sage ace, kind of a Yoda of aces if you will, who gets the label for standing the test of time. Clearly Luis Severino is the Yankees ace in training, but let’s not forget, Masahiro Tanaka was the Yankees “ace” for a couple of seasons also. Let’s wait another season and watch him this postseason before we anoint him an ace, but he is certainly close.

A lot of people call Noah Syndergaard an ace, but I’m not sure he’s there yet. Does he have ace-like stuff? For sure, but is he as reliable as deGrom? Once he proves he can stay on the field and flash that exciting stuff consistently, we’ll tab him an ace. Let’s just make sure he’s not the next Matt Harvey superstar first.

Gerrit Cole is a tricky one. That would give the Astros two aces, which is remarkable considering just two years ago Dallas Keuchel was the ace of the staff and he’s not considered one of them. I think Cole can be considered an ace. He was the Pirates go-to guy, and now is pitching like the guy many thought he could be. He’s a tough one though.

So, that brings us to Chris Archer. Archer has long been the Rays ace, pretty much since their last ace David Price jettisoned. Remember him? The most sought-after ace on the free agent market that can hardly be counted on by his own team as a No. 3 starter. Archer’s name is usually thrown around this time of year and often referred to as the top ace on the trade deadline market.

Now, I’m not big on wins. I think it’s a meaningless stat when judging a pitcher’s true worth (see deGrom) but plenty of people do value wins and losses by a pitcher. That said, he hasn’t had a winning record in four years, and led baseball with 19 losses in 2016. Again, that wasn’t entirely his fault, but it should be noted.

Let’s turn to his ERA. It hasn’t been under 4.00 since 2015. But then you flip the coin and look at his FIP and see that, too, may have been a lot of bad luck, as his career FIP is a respectable 3.46. He does a great job of striking people out at a career 9.7-per-nine mark and is efficient in limiting free passes at a 2.9-per-nine mark.

That said, I don’t think Archer is an ace. But he does have a Gerrit Cole opportunity here to be traded to a team that he can get comfortable on, play with some leads, and flash the stuff that he has to become an ace.

Pitching is obviously not what it used to be. In a day of openers, LOOGYs and specialized roles, starters don’t even have to go five innings anymore for their team to win. Those old school pitchers, the ones that can rack up innings and strikeouts all while limiting runs, those are the true aces. It’s time we recognized that.