The Pittsburgh Pirates' Ace Isn't Who You Think It Is

By Zach Morrison
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Before I discuss my opinion on who the true Pittsburgh Pirates‘ ace pitcher is, allow me to explain to you what I think is the definition of an “ace” pitcher.

An ace is a starting pitcher that not only has the ability to shut down any lineup, but is also able to stop losing streaks and pitch well consistently. There you have it, simple enough. Now, let’s move on to the true debate, shall we?

First of all, I will not be including statistics from the 2013 season, because it’s too early to make any judgement on a player because the sample size is far too small. I will mostly be taking a look at August, September and October of 2012, because after all, professional sports are all about the “what have you done for me lately?” idea. Also, recent trends are more important than what players have done in the past. This debate will be based on A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, the team’s top two starting pitchers.

In the later months of the 2012 season, after dominating in the first half, Burnett came back down to Earth. In his final 12 starts, Burnett went 3-7 with a 5.18 ERA in August and a 2.98 ERA in September/October. I realize that starting pitchers aren’t judged on wins and losses anymore, but shouldn’t winning still be considered an important statistic? If you think about it, that is the only statistic players are playing for. Not only was his win-loss record bad, but he also had an ERA higher than five in August, when the Pirates’ ship began to sink.

When the games stopped mattering as much in September and October, Burnett began to pitch better. Burnett has one thing going for him that is far better than Rodriguez: his leadership ability. The younger players, like James McDonald for example, seem to cling to Burnett for advice.

Likewise with Rodriguez, he struggled a bit in August, going 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA. However, those are better than Burnett’s August numbers. In September and October, Rodriguez was very good, possibly even great. He started six games, going 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA. Between August, September and October, Rodriguez combined for a 5-4 record.

Let’s be honest, this isn’t the debate any team wants to have: Who is this team’s ace, A.J. Burnett or Wandy Rodriguez? The Pirates are in that position, however, so the debate is happening. Some teams have a stud pitcher like Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, but the Pirates don’t.

Neither one of these pitchers should truly be considered an ace, but media and fans feel the need to label everyone, so if you asked me this question, I would tell you that Wandy Rodriguez is the Pirates’ “ace”.

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