Kansas City used to have an Ace - one that won the Cy Young Award, in our lifetime. Now, well, not so much.
Typically teams send their Ace out to start opening day for the whole world to admire. When you don't have an Ace, a quirky league rule states a team still has to send out a pitcher to start on opening day - so I guess that would be our Ace, whoever that was this year, can't remember.
As we head into an off-season that we are promised to get an upgraded rotation, how will we know if we get an actual Ace or just another warm body question mark pending TJ surgery?
So, numerically, what is an American League Ace?
Since there is no official baseball definition of an Ace, this analysis uses the simple definition of the pitcher with the best ERA among the top five starters on a team. The analysis then groups the best, second best, etc. to determine average performance for each group. For example, the fifth best starter on each team will be profiled together to determine what the average production a fifth starter is giving his team this year.
The following rotation analysis isn't intended to be precise, just a simple minded grouping of pitchers to gauge what it means to be an ace or back of the rotation guy so far in 2012. The Table 1 Summary Rotation shows that the #1 and #5 spots are clearly separated from the group, while spots #2, #3 and #4 appear to be somewhat interchangeable.
At this point in the year, a real Ace gives a team an 11-5 record, sub 3.10 ERA and a 3.0+ WAR. It is perfectly clear that the Royals don't have anybody that could be considered an Ace. In his short time in KC, Guthrie appears to be the top dog, but fits more in the #2 group. The object of many Royals' fans affection is the Ace of the Oakland staff - McCarthy with his 3.12 ERA and 1.7 WAR.
While an Ace is important, you still need legitimate starters for #2 thru #5 in the rotation. When you compare the Royals' pitchers to each group, you find mostly Jokers - Chen, Hochevar and Mendoza appear to be #4's and Smith is at best a #5 right now.
Table 3 uses performance in 2012 to slot the Royals' starters for 2013 and provides an assessment of needs going into the off-season - basically the Royals need to find guys that can give #1 and #3 production in 2013 to add to the current group of starters. Anything less ... is probably what the Royals will do.