I keep a little file, periodically updated, that keeps track of “Ace Starters” in the league. There’s usually right around 20 of them at any one time. There’s no hard and fast rule as to what defines an Ace; not every team has an Ace. Some teams have more than one Ace. Its essentially defined as a guy who, every time he goes to the hill, he is expected to win, a perennial Cy Young candidate, a guy who is acknowledged as being one of the best in the game.
Here’s my list of “Aces” in this league, right now; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Cueto, Wainwright, Lincecum, Cain, Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Price, Sabathia, Dickey, Johnson, Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish and Weaver. Twenty guys, some arguable with poor 2012 performances (Lester, Lincecum, Johnson, Halladay), some arguable for possibly being one-year wonders (Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez), but by and large a quick list of the 20 best starters in the league.
How many of these Aces are pitching in the 2013 WBC? TWO. That’s it. Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey are starting for the US. Not one other US Ace is taking the hill for their country. The few foreign guys (Hernandez, Cueto and Darvish) aren’t pitching for their teams either for various reasons.
If you asked me to give you the 4 best US starters, right now, the four starters I’d throw in a World Baseball Classic to best represent this country, I’d probably go (in nearly this order) Verlander, Kershaw, Strasburg and maybe Cole Hamels. If you asked me the NEXT four guys i’d want on the bump i’d probably go Sabathia, Cain, Price and Lee. After that? I’d probably still take the likes of Halladay and Greinke before I got to Gonzalez or Dickey. And that’s only because of the poor 2012 showings by Lincecum, Lester and Johnson; if this was 2011, those three guys are absolutely in the mix for best arms in the league. So by rough estimates, we have perhaps the 14th and 15th best American starters going for us right now.
Who else does the US team have starting? Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland. Vogelsong is the 4th best starter ON HIS OWN TEAM, and Holland isn’t much further up on the Texas depth chart.
I’m enjoying the WBC, don’t get me wrong, but you can repeat this exercise for a number of the positional players on this roster too. Look at the post-season voting last year and look at who is playing on these teams. No Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder. There is only one player who got an NL Cy Young vote in 2012 participating (Fernando Rodney for the D.R.). I think this event needs its best players to play, and I think the league needs to come up with a way of making that happen. No more injury dispensations, no more excuses for not having the best, most marketable guys out there.
Why in the hell aren’t Trout and Harper playing for the team USA?? This is the best duo of young, marketable players to this this league since the 1998 home run derby. They’re on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the last month. You use what you have and market the league on the backs of players like this. Look at the NBA; they market on top of their most recognizable names and they have grown because of it, from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. Why MLB can’t seem to see the forest for the trees sometimes is just frustrating. The WBC is growing in popularity; its ratings in Japan eclipsed the TV ratings for the Olympics in that country, and the US games reportedly have gotten the highest ratings for a non-playoff game in TV history). Team USA needs to catch on.