Toronto Blue Jays: Who is the Ace?

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The Right Stuff?

In order for a guy to be called an ace, he has to bring the goods. He has to have dominating weapons to throw at hitters.  In looking at each starter’s “stuff”, we’ll dig into their velocity (ideally, an ace sits mid 90s- Dodgers Ace, Clayton Kershaw‘s career velocity is 93.1mph), runs saved with their #1 pitch per 100 pitches (wFB/C for example), their secondary pitch, their command and their overall repertoire.

R.A. Dickey-

Now, this is a bit unfair to judge Dickey on since his ‘honey pitch’ is his knuckler, but his fastball (which is actually his secondary pitch) sits at a declining 81.6mph. You want your ace to sit at least mid 90’s. But, Dickey’s knuckleball is an animal of its own with an average velocity of 76.3mph. An ace needs to have his go to pitch save runs. So, Dickey needs his knuckleball to be effective. It hasn’t. His wKN/C has a value of -0.13. That number should be positive. It tells us that the knuckleball hasn’t saved any runs at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. The fact that he can adjust the speed of it dramatically helps makes it deadly. That is, IF he can control it.

His strike out percentage averages at 17.1% for his career and he reached 18.9% last season. He threw 65% strikes last season with a first pitch strike percentage of 62.6%. His walk percentage was 8.1%. According to the Rymer piece, these numbers show really good command; the command of top hurlers. If you also take into account the fact that he’s doing it with a knuckleball, it makes it much more impressive.

Dickey’s repertoire features the knuckler, a fastball and a change. It is hardly the Roy Halladay bag of tricks. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Dickey. The only thing that makes it more difficult is the change in velocity on his knuckleball; a soft and a hard version. Can we count that as like having another pitch?

Mark Buehrle

Before we even look at the numbers, we know Marky Mark doesn’t throw hard like an ace should. At all. But, just for fun, let’s take a look. While a true #1 starter has a fastball in the mid to upper 90s, Buehrle’s sat at a declining 83.9mph last season. He’s lost 3mph since 2007. Last season, his fastball actually cost runs. His wFB/C value was -0.28.  But, he’s never been a hard thrower. He’s had to rely on his other stuff. He’s used his changeup as his secondary pitch. It was his only pitch that saved a positive amount of runs (wCH/C of 0.46). But, it may lose its effectiveness if the two pitches become so close in velocity.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

He’ll have to rely on command to be effective. Buehrle’s K% sits at 13.8% for his career and 13.9% last season. He threw 64% strikes last season with a first pitch strike % of 59%. His walk percentage was 5.4%. All of these numbers are eerily consistent over his career. Indeed, we can see that command is what allows Buehrle to enjoy the success he has. He can command his pitches. The addition of Russell Martin should help Buehrle with this given the fact that Martin adds strikes to his pitchers’ performances.

Buehrle features an arsenal of Fastball, change, cutter and curve. The 4 pitches are good tools to have for an ace. They are what help Buehrle keep hitters off balance. That he can throw any of them for strikes at any time allows him to get the most out of his ‘soft stuff’.

Drew Hutchison

After having Tommy John surgery and missing 2013, the Blue Jays were not sure what they would get from #HutchShow. Early returns are good. In fact, his fastball velocity in 2014 was higher at 92.2mph than in 2012. While good, his velocity is not the mid 90s you’d like from your ace, but it is respectable. His fastball did not save him any runs last season. His wFB/C value was -2.1. His secondary pitch is his slider, which sits at 84.5mph and actually helped saved him nearly a run with a wSL/C value of 0.64. It was his only pitch to do so. Again, an ace has to have a huge pitch he can rely on. Hutch doesn’t seem to have one.

He struck out 23% last season, throwing nearly 64% strikes- 59% of which were first pitches. His walk percentage last season was 7.7%. Again, these numbers are good. They show his ability to control his arsenal. Perhaps the problem for Hutchison was the 87.4% contact rate of balls in the zone. Perhaps, he could benefit from not catching so much of the zone with his arsenal.

#HutchShow brings a fastball, slider and a change. While he can have success with this mix of pitches, an ace may possess more in the tool box to rely on. Granted, he does throw a two seamer with his ‘regular’ fastball. So, that makes 4 pitches. The difference in velocity from his fastball to his change is just 7mph. A more dramatic difference in speeds could help him be more devastating. As of right now, his change is costing him nearly 3 runs per 100 pitches (wCH/C=-2.96)

Marcus Stroman

Many have questioned Stroman’s ability to dominate due to his small 5’9″ throwing plain. His height will impact the ‘flatness’ of his pitches. But, #StroShow silenced a lot of critics last season. Let’s take a look at whether he is an ace, though. His velocity of 93.6 is near that mid 90s mark for an ace. His two seamer sat at 92.6. His fastball was a huge asset for him as it yielded a wFB/C value of 1.12. That means in 100 pitches, he saved 1.12 runs by using his fastball. That’s ace type stuff. It’s below Clayton Kershaw’s 1.27 mark, but  4 TIMES that of Felix Hernandez‘ 0.28 mark. His secondary pitch- the curveball (16.2% of his pitches) has a wCB/C value of -0.96, which is not good in a secondary pitch. Stroman may want to consider throwing his slider more as it has saved him 0.60 runs per 100 pitches.

His repertoire of pitches is quite impressive. He features a fastball, two seam fastball, a cutter, a slider a curveball and a changeup. Now we’re talking! This is the kind of tool box an ace possesses. Being able to pull out any one of 6 pitches at any time is going to keep too many things in a hitter’s mind going. If he can keep them guessing, Stroman is in for a great career. Having said that, having these pitches is not enough. You have to be able to have command.

Stroman struck out 20.8% last season on 64% strikes, which is nice. His relatively low (for an ace) 58.4% first pitch strike rate needs improvement. He walked just 5.2% last season, which is very good. Stroman needs to improve on his swinging strike percentage. At just 8.5%, one could make the argument that hitters aren’t missing when they swing at his stuff. Perhaps that brings us back to his lower plain. Maybe hitters are seeing the ball better off him. Aces seem to have the ability to get those big swings and misses when they count.

Aaron Sanchez

Any examination of Sanchez’ performance MUST come with the caveat of “small sample size” being that he only saw 24 games with the big league club (out of the bullpen). We know this. So, take the following for what you will.

Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This kid has the velocity of an ace. His fastball averaged 96.9mph. Oh, and his two seamer sat at 97.1. While his fastball was huge for him saving him 1.39 runs per 100 pitches, his two seamer was even better with a wFT/C of 2.87! Imagine! Nearly 3 runs per 100 pitches saved off of one pitch. Wow! But, it gets even better. His curveball saved 3.47 runs per 100 pitches! Obviously, given the small sample size, these numbers are not likely to play out in a full season of starting. But, man. Sanchez has the right stuff; the stuff of an ace.

With numbers like this, we might be able to overlook the fact that he only features 3 pitches. He used his two seamer the most at 58.3% followed by his fastball and his curve. Perhaps the thing that separates his pitches is the movement he gets. Man, it’s a thing of beauty to watch. I’m torn. I’d like an ace to have the repertoire of Marcus Stroman with the effectiveness of Aaron Sanchez.

Sanchez struck out 22.3% last season on 61% strikes while throwing just 53.7% for first pitch strikes. His walk percentage of 7.4% also needs to come down. He threw 41.9% of his pitches in the strike zone and when he did, hitters made 90.7% contact. Perhaps with Russell Martin behind the dish now, Sanchez can avoid catching so much of the zone and still get strikes. Or, maybe what makes him good is his ability to go right at hitters. He doesn’t need to be so fine.


When you compare the “stuff” of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, there isn’t one clear stand out as an ace. Marcus Stroman has the variety of pitches ideal to an ace while Aaron Sanchez has the quality pitches required for domination. Mark Buehrle has the command you’d like to see. But, based on “stuff’, I’d give the nod to Marcus Stroman. While I drool over the ‘filthiness’ that flies out of Sanchez’ hand, I’d like to see it play out over a full season…as a starter.