Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester: Aces nay!


Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have often been discussed as pitching aces.

An Ace is a special performer that represents the gold standard for pitching. Baseball history is rich with that special breed that occasionally surfaces to be the best among the best. Some attain such a pinnacle, as Cy Young did, that an award for pitching excellence is named after them.

May 16, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Astronomers scour the universe for rare and unusual events and baseball scouts scour every possible baseball niche to find hidden talent. On that rare occasion an eventual Ace is discovered.

A -Ability
C- Consistency
E – Endurance

Those, to me, are the three ingredients for an Ace and with each it is only on the highest of levels and, of course for an extended period of time. Baseball history is loaded with one year wonders. To me an Ace has to put in some years at that elite level.

Ace Day is a special day for any team. If you are fortunate enough to have a Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and a few choice others starting you can relax. Ace Day is the day he gets the ball. The bullpen staff generally treats it as a child would having a snow day from school. The bullpen crew will be in a jovial mood knowing the only one to get any work will be the closer.

May 17, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The starting line-up realizes that just one run might do it. The manager and pitching coach look for a respite from a possibly overworked bullpen. If a losing streak is in progress, the attitude is: it ends here. The opposition is already thinking about the post-game buffet and selected players on the opposition are getting a day off for what is described as “rest” or a “nagging injury”.

For the owners the tickets move at a faster clip when it is Ace Day. The fans, quite naturally, are in a celebratory mood. Ace Day is special and on those rare occasions, when two of the breed square off against each other it becomes a lead sports story. TV coverage moves around to cover such an event.

In Boston over the last thirty seasons, two have risen to that standard and another finished off his career in spectacular fashion.

Roger Clemens was drafted by Boston and eventually won 191 games and three CY Young Awards. Pedro Martinez, acquired via trade, shone as bright as any pitcher in baseball history and won two Cy Young Awards. Curt Schilling was brought to Boston to solidify a staff and bring a pennant home. Schilling exceeded expectations and left a memorable stain on the 2004 season. All three certainly obtained Ace status elsewhere and in Boston.

August 3, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox former pitcher Curt Schilling throws out a ceremonial first pitch prior to a game against the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz never did reach Ace status and as the midpoint of their careers is at hand it is doubtful they ever will.

Don Adams starred in a TV series titled “Get Smart” portraying a bungling secret agent. One of his occasional lines to explain his latest failure was holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart and saying “missed it by that much” as his excuse. That sums up Buchholz and Lester’s Ace status – they both came this close.

After the 2010 season most of RSN looked forward to extended dominance by both pitchers as they were on the elusive pitching cusp of Ace status. Neither attained it for a variety of reasons – injuries and the inability to take it to that next level stand out. Both would on occasion show that brilliance that makes an Ace. Lester certainly did in the 2013 playoffs and World Series run and Buchholz was not far behind by starting the season with a remarkable 12-0 record before, once again, injuries surfaced.

With both Buchholz and Lester you have dependable, top of the rotation starters. They can be good – very good. In all likelihood they will consistently be considered in the upper echelon of pitchers, but certainly not in that category of Ace.

As a Red Sox fan I am comfortable with what they now are. Lester, especially, consistently takes the ball and rings up 200+ innings and I look forward to the Red Sox and Lester eventually reaching a contract accommodation. With Buchholz the issue will continue to be his inability to get in that cherished 30+ starts a season. Maybe this will be the season?

When an Ace becomes available you move on it. The Red Sox did that with Martinez and Schilling. You take advantage of a situation that forces an Ace on the market and the best opportunities are the ones, such as Martinez, a talent and an Ace and in his prime.

Is an Ace on the horizon for Boston?

Max Scherzer is making a case for himself. Last season was a breakout year for Scherzer and he has carried it forward to 2014. Scherzer has already turned down an enormous contract offer from the Tigers and, with Scott Boras as his agent, will test the market.

Scherzer would be a risk. At age 30 he has reached the elite status, but assuming 2014 mirrors 2013, for only two seasons. The long term deal would be in the seven year range with the total package approaching 200M. Is that worth the risk?

Jose Fernandez is only 21 and has already generated buzz that few pitchers receive. Fernandez has an incredible upside and has future Ace stamped all over him. My concern is the flame out factor. Sometimes the brightest stars shine the briefest. What it would take to pry Fernandez loose from the Marlins would probably be half the farm system – if Miami would even consider it.

May 18, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher

David Price

(14) throws in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

David Price is close to his shelf life with the eternally frugal Tampa Bay Rays. Price will pop up almost daily in a variety of trade scenarios. At age 28 he is at the peak of his career and is battle tested in the AL East. An exceptional fit for Boston. Price has the years of elite service that Scherzer and Fernandez lack, but he also comes with risk as a few nagging injuries have surfaced.

There may be others on the horizon, but of this I am sure – this team needs a real Ace and not a faux Ace.