In the grand scheme of things, who a team’s ‘ace’ pitcher is really doesn’t matter, except on Opening Day and the first game of a playoff series. Most Reds fans have considered Johnny Cueto the teams ‘ace’ for the past few seasons. And he did win 19 last year, leading the Reds in wins, starts and quality starts. But in the strict definition of ‘ace’, does Cueto fit that criteria anymore?
Let’s first consider Mat Latos, who like Cueto is a power pitcher. Latos won 14 last season, tying his (short) career best. More impressive, Latos suffered four blown saves last season, in addition to a whopping 15 no decisions. If you halve both of those numbers (which of course, you can’t) Latos would have wound up three more wins than Cueto, and certainly would have received enough votes in the Cy Young balloting to challenge or beat Cueto’s fourth place finish. This season Latos has been just as good, in 19 innings whiffing 19 and walking just three.
Now consider Homer Bailey, who has become as dominating a pitcher as anyone in baseball. He started 33 games in 2012. No pitcher in the National League started more games than Bailey. The Reds, by the way, won 18 of those starts. A road warrior, Bailey’s road ERA of 2.32 was a National League best. And then, there was the no hitter he tossed late last season in Pittsburgh. But now, consider what Bailey has done so far in 2013. In his three starts, Bailey has walked just six and has struck out 18. Opponents are hitting just .191 against him.
None of this is to dismiss Cueto’s value. He’s allowing opponents to hit just .194 through his three starts. And his strikeout to walk ratio, 18-6, is right in line with what Latos and Bailey are doing. But his status as the clear cut ‘Ace’ of the Reds staff isn’t so defined as it once was. It has nothing to do with his performance (or injury). It has more to do with what Latos and Bailey have been up to, since the middle of last season.