SEATTLE - JUNE 28: Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on June 28, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The Braves have five very talented starting pitchers. None of them are aces. This is perfectly fine.
Labels are thrown around much too often in this day and age of baseball. Whether it's how a leadoff hitter should look and play, how a set-up man can only pitch the eighth inning, or how the ace of a starting rotation has to strike everyone out and pitch a complete game each time he takes the mound, these labels can easily detract from a player and his value because he doesn't necessarily fit the mold of the prototypical player of his role.
The Atlanta Braves don't have a prototypical ace, and that's perfectly OK.
As a matter of fact, the club is probably better off because of it. Seldom do they have to rely on one or two certain pitchers to turn out a dominating performance or halt a losing streak; all five of their starters can do that, with the possible exception of Derek Lowe, who isn't even one of the five most talented starting pitchers in the Braves organization right now.
Tommy Hanson is the closest thing Atlanta has to a true ace, but until he learns to pitch deeper into games and improve his command on the mound, he's not the man for the illustrious title. The strikeouts are sexy, but Hanson averaging just six innings per start doesn't do him any favors in his quest for ace-hood*.
Jair Jurrjens is having a great season for the second time in three years, but similar to Hanson, he has flaws; while his stats appear to be great on the surface, dig a little deeper and you'll discover an xFIP, BABIP and LOB% that simply aren't sustainable over a long period of time. Again, a very good pitcher having a good season, but not that ace everyone wants to label him as.
*Not a real word, but it was just kind of sitting there and I couldn't say no to it. And no, I'm not talking about this guy.
Tim Hudson might have once been considered an ace while his career was still young in Atlanta, but he's older and lacks the ability to consistently miss bats and strike hitters out. Pitchers have been successful and dominant for decades without big strikeout numbers, but outside of an exception or two, they aren't typically described as an ace. The same goes for Lowe; despite having a long, prolific career and currently being paid as an ace would, he simply isn't that shutdown pitcher anymore.
Brandon Beachy is the wildcard in this discussion, and while it seems unlikely he'll continue to post a K/BB ratio of more than four and an xFIP below three, I don't think any Braves fans will be too upset if he becomes our prototypical ace. Same goes for Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and the others in the Minor Leagues; they all have oodles of talent and tons of potential, but it's going to take them quite a while to get adjusted to pitching in the Major Leagues.
There isn't an ace on this pitching staff, but the end of the day, this club has five phenomenal starting pitchers (with more on the way from the Minors) and they sit fourteen games over .500 as the calendar turns to July. This team isn't where it is right now without each and every one of our starting pitchers. And while our guys may not be recognized as aces across the league, they're all pretty darn great.
Five very good pitchers or an ace or two; take your pick. I certainly know which starting rotation I'd rather have. And when those five pitchers are Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens, Beachy and Lowe, it's pretty apparent that you don't need an ace to achieve success on the mound. This pitching staff is special. If they have to do it with a few under-the-radar pitchers, so be it. They'll be the ones with the last laugh in September and October.