Memo: Aces are nice but not required

Studying history is a pretty good way to educate yourself on current and future topics. You probably heard this from your history teacher in third grade. It's true.

 

So when you worry or complain about the Braves not having an "ace" to lead the rotation in the playoffs, it's worth studying past events to determine whether it's worth worrying or complaining about.

 

It's not worth worrying or complaining about.

 

Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus wrote a piece in September 2012 debunking the thought of a rotation needing a frontline starter for postseason success. Researcher Colin Wyers, now employed by the Astros, "selected the 'ace' of each playoff team from the one-wild-card era of 1994-2011, defining the ace as the starter who pitched at least 120 innings with the lowest ERA. Then he came up with a normalized measure of 'ace-ness,' similar to ERA+ (2-ERA/lgERA, to be precise), that allowed us to place all the aces on the same scale. Finally, he checked the correlation between the strength of each team’s ace and the difference between its winning percentages in the regular season and the postseason."

 

The result was insignificant. No matter how they played with the data, they couldn't find evidence to suggest the strength of a team's top starter had a major impact on postseason success.

 

There was a much stronger correlation between the strength of a team's top starter and regular-season success. This is because the sample is larger, allowing true talent to show over a greater amount of time.

 

One could determine this just by going through past results, which blows my mind when I think about it. Braves fans have first-hand experience in watching not only "aces," but future Hall-of-Famers fail to win it all in the playoffs year after year. They put it all together in 1995. Other than that, rotations that featured one, two or even three possible Hall-of-Famers continued to fall short in the postseason.

 

Many are the same Braves fans who are now worrying or complaining about the team's need for an "ace." The Braves signed Gavin Floyd on Monday, a move that doesn't generate headlines but fills a need for starting depth. It only added to the worry and complaints.

 

The Red Sox won the World Series with a No. 1 starter (Jon Lester) who produced a 3.75 ERA/3.59 FIP/3.90 xFIP and 4.3 fWAR during the regular season. He gave up one run in two starts against the Cardinals.

 

The Braves lost in the NLDS with a No. 1 starter (Kris Medlen) who produced a 3.11 ERA/3.42 FIP/3.55 xFIP and 2.7 fWAR during the regular season. He gave up five runs in four innings and didn't get a second start against the Dodgers. Mike Minor, who was the team's best pitcher during the regular season, allowed one run in six innings in his one start.

 

It has been said that the playoffs are a crapshoot. It's said often because it's mostly true. You can acquire an "ace," but it doesn't guarantee postseason success. It doesn't even help that much. The Braves should have one of the best rotations in the National League again in 2014, and that's all anyone can ask for. Whatever happens in the playoffs is left up to the smallest of sample sizes.

 

The strongest indication of postseason success that was determined in Lindbergh's study? Regular-season winning percentage. Just continue to field a good team, and you have a greater chance to win it all some day. It's simple once you think about it.

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