Aces are supposed to make handicapping baseball easy. They are the best pitchers on their team, and they are supposed to overpower opponents and deliver profits for bettors. It's supposed to be easy, but oftentimes it's not. Sometimes aces give us reasons to doubt them - or at least to question whether we should trust them as much as we might want to. The six aces on this list are all compelling because of the massive upside they have, but they all give us reasons to hesitate instead of joyously and consistently bet on them. They are the toughest aces to judge heading into this baseball season:
The Mets big three: We start off by looking at a group of three pitchers instead of just one because of the expectations that surround the triple aces of deGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard. After the season they had last year, and the playoff success they enjoyed, the hype surrounding these power arms is immense. Expectations are going to be sky high, and bettors will act accordingly. They are all obviously very good - and the Mets have impressive depth beyond those three, too. The upside for these three is massive, but nothing is certain. Experience matters for pitchers, and there is a shortage of that here. Harvey is the wily veteran here, and he has just 65 career starts. deGrom has 52. Syndergaard, fresh off his rookie year, has started just 24 times. Together, these guys have just 57 regular-season wins. They could keep improving and put up truly awe-inspiring numbers this year. Or they could struggle for the first times in their baseball lives and perform worse than people expect of them. People are expecting what is possible to become reality, but that might not be the case. These three are the toughest kinds of players to judge - they are too good to ignore, but the risk is too significant to blindly back them without hesitation. Thinking of dealing with one of these guys make my head hurt. Three on the same team - ouch.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: For a couple of years Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball. Then, for the next couple of years, he was overwhelmingly average - a shadow of himself. Last year he existed in a middle ground - better than the two years before but much worse than his best. The rotation is decent for the Tigers, but Verlander is still the ace in the eyes of most of the betting public. So, was last year a sign that he is climbing back to the peaks he was once on - or at least closer to it? Or was last year a blip, and will the reality of the two years before return? He just turned 33, so there is still some time for him, but after 11 pro seasons it could also be the beginning of a new descent. Unfortunately, we won't know which will be the case until the season starts rolling along.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays: Stroman tore his ACL in spring training and should have missed the season. He returned to Duke where he played in college to train and take classes, though, and was back in the rotation by September. His four regular-season starts were spectacular, and his performance in the postseason was very good, too. Back then, though, he didn't have to be the ace - David Price was making the big bucks for that. Now Price is gone - to a major rival, no less - and the diminutive 24 year old who has just one full season and 24 career regular-season starts to his credit is the clear ace of a squad with serious playoff aspirations. His talent is unquestionable. However, is he ready for this pressure? And can his knee hold up? He has the luxury of not needing to be as good as other aces because he has so many bats behind him, but it still isn't as easy to judge what to expect from him as I wish it was.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros: Keuchel was the driving force on one of the most shocking teams in recent history last year, and he was rewarded with a Cy Young award for his efforts. He has improved in each of his four pro seasons, but last year still came out of nowhere. Can he keep up the torrid pace and prove he is one of the truly elite players in the league, will he fall slightly back to earth in the face of the attention and pressure, or will the American League leading 232 innings he pitched last year have worn him down and cause problems? Anything is, unfortunately for bettors, possible.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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