Expert MLB Betting Advice for 2018: Toughest Aces to Judge
The term 'ace' is perhaps the most abused in baseball. People talk about the first starter of a team as the ace - even if they have not done anything to earn the term other than being better than the other guys on a questionable rotation. Daily, though, you'll see and hear talk in the media of an ace heading to the mound. Bettors, especially casual bettors, react to this and give the pitcher more credit than he might deserve because he is viewed as the ace. There are some guys in the league who are obviously and clearly deserving of the title of ace - Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are terrifying robots sent from space to destroy opposing batters, and they perform to expectations almost every time they touch the ball. Not all guys referred to as aces from time to time are so easy to trust, though. Here are five guys that get called an ace and, for one reason or another, just make me uneasy this year:
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Marcus Stroman, Toronto: When he's at his best, Stroman is special. He was brilliant after coming back from a knee injury late in 2015, dominating his last four starts and shining into the playoffs. And last year he was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. He was solid last year, too, despite playing for a lousy team. But the start to this year has been rocky. He went off on a bizarre diatribe against his team after losing in arbitration this spring to get off on a bad note, and now he is going to miss time this spring due to elbow stiffness. The Jays rely heavily on Stroman and need him to have a career year if they want to be at all relevant. But early indications of his mindset and readiness make me uneasy.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets: After a strong rookie season in 2015 and a massive step forward in 2016, the fireballer for the Mets came into the season facing massive expectations as the best piece of a dynamite New York rotation. Well, the dynamite blew up - and not in a good way. Syndergaard threw just 30 innings. They were 30 strong innings - he struck out 34 while walking just 3. But when a guy is just 25 and can throw 100 mph as a starter it is very concerning when he has already dealt with a muscle injury in his arm. The range for Thor is massive - he could win 20 or 2 and I wouldn't be that surprised.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle: The list of pitchers I have liked in my life as much as King Felix is very short - Ryan, Clemens, Johnson, Halladay, and that's about it. But even though he won't turn 32 until after the season starts it sure feels like the end is drawing near for the legend. 2016 was a step back from top form for him, and last year was at times a disaster. He has pitched a ridiculous amount for his age, and he doesn't seem like what he was anymore - and he quite possibly won't ever be that again. He also is struggling to stay healthy, which isn't that surprising given that he isn't exactly the model of fitness. His role has evolved in Seattle - James Paxton is listed as the No. 1 starter now. But he will be perceived as an ace as long as he is around, and legendary guys who are no longer what they were can be a massive trap for bettors.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs: Darvish is very talented. But he hasn't been the same guy since coming back from the Tommy John surgery that cost him his 2015 season. He struggled with Texas last year. And while he improved significantly in the regular season with the Dodgers, he just didn't handle the pressure of the playoffs well at all. Now he will face intense pressure being the big-money ace in a baseball-crazed market on a team that is expected to be a serious contender. He could do great. But it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't earn all of his hefty paycheck now - or ever.
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia: Nola was named the opening-day starter for the Phillies before spring training had barely gotten started. There is a lot of excitement and high expectations surrounding the 2014 first-round pick and around the rebuilding Phillies as well. Twice today already (it's not even noon) I have read about how Philadelphia is a lock to not finish in the cellar of their division, and their newly-minted ace in a big reason for it. But Nola has only pitched in parts of three seasons, and he was pretty consistently lousy in 2016. His start last year wasn't great, either, and it was only in the second half that we started seeing some decent form. The immediate success of guys like Kris Bryant and Aaron Judge have skewed out perception of what rookies are in baseball and how patient we have to be with young players for the first several years of their careers in most cases. Nola has the tools to be very good, but expectations - for player and team - just seem to be out of control.
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