Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kevin Appier: Royals HOFer & Slam Dunk "Ace"

Good news from Royals-land today as Kevin Appier has been elected to the Royals Hall of Fame. He will be honored with a ceremony on June 25 before a game against the Cubs.
There's been some discussion on the interwebs recently about whether or not Appier was an "ace" pitcher. 610 sports radio host Robert Ford wrote a blog post recently about the history of Royals opening day pitchers, and lumped Appier into a class of pitchers he called "second tier." He defined an ace as one of the 10-20 best pitchers in the game, and a second tier guy as "a good, but not great, pitcher who can eat innings and give you a solid outing more often than not." I was flabbergasted that Ford considered Appier a "second tier" pitcher, and questioned him about it on his blog and on Twitter. Ford responded that he stood by it. I posted this screen-cap of the top pitchers by Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) between 1990-97 to Twitter:

clicky to biggy

As you can see, Appier ranks THIRD among all pitchers during his eight years as a healthy player.

hen today when it was announced Appier had been inducted to the Royals Hall, Ford tweeted "Royals announce Kevin Appier will be inducted into their Hall of Fame this season. Expect a 'Kevin Appier: Ace or Not An Ace' show soon." That lead to some more debate about whether or not Appier was an "ace," and Ford said he feels there are "10-15" aces per year, and Appier was often in the 16-20 range. "Ace" is obviously a highly subjective word, but I like Ford's general definition. If you go with 15 aces a year, that is the top 10% of starters in a 30 team league with five man rotations.

So, was Appier a top 15 pitcher, and if so, how many times: How about seven straight seasons? Appier's rank among MLB pitchers by fWAR:

1991: 2

1992: 9
1993: 2
1994: 6
1995: 3
1996: 5
1997: 12

If that is not an ace, I don't know what is. Greg Maddux was the only other pitcher who was a top-15 ace each of those seasons.

Most years as a top 15 fWAR pitcher, 1990-99:

10!: Greg Maddux

8: David Cone, Kevin Brown
7: Kevin Appier, Roger Clemens
6: Chuck Finley, Mike Mussina, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson
5: Jose Rijo

I don't know what Ford's opinion of "new-fangled" stats like WAR is, but Appier looks like an ace using traditional stats too. He was 15th in wins in the '90s, 16th in ERA, and 11th in strikeouts. I assume Appier just didn't "feel" like an ace at the time to some since he was playing on a poor team in a small market. But reality screams "ACE."

If you agree, get out to Kauffman Stadium early on June 25th and give Ape a hand.

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