Buehrle’s Free Agent Prospects

Mark Buehrle‘s contract expires at the end of the season and the veteran lefty isn’t confident he will work out an extension with the White Sox before hitting free agency. It’s very possible that, for the first time in his 12-year career, Buehrle will test the market and potentially sign with another team.

Though Buehrle has hinted at retirement on numerous occasions, manager Ozzie Guillen believes he’ll pitch next season. Guillen thinks Buehrle has too much left to offer major league teams to simply walk away. Buehrle has never come across as an egotistical stats-monger or the kind of pitcher so wrapped up in his legacy to stick around for specific milestones. That doesn’t mean he will definitely retire while pitching at a high level, but it also makes his free agent prospects tough to predict.

What might Buehrle make if he hits free agency? And for how long would he sign? Despite a better career and more established track record than the likes of Ted Lilly, Randy Wolf and Wandy Rodriguez, might teams mistakenly lump him in with that group?

First, a statistical comparison:

Buehrle 2011: 4.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 45% GBs, .291 BABIP, 72% LOB, 3.58 ERA, 4.14 xFIP
Buehrle Career: 5.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 46% GBs, .291 BABIP, 72% LOB, 3.83 ERA, 4.22 xFIP

Almost mirror images, right? Buehrle is right on his career averages this season and he does this practically every single season, like clockwork. He is Jeff Suppan-esque in his consistency except he doesn’t stink. Buehrle has tallied right around 46 WAR over 12 seasons and almost always produces 3.5-4.5 per season. Even his worst season was still league average by our standards here.

A major component of his success is durability. Buehrle makes just about every start in every season and pitches deep into games. Since 2001, his first full season in the majors, he has never thrown fewer than 201 innings. He often ends up in the 210-230 innings range. With 186 innings on his current line and three more starts left this month it would take successive clunkers to prevent him from passing the double century mark again.

Where does everything here rank contextually? From 2001-11, his WAR total ranks seventh among pitchers behind: Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana and Javier Vazquez. Only Livan Hernandez has made more starts (361 to 359), and only he and Sabathia have logged more innings. Though, to be fair, the gap between Hernandez and Sabathia/Buehrle equates to a measly one start per year over eleven seasons.

Buehrle’s career WAR total puts him right in line with Brad Radke, a very similar pitcher in terms of approach. Radke had a career 5.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 41% GBs and .292 BABIP. While the strikeout-to-walk ratio is better than Buehrle’s, the peripherals are very comparable. Both pitched more to contact and prevented free passes at a great rate. Further, they were less hittable than the league — with over a decade of evidence and numerous defensive turnovers it seems safe to suggest that their lower BABIPs were more contingent on their skill sets than anything team-oriented.

Durability, age and sustained success over a longer period of time separate Buehrle from the southpaws mentioned above. These attributes also separate him from up-and-coming pitchers with similar approaches, like Doug Fister. Wolf is 34 years old and missed plenty of time from 2005-07. Ted Lilly is 37 years old. Wandy Rodriguez is Buehrle’s age, but peaked late and won’t be as successful as long. These three pitchers all signed deals with average annual values ranging from $10-$12 million in recent years.

Buehrle, however, was a full-time starter as soon as he could legally buy alcohol and, over a decade later, is still bringing it. His current season is a lot like his age-28 season, which was similar to his age-24 season. While most players see their skills worsen with age, Buehrle hasn’t experienced anything resembling a substantial decline. It’s tough to imagine a pitcher like this suddenly turning into a pumpkin. While the three comparable lefties signed for $10-$12 million per season, Buehrle signed for $14 million. He was perceived more effective then and will likely remain that way now.

The real up in the air issue is the length of his deal. Various teams would offer him a three- or four-year deal with AAVs in the $12-$14 million range, but he may not want to pitch that much longer. With retirement clearly looming in the back of his head, a string of one- or two-year deals could close out his career, which makes him all the more attractive to potential suitors. An extra year or two couldn’t be used as a negotiating ploy, and Buehrle might actually be able extract more in consecutive, shorter-term deals than he would in a long-term contract. He’s in a no-risk zone.

Hopefully, Buehrle hits free agency because his case will be very interesting to follow. While fans value consistency in his sense, it remains to be seen just how much teams will value it on the free agent market, especially if he doesn’t want to sign a long-term deal, where that attribute becomes more important.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

33 Responses to “Buehrle’s Free Agent Prospects”

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  1. Billion Memes says:

    The infamous Johan Santa makes his return!

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    Come home to StL Mark. 2/24 with an option for 3rd year.

    You know you want to (and StL fans want you to as well).

    You and Edwin jackson have had about the same value over the last 3 years, but your starts are much more watchable.

    Jake Westbrook isn’t working out. Cut bait.

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    • James says:

      For years, it’s seemed he’s not willing to leave the Midwest and would like to play in St. Louis. It’s going to be Chicago or STL (and possibly KC if neither of those teams offer him anything). The question is whether Reinsdorf will ante up to keep him from going to STL. Money being equal, I think he will stay in Chicago.

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    • Evan Bruschini says:

      I’m with you except for the part about EJax. I’ve enjoyed watching all of his starts except the one against Milwaukee, although that one was at least entertaining.

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  3. Pat says:

    I think there is a chance this can be one of the most boring free agencies in history. There’s a chance it could be a lot of fun, but looking at nearly every good player on the market, I don’t see fits for them other than re-signing with their own teams. The only big guy who can switch teams is Fielder, no pun intended.

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  4. RC says:

    “Buehrle has tallied right around 46 WAR over 12 seasons and almost always produces 3.5-4.5 per season”

    46 WAR, while WAR is clearly understimating him (as his FIP is consistently about .8 Runs above his ERA).

    In reality, he’s probably been worth 150-200% of that 46 WAR.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Surprisingly, he at 46.2 brWAR (which uses Runs Allowed, instead of FIP, as a primary factor).

      46 fWAR and 46 brWAR.

      In reality, he’s probably been worth 150-200% of that 46 WAR.

      Probably not anywhere close to 150-200% of 46 WAR. That would make him one of thegreatest ever at best, and a hall of famer at worst.

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    • Mike says:

      @RC – Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle have pitched close to the same number of innings in their careers (within 50 IP of each other). Halladay’s career WAR is about 70. So you are suggesting that Mark Buehrle has been somewhere between “just as good as Halladay” to “significantly better than Halladay”. That doesn’t seem correct.

      I guess you could respond that Halladay too is undervalued by WAR, but his FIP is pretty close to his ERA, so by your standards that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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    • jim says:

      200%? you are aware that 200% of 46 is 92, right? the career total of nolan ryan (post-1980)? more than pedro martinez, curt schilling, mike mussina, bert blyleven, or any pitcher since 1980 not named maddux, clemens, or johnson?

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    • frug says:

      I think you are aiming to high with your 150-200% claim, but I do agree that WAR is underestimating his value since it doesn’t include pitchers defense. Buerhle is easily the best defensive pitcher of his generation, and one the best at managing the run game since Pettitte, and as such FG’s WAR will always underestimate his true value since he will generally post better RA’s than FIPs.

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    • Notrotographs says:

      Are you sure you didn’t mean 1.5-2.0%?

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  5. Phantom Stranger says:

    Buehrle has definitely been one of the most durable and consistent pitchers of the modern era. Since he doesn’t really get hitters out with his fastball velocity, a small dip that might be natural at his age would probably not affect his results that much. Think Jamie Moyer with slightly better stuff as he gets older. He would have more value to a team with great defense and which plays in a big stadium. Put him on the Padres or Mets and his style would likely work even better.

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  6. Yinka Double Dare says:

    “It’s tough to imagine a pitcher like this suddenly turning into a pumpkin.”

    It was tough to imagine Adam Dunn turning into a pumpkin too, but here we are, a smashed stinking rotten pumpkin.

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  7. The Wizard says:

    Hopefully, Buehrle hits free agency

    Hopefully, the Sox don’t let that happen

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  8. frug says:

    I have a really hard time imagining Buerhle ever pitching elsewhere. He took less money to stay in Chicago last time he was a free agent and his talk of retirement means he is not too motivated by money or a true passion for the game. He is happy with his life right now and I can’t see him making any major changes.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      Although I agree, I think he would be wise to finish his career in a serious pitchers park like PETCO. he could get 2-3 seasons with and ERA lower than his career total and help his legacy. A legacy that is much much better than most!

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    • Ted Lilly says:

      That’s really sad that he doesn’t have a true passion for pitching. He doesn’t have an egregious injury history that would compel him to retire, and he obviously has the talent to contribute to an MLB team. While I would never be in the Halladay/Kershaw/Verlander tier, when it is my turn to pitch, it is MY game, not Clayton’s, Chad’s, Hiroki’s, or Dana’s game. Since it is my game, I try to give the fans something memorable and impressive during each start; unfortunately, I usually allow a home run, and that is usually the Scarlet Letter of the game. At minimum, I try to throw a a quality start, and strike out a batter an inning while allowing at most two walks, and pitch at least six full innings, but I try to aim for a start with a game score > 90, like my complete-game shutout against the Rockies on August 19, 2010 (2 H, 11 K, 2 BB). It is really fun to strike out Major League batters, although I am not exceptional at it. I wish Buehrle derives satisfaction of going six (or more) strong innings per game without allowing a HR and walking only one batter, while striking out 3, and getting a double play or two.

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  9. Ted Lilly says:

    I didn’t know that Buerhle had 20 more wins than me! I guess it shows that pitchers need two out of three things in order to be successful: a low HR/9, low BB/9, and a high K/9. I have a relatively high K/9 for my velocity throughout my career, but most people know that I suffered a high HR/9. However, my command was atrocious during the early 00s, but I recently improved on my command. Buerhle, in contrast, always had exceptional command; perhaps, he had just an average strikeout rate, he’d be a Greg Maddux.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    for Buehrle to come crashing down he’d have to lose command of the strikezone. IMO, that’s far more unlikely than Dunn swinging through everything.

    Guys with good control typically keep it.

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    • Ted Lilly says:

      I don’t expect Buehrle to lose velocity. While it has been demonstrated that strikeout rate declines with age, velocity declines with age, and strikeout rate is correlated with velocity; thus, an obvious inference is that age erodes strikeout rate through diminishing velocity. But does strikeout rate decline due to age independent of the age-related velocity decline? In other words, can strikeout rate decline while one ages, if there velocity doesn’t also decline?

      Circle, I thought power pitchers have long careers than finesse pitchers.

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      • Andre says:

        Maybe that’s because they can afford to lose some velocity. Not as big a dropped from 100 to 95 as it is from 90 to 85, for example.

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  11. p4ri4h says:

    remember when buehrle accused greg maddux of throwing a ‘spit-ball’?

    when reporters went to maddux and asked him about this, his reply was:

    ‘who is mark buehrle???’

    fuckin’ classic. (they re-interviewed buehrle afterwards and he just laughed)

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