Mark Buehrle is the definition of a crafty lefty. His career high strikeout percentage is 16.2% and he has struck out more than six batters per nine innings just one time in his career. Despite his lacking strikeout skills, Buehrle has still been able to maintain an 84 ERA- and net a nice four-year $58 million contract with the Marlins this past offseason. In his first stint in the National League, Buerhle is posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Here is how he is doing it.
Buehrle has historically been a change of speeds guy, as he has averaged roughly 50% four or two-seam fastballs in the PITCHf/x era. He has complimented his fastball with a heavily relied upon change up and the occasional curveball and cutter. The plethora of pitches that he can command has allowed Buehrle to succeed with significantly below average velocity for years. This year, Buehrle and the Marlins staff have decided to up the reliance on his change up even more and also increase the usage of his cutter.
He has combined to throw the two pitches in 49.5% of his offerings, with his two fastballs both being used with less frequency than in pat years. The increased usage of the change up, specifically becomes even more magnified with two strikes.
0-2: 54.4% frequency, 5.6% whiff
1-2: 33.7% frequency, 10.9% whiff
2-2: 46.2% frequency, 11.7% whiff
3-2: 55.6% frequency, 20.0% whiff
0-2: 10.7% frequency, 9.1% whiff
1-2: 20.2% frequency, 12.1% whiff
2-2: 16.9% frequency, 4.5% whiff
3-2: 16.0% frequency, 23.1% whiff
With the new approach, Buehrle is netting a 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the first time he has been above three since 2005. His walk rate, which has been one of the biggest factors for his success throughout his career, is now at a career low 3.7% with 1.34 walks per nine innings pitched.
Of course, some of this success is due to the transition to the National League, a better home park. and the fact that offense is generally down the past few years compared to what was the norm during Buehrle’s career. Even so, the noted alteration to his repertoire has Buehrle pitching about as well as he ever has in his career, which is very impressive given his age and his history of quality performance.
In looking at his change up usage last season, there is clearly more confidence in the pitch in two strike counts. It appears that Buehrle is going for the strikeout more than he did last year.
0-2: 18.7% frequency, 11.1% whiff
1-2: 25.9% frequency, 15.7% whiff
2-2: 31.0% frequency, 6.1% whiff
3-2: 45.6% frequency, 20.9% whiff
In every two strike count, Buehrle is attacking with his change up more frequently. While the whiff rates are somewhat comparable but still generally up this year, the rate with which the pitch is being thrown on two strikes has been a big difference in his performance so far this year.
This new version of Buehrle is a big positive for the Marlins, who have received lackluster performances from their two other big free agent acquisitions, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell. While the season has not gone as planned, a big year from Buehrle due to an altered approach is good news for the Marlins’ future.