The Unnoticed Lefty

Usually when I begin my posts with discussions centering on those with very solid controllable skillsets and the consistent durability to log 200+ frames each season, the topic of interets is Javier Vazquez. Not this time. No, instead of Vazquez, I want to give some props to another pitcher who might not fit this bill in the same exact manner but who has put together a pretty great career that gets overlooked far too often. That pitcher happens to be South Side southpaw Mark Buehrle, who just recently turned 30 years old, much younger than most realize.

Though 30 years of age does not necessarily constitute a spring chicken, Buehrle’s veteran savvy and resume dating back to the year 2000 make him seem older, somewhere in the 34-36 years old range. Since 2001, and including this season to weed out the retired, only four pitchers have thrown 1750+ innings: Vazquez, Buehrle, Barry Zito, and Livan Hernandez.

Hernandez is likely on his last legs, we all know the modus operandi of Vazquez, and Zito, despite a strong showing early on this season, has come nowhere near replicating his performance in Oakland. Buehrle has a 123 ERA+ in this span that leads the bunch. He is not exactly a strikeout machine, hovering around the league average in that department, but Buehrle walks next to nobody and breaks even on the home run front. All told, in exactly 300 major league outings, Buehrle has a 3.78 ERA and 4.14 FIP to his name.

These are not the kinds of numbers that beg for end of season award voting or spots on the all star team; however, the consistency with which these numbers were accrued speaks volumes for what he can bring to a team. Outside of the 2006 season–which was clearly an outlier in which his K/9 dropped to depths never before seen and his HR/9 rose almost exponentially–Buehrle has never posted an ERA greater than 4.21 (which actually came in his rookie season) or an FIP north of 4.26.

Here are his win values from 2002-08: +4.8, +4.4, +4.9, +6.3, +1.9, +3.8, +4.6. It is also fairly safe to assume that his numbers in 2001, which were very similar to those produced in 2002, would have resulted in right around +4.6 wins. Keeping in mind that Buehrle debuted as a rookie at the tender age of 21 years old, it is pretty incredible the kind of impact he made right out of the gate. At +0.9 wins already this season, he is right on pace for another season besting four wins.

Certain types of pitchers garner plenty of attention in the media: flashy ones like Carlos Zambrano, downright awesome ones like Johan Santana and Roy Halladay, the young ones reaching their potential like Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, and the ones that come from nowhere like Cliff Lee. Buehrle does not fit into any of these, and tends to fall into the same category as Roy Oswalt and Aaron Harang, very durable pitchers with quality numbers that, for one reason or another, get overshadowed.

Buehrle is not even close to being done, especially when you consider that Derek Lowe has a similar skillset and just signed a contract that will expire close to when he turns 40. The wear and tear on Buehrle’s arm may come into play but he doesn’t throw exceptionally hard and grades decently with mechanics. It’s about time we start appreciating what guys like Buehrle bring to the table.

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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.

12 Responses to “The Unnoticed Lefty”

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  1. AJP says:

    Finally Buehrle gets some credit. Buehrle is a great pitcher and an ace, he doesn’t put up flashy numbers but he puts up good numbers year in and out. Thats all you can ask for from pitchers and Buehrle does it just as about as well as other aces out there. He is far from done and before he is said and done he will have plenty more of good numbers and could possibly be a hall of fame canidate.

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  2. dbuff says:

    It’s nice to see Buehrle get some respect for the very valuable and consistent real-world pitcher he is. In fantasy baseball Buehrle is an innings eater who will kill you in strikeouts.

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  3. AJP says:

    Well if your league has K/9 then he won’t help you much there but if it just goes by K’s then he only can help you. Plus he gives you a solid amount of Wins, ERA, and WHIP, so Buehrle isn’t as bad of a fantasy pitcher as people think.

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  4. Joel says:

    In the future you will add Wandy Wandilicous Rodriguez to this list

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  5. rmlumley says:

    I completely agree. Last month I tried to factor in how amazing Buehrle is at controlling the base paths.

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  6. dbuff says:

    I was speaking of a typical roto league which usually has a limitation on innings pitched for the year (e.g. Yahoo’s 1250 IP yearly limit). As an example, in my Yahoo winner’s league this year the K’s per 9 through Sunday were this: 9.81, 9, 9, 8.1, 8.1, 7.92, 7.74, 7.67, 7.47, 7.47 (me), 7.33 and 7.18. 3 1/2 points out of 12 for K’s is problematic if you’re out to win a championship. It certainly can be overcome but it is problematic. BTW the team with Buehrle is the 7.67 but that rotation also includes Santana and Beckett and in fact is carrying Sanders as well as Beckett. Of course Buehrle gives himself a chance to win just about every time out but 7 wins in 52 innings is a bit of a stretch for a pitcher with a career average of one win per 14.84 IP. Also his K’s per 9 have elevated a bit to around 5.8 last year and this which is about a half strikeout per 9 over his career average so that is a bit of relief if he keeps it up. By Yahoo’s calculation (whatever that is based on) Buehrle was the 64th most valuable starting pitcher in ’08 which made him a borderline prospect for a 5 man rotation and he was drafted accordingly (17th round). Of course the good has far outweighed the bad to this point this year and he was ranked 14th of all starters before Tuesday’s strong performance.

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  7. dbuff says:

    Correcting my previous post Buehrle has “only” 6 wins in 52 innings.

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  8. In the spirit of “Hawk” Harrelson… I love Mark Buehrle.

    OK, now that I got that out of the way, I’m glad Eric highlighted how remarkably consistent Buehrle has been. As with the comparison to Derek Lowe, I’m not sure he’ll even sure Mark will still be in baseball at 35. There have been some rumblings that he may retire a few years before then.

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  9. Newcomer says:

    That was Buehrle himself suggesting that he might retire in the next few years, but it’s nothing he’s decided on. He thinks that at some point he’ll decide family time is more important than continuing to pitch.

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  10. Alireza says:

    One of the reason’s for Buehrle’s success is that he has wonderful mechanics, much like another extreme GB pitcher with great control, lots of movement and average velocity, Greg Maddux.

    It is also a big reason he has stayed healthy all these years.

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