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.