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Sleeper Watch: Mark Buehrle

Posted By Dan Wade On March 13, 2012 @ 4:15 pm In Starting Pitchers | 6 Comments

Calling Mark Buehrle a sleeper feels somehow wrong. He absolutely fits the criteria; he’s being drafted late in drafts with potential for a strong year, but he isn’t exactly under-the-radar the way someone like Bryan LaHair is. He’s less undiscovered and more unfairly unloved.

No matter how you parse the data, there is no way around the fact that Buehrle is an absolute workhorse. Since he came into the league in 2000, no one has more 200 IP seasons than Buehrle, who has never failed to throw 200 innings in a season where he started more than three games. Durability is one of those traits that benefit real teams more than fantasy ones, and while it’s certainly his most heralded trait, it isn’t the only thing he brings to the table.

A lot of what Buehrle does is good, but not great. His career ERA is 3.83, his career WHIP is a solid 1.28, and while neither is good enough to call him even a one-category stud, neither is going to hurt most fantasy rotations. He has played on good enough teams to add a bit there, but when most of his value is only OK, it puts a lot of pressure on his ability to get strikeouts. Mark Buehrle isn’t good at getting strikeouts, and yet, as a late-round pick, I see Buehrle as a strong candidate to provide a positive value far beyond his cost.

The book on Buehrle hasn’t really changed, but the context surely has. His move to Miami can’t be anything but good for his value, even though the park factors aren’t known yet, because it can’t possibly be as hitter-friendly as US Cellular Field. The new park should help his ERA and may also help his WHIP depending on how the park plays. Certainly helping his WHIP will be the fact that the Marlins’ defense should be better than the White Sox’s defense has been over the last few seasons. Over the last three seasons, the Marlins’ defense has been fairly middle-of-the-road, and while the team will sport a different left side of the infield this year, they aren’t likely to swing wildly away from the middle third of defensive teams. Facing a pitcher instead of a DH will help Buehrle’s paltry strikeout rate rise to the level of mediocrity.

Even with the move, Buehrle isn’t terribly likely to strike out more than 5.0-5.5 K/9, but in order to be valuable, he needs to contribute fewer strikeouts if his WHIP and ERA are also lower, which I expect them to be. According to Matt Swartz’s analysis, Steamer has the most accurate projections for pitchers, and they have Buehrle set for a 4.54 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP, and a 5.2 K/9, which strikes me as almost a worst-case scenario for Buehrle. ZiPS has Buehrle with a 3.69 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and a 5.06 K/9, which is closer to my own expectations for him. Sure, it would be wonderful if he were to pull his strikeouts up into at least the 6.0-6.5 range, but that’s just not his game anymore.

Make no mistake, Buehrle isn’t the type of pitcher to plan an entire rotation around, but he’ll provide value in both ERA and WHIP, add a few strikeouts, and will certainly win a fair number of games if the Marlins are as good as they expect to be. His real value, however, comes from the fact that he’s being taken in only two-thirds of drafts or fewer across most of the major servers. When he is getting drafted, his ADP no higher than 216, which means he’s being taken after Roy Oswalt in most drafts. There is no doubt in my mind that over the course of a full season, Buehrle will be the more valuable of the two.

I really like Buehrle as a last or second-to-last starter to fill out a rotation, especially for teams that have added a lot of risk elsewhere in the draft. The consistency is a given, and while he’s not a young man anymore, redraft players shouldn’t have to worry about him collapsing this year.


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