Mark Buehrle: The Unspectacular, but Perfect, Fantasy Ace

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Mark Buehrle: The Unspectacular, but Perfect, Fantasy Ace
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Everyone who watches the news knows what occurred on Thursday in Chicago.  You don’t have to even understand baseball at great length to understand the magnitude of what Mark Buehrle accomplished. 

Just the 24th pitcher in the history of the major leagues with multiple no-hitters, Buehrle’s performance has again piqued the interest of fantasy owners throughout the country.  I use the word “again” because so many people don’t realize how good Buehrle has been throughout his career.

We use the word consistent a lot in baseball, but if you looked it up in a dictionary, Mark Buehrle could conceivably be used as an example.  Greatly underrated and underappreciated because he doesn’t have the stuff that makes your jaw drop, Buehrle’s acumen and feel for the art of pitching have allowed him to have such a successful career.

Let’s take a look at Buehrle’s career and in-season numbers to see exactly I mean.

While perfect games are nearly impossible in baseball, make no mistake about it; Mark Buehrle isn’t a bad pitcher who’s just gotten lucky in two of his starts.  Of course luck must be on your side (Dwayne Wise), but Buehrle is an extremely good pitcher who has put very impressive numbers throughout his career. 

Realize his numbers are much more notable when you factor in Buehrle’s mid-80s fastball.  “When you’re a pitcher, you want to go up there and see the gun,” Buehrle said in an article on ESPN.com.  “For me, it’s 90. For other guys, that’s like 100.”

Buehrle, a four-time all-star, has a 3.76 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his career.  He’s an innings eater, having pitched over 200 innings in every full season he’s played. However, as a top-starter, Buehrle defies many of the expectations associated with it.  He has a career K/9 of 5.3. 

No, that’s not a typo, Mark Buehrle’s effectiveness does not come with high strikeout numbers.  His career his in a season is 165 strikeouts, a 6.1 K/9 mark in 2004. He’s also given up 9.3 H/9, which is astounding given his very respectable WHIP.  It certainly speaks to the benefit of pinpoint control.

Buehrle has a career 2.0 BB/9 and a HR/9 of 1.0.  To have such a low walk rate, in addition to such a low HR/9 is incredible.  For comparisons sake, Greg Maddux, albeit in 23 seasons, had a 0.6 HR/9 and 1.8 BB/9.  CC Sabathia has a HR/9 of 0.8 and a BB/9 of 2.8 in his nine seasons.

Why has Buehrle been so good throughout his career?  Baseball Prospectus put it best: “With each successive, successful season, we can say with more confidence that Buehrle is moving into the Jim Kaat/Tom Glavine class of southpaws, pitchers that thrive with below-average strikeout rates because of intelligent pitch sequencing, great command, and an ability to pace themselves.” 

What Buehrle lacks in overpowering stuff, he overcomes with intelligence and accuracy.  During Buehrle’s masterpiece Thursday afternoon, he was on the mound for 32 minutes; equivalent to one pitch every 16.5 seconds.

 

This Season

This year Mark Buehrle has an 11-3 record with 3.28 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  He has pitched in 134.1 innings and has allowed just 122 hits.  His K/9 of 5.09 is on par with his career average, but his BB/9 of 1.74 and HR/9 of 1.14 are slightly higher than his career norm.

Buehrle is a ground-ball pitcher who utilizes his ability to add, subtract and cut pitches to keep hitters off-balance.  His ground ball rate this season is at 44.3 percent, which is right on par with his 46.0 percent career rate. 

Certainly, Buehrle has been a solid No. 1 starter whose only blemish is his lack of strikeouts.  But for owners this season, there are some statistics that point to a possible regression.

  • His FIP of 4.21 indicates that a one run increase in ERA is practical for Buehrle this season.
  • His BABIP of .257 shows that Buehrle has been aided by luck this season. An increase in BABIP will most definitely hurt his numbers.
  • Buehrle’s 77.8 percent strand-rate ranks with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Josh Johnson, three pitchers who can afford to live on the edge at times because of their plus offerings.
  • Finally, his fly-ball rate this season is at 37.3 percent, which is more than his 34.0 percent career average. He’ll have to continue to suppress home runs, like he’s done throughout his career to keep his ERA and WHIP in check. His fly-ball rate has only been this high once before in his career.

Despite these factors painting a negative projection of Buehrle’s second half, I still would treat him as a top-tier starter right below the Lincecum’s and Haren’s of the world.  Even if he doesn’t have the best strikeout numbers, he’s still putting up above average stats everywhere else.

The White Sox are going to count on Mark Buehrle to be a key component in their quest for the playoffs. Thursday’s outing was a good start.

What do you guys think?  Will you rely on Buehrle in the second half?  Or do you have your doubts?

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