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Chicago White Sox: Is Mark Buehrle the Weakest Link in the Rotation?

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Chicago White Sox: Is Mark Buehrle the Weakest Link in the Rotation?
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When it comes to likability, Mark Buehrle is at the top of the list.

From his sliding on the tarp during rain delays to the way errors never seem to bother him, Mark Buehrle is an easy guy to root for.

However, as we start to examine the 2011 White Sox and how they can be improved this offseason, the fan-friendly southpaw starts to stand out as a potential weakness in the rotation.

I know, I know. How dare I even suggest that the Buehrle is not the ace of the rotation?

Well, hear me out.

For his career, the 31-year-old lefty is 148-110 with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.

Pretty solid numbers. Granted, they're not "Ace" numbers, but they're good enough for a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

My worry comes from a few factors, one of which is the fact that, in four out of the last six seasons, Buehlre has led the AL in hits allowed.

"But that's not his fault; he throws so many innings!" Thank you, imaginary reader of this article.

While Buehrle does consistently pitch over 200 innings a season (he's done it for 10 consecutive seasons), his league-leading number of hits allowed have come in recent seasons where his IP hasn't exceeded 218.

For instance, this past season Buehrle gave up 246 hits in 210.1 IP. He ended up with a 1.40 WHIP.

That WHIP was the 75th best in all of baseball. Just below Randy Wells and just above Clayton Richard.

Having runners reach base at a high clip and not being a strikeout pitcher is a sure-fire recipe for giving up runs.

Speaking of strikeouts (or lack thereof), that is also a cause for concern. There's no question that Buehrle has been successful throughout his career while not striking out many hitters (he struck out a career 149 in 2005, compared with 99 this season.)

However, as a finesse pitcher who gives up a lot of hits and plays in a hitter-friendly park, the lack of strikeouts is a concern going forward. When hitters are putting balls in play, sometimes those balls find a gap and or leave the yard.

As Buehrle continues to age, his stuff isn't likely to get much better. At some point, it will begin to fall off.

What happens then? (Hint: WHIP + ERA will balloon.)

If Buehrle was only making a few million a year, this wouldn't be so worrisome. But as a $14 million pitcher next season, a lot is expected of him in the rotation.

Looking at the other starters, I'm not sure he's any better than Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson. That means, as the fifth-best starter, he's eating up an important chunk of the payroll.

To be clear, I like Mark Buehrle and I like what he contributes as a veteran leader. But facts are facts, and at $14 million per season, he just might be the weakest part of the White Sox's 2011 rotation.

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