Mark Buehrle's name has come up a lot in rumors this offseason.
The Chicago White Sox have a surplus of starting pitching, and there's been speculation that the team could move Buehrle and his $14 million salary to clear payroll space after giving Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko expensive free agent contracts this winter.
In addition, Buehrle, who turns 32 this month, is considering retiring after the season. This raises a silly sounding, yet important question: is he a Hall of Famer?
The easy answer is no, and it's hard to argue with that. His 148 wins barely put him in the Top 250 all time, and his 1,287 strikeouts rank 260th.
With the possible exception of 2005, Buehrle's never been a truly dominant pitcher; he's never won 20 games in a season or posted a sub-3.00 ERA. Only once has he earned an FIP under 3.90, and that was the only season in which he was worth more than 5.0 WAR.
Most egregious is his 3.85 career ERA, which ties him for 698th in baseball history, and would be the worst of any Cooperstown pitcher.
Unless Buehrle pulls a Jaime Moyer and drastically improves in his 30's or continues to play well into his 40's, I'd have a hard time checking his name on my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot.
But if he stays in baseball and ages well, his case for Cooperstown would be better than you'd think.
First, we must consider that Buerhle's ERA is largely a function of him spending his entire career in a high-offense era and playing half his games in cozy U.S. Cellular Field.
His 120 ERA+, which accounts for yearly league and park factors, isn't phenomenal, but it paints a nicer picture of his accomplishments.
For some comparison, Buehrle's ERA+ beats those of legends like Warren Spahn (119), Gaylord Perry (117), Steve Carlton (115) and Nolan Ryan (112).
But how does that translate into on-field value?
Using FanGraphs.com's model, Buehrle has 42.5 wins above replacement heading into his age 32 season. In general, 60 WAR is seen as the cutoff for serious Cooperstown candidates.
Using his career average of 4.3 WAR/season, he'd hit the magic 60 in April 2015. If you prefer last year's 3.8 WAR as a benchmark, he'd still get there in under five years. Even if he sinks to 3 WAR a season, he'd still have 60 by the end of 2016.
Unfortunately, FanGraphs' WAR data goes back only 30 years, so to put his value in a historical context we must use Baseball-Reference.com's model. B-R gives Buehrle 42.9 WAR of value.
On this scale, one could argue that Buehrle is a Hall of Famer already. He has more WAR than some already-enshrined pitchers, including Bob Lemon (42.4) Dizzy Dean (39.6) and Catfish Hunter (32.5).
At his three-year average rate of 4.3 WAR/season, he'd pass Sandy Koufax (54.5) and Whitey Ford (55.3) in 2013. Five years from now, he'd have usurped Jim Palmer (63.5), John Smoltz (63.9) and Juan Marichal (64.0).
In addition, Buehrle has a perfect game to his name and got both a win and a save when his White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Throw in his terrific defense and voters could be surprised how hard it will be to leave him off their ballots.
Would this be enough for him to deserve a spot in Cooperstown?
It's hard to say with this vague hypothetical scenario but probably not.
At the risk of sounding like a Bert Blyleven detractor (and by the way, if anyone who didn't vote for him votes for Buehrle, there is no hope left for humanity), that he was never truly feared as a dominant pitcher would make it hard for me to endorse his candidacy.
But barring an early retirement or a rapid decline, Buehrle deserves to at least get some serious consideration for Cooperstown, even if he's better suited to the "Hall of Very Good."
No doubt he'd be a better choice than Jack Morris.
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