Every once and a while (actually I don’t know how frequently), there’s a player who sneaks up on you. And all of a sudden you have to really start thinking about him with the all-time greats – even if he’s never been that great. These are the long and low types like Jim O’Rourke, Zach Wheat, Don Sutton, and Wally Schang. Another such player is in our midst, and he’s having another fine season. That player, if you hadn’t guessed from the title, is Mark Buehrle.
Today we’re going to run Buehrle through our ranking systems to see where he winds up. We’re also going to speculate a little so see where he might end his career. And we’re going to look at some of the traditional things the BBWAA considers to get an idea as to whether or not he’s going to make it.
In a typical Buehrle start on Thursday he allowed three runs in seven innings, struck out one, walked one, and got the win. It was his 12th of the season, which means he’s won at least a dozen games in all but one season since 2001. Let’s put that in perspective for a moment.
There have been 28 pitchers ever with as many at 15 seasons with double figure wins. However, only 13 of those pitchers have done so in consecutive seasons. And only eight pitchers ever have done what Buehrle has done, posting at least twelve wins fourteen times in fifteen seasons. Greg Maddux, Cy Young, Steve Carlton, Mike Mussina, Warren Spahn, Eddie Plank, and Gaylord Perry match Buehrle’s feat of consistency. Nobody else can.
As we know, writers love wins. And as of this writing, Buehrle is only tied for 93rd on the career list. Buehrle supporters should fear his current win total if they want him in the Hall because guys in his win range don’t make it, take a very long time, or have something special about them that Buehrle doesn’t have.
However, you get the feeling that Buehrle could go on pitching in this manner for quite some time.
He’s 36 and should end the year with about 215 wins. Those four more wins will move him into a tie for 86th in history. Give him a dozen next year, and he’s alone in 68th. Add twelve more in 2017, and he’s up to a tie for 57th. And twelve more the next year brings him to 251, tied with Bob Gibson for 47th all-time. Let him pitch until he’s 40, averaging 12 wins per season, and he’d retire 41st in career wins with 263.
Do I dare say that he has an outside shot at 300 wins and probably the best shot of anyone in the game? Everyone else is too far away, like Felix Hernandez (138 wins) and Clayton Kershaw (107), sputtering like CC Sabathia (212) and Justin Verlander (153), or about to retire like Tim Hudson (220). But Buerhle keeps going along his merry walk-avoiding, hard-contact-limiting, awesome-fielding, crazy-good-pickoffing way. And he’s never started fewer than 30 games since he was a rookie, durability that suggests he could keep going.
Let’s keep speculating. If he pitches through age 40, and we give him, say, 13 wins per year, that’s 267 wins, right between Jim Palmer and Bob Feller. If his skill set, which doesn’t rely on a power arm, can hold out, and he can go an additional four years, he’s going to make it even with a greatly reduced rate. But that’s eight more years, and who knows what his motivations and desires are. Or what chance he has of holding up until 44.
Other Cool BBWAA Stuff
Mark Buehrle was the 18th pitcher of 23 ever to hurl a perfect game. He is also one of fewer than 30 pitchers with multiple no-hitters. And he joins only Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, and Roy Halladay as pitchers with a perfect game and another no-hitter. All of those pitchers are in the Hall or should be going. That’s a positive sign for Buehrle.
Unfortunately big Mark hasn’t had much of a post-season career. As a rookie, he struck out Alex Rodriguez for the last White Sox out of their losing 2000 ALDS. He didn’t get back into the playoffs until Chicago’s improbable 2005 run to the World Series title. In typical Buehrle fashion, he gave up four runs in seven innings in his ALDS start against the Red Sox. His offense provided support, and he got the win. He was excellent in his ALCS start against the Angels, hurling a five-hitter on his way to a 2-1 win. But he was less impressive in the World Series. The Astros touched him for four runs in his one WS start. However, that should have been enough, as his White Sox led 6-4 after he left. Really, it was another Buehrle start, keeping his team in the game. Two days later, he was the ninth and final White Sox pitcher in a 14-inning win, so he picked up the save. His only other post-season start to date was a flop against the Rays in the 2008 ALDS.
As we continue to speculate, let’s say the Jays make the playoffs this year, go on a deep run, and Buerhle gets hot and shines. Such an October would do him a lot of good.
On the positive side, the writers tend not to go crazy for strikeout pitchers. If you don’t believe me, ask Bert Blyleven, Curt Schilling, and Mike Mussina. And if they did, Buehrle might be in trouble. In spite of the fact that he led his league in innings twice and finished in the top-10 seven times, he was only once in the top-10 in strikeouts, finishing ninth in 2004 when he threw 17.1 innings more than anyone else in the AL. In fact, when he whiffed six Devil Rays during his 2009 perfect game, that total tied for his season high. This year he has an excellent shot to finish in the top-10 in IP for the eighth time, and there’s a good possibility that he won’t finish in the top-50 in strikeouts.
But longevity is an interesting thing. Buehrle is 97th in career Ks. Averaging 125 or so per year over the next four years gets him all the way to 46th, between Robin Roberts and Early Wynn. Say he does the improbable and goes four years beyond that in our speculative attempt to win 300 games. With 100 whiffs per year over those four, he’d move into 22nd all-time, just ahead of David Cone, Chuck Finley, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, and Bob Feller.
Dare to dream, Mark.
More Advanced Stuff
Right now Buehrle is 56th in all-time pitcher WAR. Of the 67 or 68 pitchers in the Hall (depending on how you want to classify Monte Ward), he would rank #43. If he retired now he’d top the likes of Joe McGinnity, Jim Bunning, Whitey Ford, and Sandy Koufax in all-time valu by straight WAR. And if you were putting together a Hall of Longevity, it would be a no-brainer to elect him.
Jay Jaffe has a pretty simple system that combines career and 7-year peak called JAWS. By that number Buehrle is just 83rd among pitchers. Of course, he still tops 15 Hall of Fame hurlers by this standard.
Don’t get me wrong, JAWS is a great system. But Jaffe would tell you that he sacrifices a bit of precision for simplicity. So Eric and I built our own individual systems. Looking just at those pitchers eligible though the 2015 election and Buehrle, Eric ranks him 60th, and I put him 63rd. Eric thinks he’s in right now. I put him more on the borderline because of his very low peak.
Miller Eric 60 Bob Caruthers 57 Rich Gossage 61 Early Wynn 58 Chuck Finley 62 Ted Breitenstein 59 Eddie Cicotte 63 Mark Buehrle 60 Mark Buehrle 64 Kevin Appier 61 Bob Caruthers 65 Sandy Koufax 62 Eddie Rommel 66 Frank Tanana 63 Sandy Koufax
How Low Is His Peak?
By my numbers, if Buehrle were in the HoME, he’d be one of only three pitchers (Don Sutton and Whitey Ford the other two), without a seven-win campaign to his credit. He’d have the lowest three-year peak. He’d best only Sutton in terms of five years. He’d top only Sutton and Ford over seven seasons. And he’d best the same two guys in his best ten seasons.
But Buehrle’s ticket into the HoME will never be based on peak. It’ll be based on longevity. And if he retired today, he’d top Dazzy Vance, Whitey Ford, Early Wynn, Urban Shocker, Chuck Finley, Rube Waddell, Dave Stieb, Don Sutton, Joe McGinnity, Rich Gossage, Old Hoss Radbourne, Bucky Walters, Mordecai Brown, Kevin Appier, Pud Galvin, and Sandy Koufax over fifteen seasons.
And he’s not done yet!
Speculation Going Forward
I want to be very realistic here. Rather than giving Buehrle eight more seasons to get to 300 wins, I’m going to give him just four more seasons of 2 WAR each, until he’s 40.
With one more season, he’ll rank #59 by my numbers. Those right ahead will be Dave Stieb, Orel Hershiser, and Don Sutton. Those right behind will be Mordecai Brown, Bob Caruthers, and Early Wynn. So with one more 2-win season, it would be really difficult to keep Buehrle out of the HoME.
Two more years won’t move him that much more. Eddie Cicotte, Dave Stieb, and Orel Hershiser would be the three ahead of him. Don Sutton, Mordecai Brown, and Bob Caruthers would be immediately behind.
A third such season would do wonders. It would move him to 54th. And the three immediately in front and would be Dennis Eckersley, Jim Bunning, and Brett Sabergahen. Behind would be Urban Shocker, Eddie Cicotte, and Dave Stieb.
With a fourth 2-WAR season, Mark Buehrle would end his career at age 40 as the 52nd best pitcher ever by my reckoning, just behind Dazzy Vance, Red Faber, and Dennis Eckersley.
Unless Make Buehrle tops 250 wins, I think it’s going to be pretty difficult for him to get elected to the Hall of Fame, save some October heroics, another perfect game, or something strange that would attract voters.
On the other hand, he has already done close to enough to get elected to the HoME, assuming we continue to want the same number of HoMEs as are in the Hall of Fame and that the Hall elects players at a reasonable rate for the next six or so seasons. With just one more 2-win season, I think he’d be just about a lock.
What do you know. Mark Buehrle just snuck up on us.