Buehrle continues to be model of consistency
Southpaw has remained one of the league's most durable starters
One of these days, it really is going to happen. Mark Buehrle is going to slow down. Everybody does, right?
But the 35-year-old Buehrle of 2014 is pretty much the same as the 32-year-old Buehrle of 2011, who was pretty much the same as the 29-year-old Buehrle of 2008. Now that guy might not have quite been the Buehrle of 2005, but at any point in the last 13 seasons, he has been one of the most reliable, most durable starters in the big leagues.
Buehrle is also a winner, and he's carrying the Toronto Blue Jays with him. They've won all three of his starts (and 10 of his last 11, dating back to 2013), including matchups against Matt Moore at Tampa Bay and Ubaldo Jimenez at Baltimore, which is one of the biggest reasons that Toronto is off to a confidence-building 7-6 start. It is adding depth to an already deep American League East.
In the long run, this could prove to be a bad thing for the defending World Series champs. If the Blue Jays can finish in the top half of the AL in rotation ERA -- they're seventh now at 3.63 -- there will not be a weak team in the division. With Jacoby Ellsbury in New York and Dustin Pedroia a major health concern, the Red Sox are in danger of falling into an early hole. If they do, a deeper AL East will make it a lot tougher to dig out of it.
Everybody knows Buehrle's thing. The country boy from outside St. Louis is a soft thrower who works fast, fields his position (four Gold Gloves) and avoids the disabled list like jury duty. He's working on a streak of 13 straight seasons in which he has made 30-plus starts and worked 200-plus innings.
Buehrle's best pitch is a changeup and his style is to pitch to contact. His career rate of strikeouts per nine innings is a pedestrian 5.2, and it was only 4.4 in 2011, when the White Sox chose to extend John Danks' contract while allowing him to leave as a free agent.
Because Buehrle doesn't throw hard, he's never been a Cy Young contender (in fact he's received votes only in 2005, when he finished fifth). Because of his strikeout rate, naysayers have been predicting his impending doom over at least half of his remarkable career. Yet somehow Buehrle struck out 11 and walked only one in his first start this season, just missing a shutout at Tropicana Field after going 8 2/3 innings.
What was up with that? Maybe the Rays should get some credit, as Buehrle has since reverted to form, striking out five in 12 1/3 innings in his last two starts. A four-time All-Star, Buehrle has attracted attention with two no-hitters, including a perfect game. But his value is best understood 200 innings at a time. The guy might be the biggest winner in baseball, given how he wins without throwing gas and how infrequently he has been been on top-tier teams.
Consider this: Buehrle has been a full-time starter since 2001, and his teams with the White Sox, Marlins and Blue Jays have gone 245-184 in his starts. That's a .571 winning percentage, and it compares to a .494 winning percentage (830-851) for his teams when anyone else starts.
That's the kind of difference a true No. 1 starter is supposed to make, isn't it? Yet Buehrle is never -- ever -- mentioned when anyone gets on the subject of the game's best starters.
How good is a winning percentage that is 77 points better than your team without you? There might be better ways to quantify it, but compare Buehrle to three left-handed Hall of Famers.
Looking at five-year stretches in the middle of their careers, Warren Spahn (1955-59), Whitey Ford (1959-63) and Tom Glavine (1996-2000) pitched their teams -- some of the best in baseball -- to a 343-174 record in their starts. That's a .663 winning percentage, which is eye-popping. But those Braves and Yankees teams were 1,325-876 behind all the other starters, which is .602.
So in the middle of their careers, Spahn, Ford and Glavine elevated their team less (61 points) than Buehrle has elevated his over the course of his career (77 points).
Buehrle may not have been Steve Carlton on the 1972 Phillies, but in piling one good night on top of another, year after year, he's created an amazing legacy.
Buehrle is as professional as it gets, too. He could have complained about Miami trading him to Toronto only one year into a four-year, $58 million contract, but he hasn't. Buehrle did get off to a shaky start with the Blue Jays a year ago (7.02 ERA in his first seven starts), but over his last 29 starts, including the first three this year, he has gone 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA.
That streak of quality starting has been invaluable for a franchise that has ridden the roller coaster with so many others, including R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie.
This is an exciting time for the Blue Jays. Dickey remains inconsistent, but he set down the Yankees for 6 2/3 innings in his second start of the season. Drew Hutchison showed his promise in Spring Training and has followed up with two strong starts in his first three. Dustin McGowan not only just picked up his first win since 2008, but he did it with 6 1/3 scoreless innings at Camden Yards.
The Jays travel to Minnesota and Cleveland this week. Buehrle, coming off his Sunday win in Baltimore, will have to wait until Saturday in Cleveland for his next start.
Joe Mauer won't mind. The three-time batting champ is a career .203 hitter against Buehrle.
The guy's amazing, as teams in the AL East are starting to discover.