Mark Buehrle’s Place In History Is Secure
This isn’t how it was supposed to end for Mark Buehrle.
Pitching on two days rest against Tampa in the season finale, the veteran southpaw was just 2 innings shy of 200 for the 15th consecutive season. 45 pitches, 8 unearned runs, and a pair of costly errors behind him later, and his shot at history was over. Last season, Buehrle was just the 7th pitcher since 1901 to record 14 consecutive seasons of at least 200 IP. He joined Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, and Greg Maddux (all of whom are in the Hall of Fame) in achieving that feat. He’s also the first pitcher to throw at least 200 innings and issue less than 61 walks in 14 consecutive years since Cy Young.
At the All Star Break, Buehrle looked to be on pace to easily surpass the milestone, but for the second consecutive season, he wore down and limped to the season’s finish. Shoulder issues this time around in August limited his effectiveness down the stretch, and it was no surprise when word came out after the game that Buehrle would not be included on the Blue Jays post-season roster.
Buehrle was an iron man, never spending a day on the Disabled List in his 16 year MLB career. Buehrle won a World Series with the White Sox in 2005, threw a perfect game in 2009, was a 5-time All Star, 4-time Gold Glove winner, and led the American League in Innings Pitched twice. For his career, Buehrle had a record of 214-159, with a 4.11 ERA.
Buehrle, of course, did not throw hard, seldom hitting 90 with his fastball at his peak, and pitching mostly in the mid-80s during the last years of his career. How did he get hitters out? Buehrle was a master at keeping hitters off balance. He consistently was the fastest-working pitcher in the game, rarely stepping off the mound, and ready to peer in for the signals as soon as he received the ball back from his catcher. Hitters hardly had a chance to get set in the box before Buehrle’s next pitch was on its way. With command of his whole repertoire of pitches, he painted the corners of the plate like few of his contemporaries, and as a result Buehrle successfully avoided the heart of the plate, where hard contact is born. Buehrle also fielded his position extremely well (as evidenced by those Gold Gloves), starting 53 Double Plays in his career and limited the opposition running game – base stealers were successful 59 times against Buehrle since he made his debut, and 80 were caught; that translates to a 58% caught stealing rate, which was double the league average during that time. Buehrle picked off an even 100 runners in his career – only another Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton, has picked off more.
Is Buehrle a Hall of Fame candidate himself? He’s certainly a borderline HOFer. 214 wins in most eras would not be sufficient, but in this day and age of pitch and innings limits, the 300-win threshold for almost automatic inclusion might be all but extinct. At 36, other pitchers Buehrle’s age pitched into their 40s, but clearly, the toll of almost 500 career starts and over 3 000 innings has all but claimed his career. Certainly, voters will have to adjust their voting criteria regarding pitchers, and if this is indeed the end for Buehrle, they will have to start doing so by 2020, when he becomes eligible for inclusion.