Major League Baseball has entered the annual period of Hall of Fame voting. The ballot has been announced and voters have ballots in hand. Now is the time for baseball fans to debate the relative merits of the prospective Hall of Famers. It is an annual ritual, a great follow-up to the announcement of individual awards for the recently-concluded 2021 season. This particular crop of candidates offers much to debate, including the annual question of just how to deal with players who used performance-enhancing drugs during their playing days.
There is no doubt that those players affected by PED use will be at the center of the spirited debate during this HOF voting period. Such discussion is unavoidable, and it is sure to evoke passionate debate between serious baseball fans. However, today, we wanted to look at a player who has no issue with PEDS, a player who flew somewhat under the radar during his career. Yet, he put up some outstanding numbers and deserves at least a thought as the trash talk begins. This column will explore the Hall of Fame case for former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle.
Why Buehrle Deserves Consideration
Mark Buehrle pitched for three teams in his MLB career, the Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, and the Totonto Blue Jays. Over his 16 year career, he managed a record of 214-160, with a career earned run average of 3,81. While those numbers may not scream Hall of Fame, it is worth taking a look at the overall body of work to truly make a judgment as Buehrle’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame.
While sports, and the way we judge players evolve over the years, wins have always been a major consideration for starting pitchers. Yes, Buehrle won 214 games, which, at first glance, does not overwhelm anybody. The standard has always been that 300 wins essentially guarantees a pitcher admission to Cooperstown. 214 is a far cry from 300, you say, and mathematically, you are correct. Yet, context is everything, and his 214 wins are more impressive than they might seem.
The 300 win gold standard was established long ago, and it was generally based on a 4-man rotation. Going back to a time when pitchers weren’t pampered like newborns, starters could get as many as 40 starts in a season. Simple math would tell you that going from a 4-man rotation to a 5-man rotation reduces starts by 20%, on average. A similar reduction in chances for a win makes it impossible for any current or future starters to come close to 300 wins. In fact, the 300 wins that guaranteed pitchers a plaque in Cooperstown has theoretically been reduced to 240. If 240 is the new standard, Buehrle’s 214 is at least in the neighborhood.
A Deeper Dive Into The Numbers
Mark Buehrle’s greatest strength may be in his consistency over his 16-year career. After his MLB debut in 2000, he began a run of 14 straight seasons of pitching at least 200 innings. In his last season, he missed the 200 inning level by an inning and a third. That was the only season in his entire career (excluding 2000), where he did not pitch at least 200 innings. He led the AL in innings pitched, including a career-high of 245.1 in 2004. He also started at least 30 games a season in his last 15 seasons. Buehrle was certainly a durable and reliable starter.
Buehrle also was an outstanding defensive pitcher, as he won four Gold Gloves in his career. He also went to five All-Star games. He allowed two walks and struck out five per nine innings over his career, and has a career WHIP of 1.281. It is true that he gave up his share of hits, but he stranded many of those. In fact, for a non-strikeout pitcher, these stats actually might suggest that he was really tough with runners on base. He was a pitcher who took the ball every fifth day and battled to keep his team in the game.
For good measure, Mark Buehrle threw two no-hitters, including a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. For a guy who didn’t throw 98 mph, that is pretty good. He also had 100 pickoffs in his career. He also was famous for his ability to pitch quickly and keep the game moving. That may not sound like much, but he kept his defense on their toes. For a guy who relied on pitching to contact, his ability to pitch quickly no doubt helped him to be more successful.
So, while Mark Buehrle did not have overwhelming numbers, he did have a remarkably consistent career. We did not say that there is a rock-solid case for his HOF candidacy. Outside of Chicago, there are likely few fans who would even take his candidacy seriously. Yes, there may be a bias among White Sox fans, as he is one of the most beloved Sox players ever. Yet, there is no denying that he was a solid pitcher. Whether he receives serious consideration from HOF voters remains to be seen. Time will tell.
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