It’s pretty amazing that Mark Buehrle made it onto the Hall of Fame ballot to begin with.
Buehrle was selected in the 38th round of the 1998 MLB Draft, after 1,138 other players, 961 of whom never even reached the big leagues.
He became a fan favorite, not necessarily for his pitching but because he was fun! He dove across the tarp during rain delays. He saved Game 3 of the 2005 World Series despite having a few beers before taking the mound. He was fast! No, not his pitch speeds; he barely broke 90. He was arguably the fastest worker in baseball.
On April 16, 2005 Buehrle tossed a 9-inning complete game in 99 minutes. Nobody has posted a 9-inning complete game in double-digit minutes since. Oh, and he posted a career-high 12 strikeouts in that game. And what about that home run he hit in Milwaukee?
But we’re getting away from the point. Mark Buehrle not only is on the Hall of Fame ballot… he’s got a pretty decent case.
He’s an all-time great workhorse
Mark Buehrle's overall durability set him apart. He debuted in 2000, pitching primarily in the bullpen. In 2001, he cracked the rotation and from that season through 2015, his final season, he logged at least 30 starts every year. There are 15 pitchers in MLB history with 15+ seasons of 30 or more starts (Hall of Famers in boldface).
20 Don Sutton19 Greg Maddux19 Cy Young18 Phil Niekro18 Warren Spahn17 Tom Glavine17 Steve Carlton17 Gaylord Perry16 Tom Seaver16 Nolan Ryan16 Bert Blyleven16 Roger Clemens16 Frank Tanana15 Walter Johnson15 Mark Buehrle
That’s 12 Hall of Famers, Roger Clemens, who should have been voted in already, Frank Tanana and Mark Buehrle. And if you take it a step further, among pitchers who had 15 consecutive seasons of 30 or more starts, it’s just Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Gaylord Perry and Buehrle. A handful of others could’ve done it if not for the 1981 and 1994 work stoppages.
And as far as innings are concerned, Buehrle recorded 200+ innings in 14 straight seasons (2001-14), one of only eight pitchers to do it (Hall of Famers in boldface).
19 Cy Young17 Warren Spahn15 Gaylord Perry15 Don Sutton14 Mark Buehrle14 Greg Maddux14 Phil Niekro14 Christy Mathewson
That’s seven Hall of Famers and Mark Buehrle, who just missed his 15th in a row in 2015 (198.2 IP).
Racking up innings is an underappreciated statistic. The more innings pitched by a staff ace, the fewer innings needed from lesser pitchers. When a manager can save his bullpen for when they are truly needed, that’s very valuable.
Innings aside, he has a solid career resume
He had 214 career wins, which isn’t 300. But that’s due to the way the game is managed.
Considering his pitch-to-contact style, it’s easy to imagine he would have logged 15-20 complete games per year if he were pitching in the 1960s or 1970s.
Pitchers aren’t trained to go nine innings anymore, and even if they could, why not use your bullpen ace who regularly pumps 100-MPH heat? The old standard of 300 wins just doesn’t apply anymore, and looking through the prism of today’s game, 200 wins is quite an achievement.
Randy Johnson might be the last pitcher ever to top 300 career wins, hitting that milestone in 2009. He debuted in 1988. So let’s take a look at all of the pitchers who debuted in 1990 or later as a quick and easy cutoff point to mark the next generation of pitchers.
Mark Buehrle is one of only 11 pitchers who debuted in 1990 or later to have reached 200 career wins. Only a few – Jon Lester (193), Clayton Kershaw (175) and Max Scherzer (175) - are good bets to join the list in the next few seasons. So 214 career wins is quite an achievement for a pitcher nowadays.
Only eight of those pitchers debuting in 1990 or later have reached 3,000 innings, though Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are on the doorstep. A pair of Hall of Famers – Roy Halladay and Pedro Martínez – both debuted in 1990 or later and failed to reach 3,000 career frames.
Furthermore, Buehrle’s 60.0 career pitching WAR (according to baseball-reference.com) is tied for 13th (with Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser) in MLB history among lefties and tied for 64th overall. He compiled more career pitching WAR than Whitey Ford (53.6), Sandy Koufax (53.1) and Dizzy Dean (43.9), who were undoubtedly more talented.
But why not celebrate a pitcher like Buehrle who compiled more value, only more spread out? Averaging 4.0 WAR a year over 15 years is a remarkable feat of consistency.
But he didn't win a Cy Young?
Buehrle does lack Cy Young hardware. His best finish in voting was fifth in 2005. Cy Young voters are often enamored with strikeouts, and that’s not Buehrle’s game. He induced ground balls and weak contact with a fastball that rarely reached 90 MPH.
He also did the little things. He allowed only 59 stolen bases. Randy Johnson allowed 456. He had only 27 career wild pitches. Jack Morris had 24 of them in 1987 alone.
He knew he had a tiny margin for error, and he still thrived and his uniqueness should be celebrated. But he does boast an impressive collection of awards and outstanding achievements.
Buehrle was the ace of a World Series champion in 2005. He tossed two no-hitters, one of only 35 pitchers with multiple no-hit games. He is one of only 23 pitchers to toss a perfect game.
He’s one of only 13 pitchers who owns four or more Gold Gloves. Did you know that Buehrle is the only pitcher with multiple no-hitters and multiple Gold Gloves? He’s a five-time All-Star, the same amount as Frank Thomas.
And in 2017, the White Sox retired his #56. Retired numbers are often overlooked, but when one of the 30 teams retires a number, that usually signifies a player who has truly made an impact – especially one with over 100 years of history.
Mark Buehrle is one of those pitchers whose numbers don’t jump off the page but don’t dismiss him. He’s one of those players who looks better the more you dig into his career.
His incredible workload can be seen as a cake, and his World Series ring, no-hitters, All-Stars and Gold Gloves are the icing. At the very least, he was one of the finest and most memorable pitchers on one of the American League’s charter franchises.
While it’s unlikely Buehrle will ever get the call to Cooperstown, one could make a reasonable case.
There will never be another one like him.