99 Minute Games: Mark Buehrle and White Sox Pitching
by Scott Long
Just finished watching Mark Buehrle take a shutout into the 9th and despite one of the three hits by Ichiro (the only 3 Buehrle gave up) the White Sox won 2-1. And no that wasn't a misprint, the game between Buerhle and Ryan Franklin took all of 1:39. The White Sox are 8-3 to start the season and have gotten quality starts 10 of these 11 games. Garcia 1.93, Buehrle 2.22, Garland 3.46, Contreas 3.55, and Hernandez 3.76 are the ERA's for the starting 5. Sure it's early and there is no way these ERA's aren't going up, but what in the name of PECOTA were people thinking when analyzing this staff, prior to the season.
Buehrle has been consistently good since he started with the Sox when he was 21. Over the past 4 seasons the left-hander has put up ERA's between 3.29 and 4.14, in a hitters park. He has been between 221 and 244 innings each of the last four years. Is it any wonder he has been compared to Tom Glavine? So at the age of 26, without any past history of arm trouble, PECOTA had his 2005 ERA at 4.47. As I wrote before the season, PECOTA just didn't seem to make any sense when it came to the White Sox's starting pitching.
Further PECOTA analysis had 29 year-old Freddy Garcia at 4.55 and 25 year-old Jon Garland at 5.05, which also seemed way too high, considering they had have consistently pitched around 200 innings annually without serious injury issues and had never had an ERA that high in the past. With these 3 pitchers having demonstrated they can consistently pitch around 200 innings annually, plus being between 25 and 29 of age, it didn't take much of a leap of faith to expect at least a slight improvement statistically, but instead PECOTA and many of the experts looked at this staff as average at best.
Add off-season pick-up Orlando Hernandez, who has a career ERA of 3.96 and you have four quality starters. The wild card is Jose Contreas, who can give you 200 innings plus, albeit inconsistent results and this starting staff was the best in the AL, outside of the Yanks and Red Sox. Even if Hernandez has another injury plagued season or Contreas starts giving too many starts away, the Sox have the most ready for primetime minor league starter, Brandon McCarthy just waiting to bring his phenomenal strikeout to walk rate up to the Majors.
The White Sox offense, which has serious OBP issues, will determine if this team is a playoff contender or not, but the starting pitching and bullpen depth are so superior to the Indians and Tigers that White Sox still look to be the Twins best competition. I don't go as far as thinking the White Sox will be the AL's Wild Card representative, like Yahoo.com's Ryne Sandberg and Playboy magazine's Tracy Ringolsby did, but the 70 win season some predicted is between 10 to 18 games off.