Is Mark Buerhle the Most Under-Appreciated Pitcher in MLB?
by Scott Long
This isn't a story about the no-hitter that Mark Buerhle threw on Wednesday night. Yes, it was impressive, especially against an offense like the Rangers, but that isn't my focus. Combine this game with his previous start where he retired 20 of the last 22 batters he faced and you have a stretch where Buerhle has erased 47 of 50 opponents. Not Johnny Vander Meer, but it has to be one of the best 50 batter performances in history. While this is a great feat, it is not my focus, either.
What I found most illuminating about the no-hitter is how underrated Buerhle is on a national level. All over ESPN TV and Radio, the talking heads were discussing how Buerhle is just another case of how you don't have to be a great pitcher to throw a no-hitter. The question was asked how is it that a Buerhle can throw one, but Maddux and Clemens have never been able to during their illustrious careers? While Buerhle isn't of this quality, let's examine what he has accomplished.
Since Mark Buerhle has been pitching in the majors for so long, some fail to realize that he just turned 28 years old. Beginning his 7th full-season for the White Sox, here is his resume.
Has played in 3 all-star games.
Has a career ERA of 3.80, accomplished in a hitters park.
Has never thrown less than 204 innings in any season.
Between 2002-05, he was in the Top 5 in innings pitched, leading the AL in 2004 and 2005.
Top 5 in shutouts between 2001-05.
Is one of the top fielding pitchers around and might have the best pick-off move in baseball.
Has won 98 games.
Even after Buerhle's only below average season in his career (2006), how many 27 year-old pitchers can you say this about? Look at Buerhle's player comps and the first 2 that come up through Age 27 are Mark Mulder and Tom Glavine. Despite these type of career achievements, many baseball talking heads were discussing him as if he should be put in the Mike Witt and Eric Milton category of no-hit pitchers.
While scouts and sabermetricians often differ on their evaluations of players, the one thing that they generally have a similar bias against are pitchers who don't strikeout a lot of batters. This is the biggest reason Buerhle has been underrated during his career. PECOTA, as it usually does, came in way too high on Buerhle's predicted ERA, with a projected number for 2007 of 4.90.
Many people wrote Buerhle off going into 2007, as his 2006 was such a down season. As durable as he has been, 2005 put too much stress on him (and the rest of the White Sox starters), as they threw deeper into games than any staff had done during the post-season since the 1970's. This was why I was so confident at the beginning of this year that the staff would do way better than PECOTA and other computer prediction models were expecting. Considering his track record and how much of this has been accomplished in a hitter's park, it's time to give Mark Buerhle more of the credit that he deserves.