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If aliens came to Earth and asked you, “What’s the deal with Mark Buehrle?”, which game would you show them, and why?
After 11 excellent years with the White Sox, Mark Buehrle signed with the Marlins as a free agent last offseason. Going to Miami hasn’t changed him, however. Through twostarts
It’s important to note that I’m not looking for Buehrle’s best start–that would be one of thesetwo
The first step is to look at Buehrle’s career averages to get a sense of what we’re looking for, prioritizing the traits that I would most associate with him. Here are a few traits I’m looking for:
- Durability: Buehrle has averaged right at 6 and 2/3 innings per start in his career, which is a very strong figure. In fact, 204 of his 367 career starts are between 6 and 7 innings (inclusive). That’s 56%. So that will be one of our targets: 6 to 7 IP.
- Death to Baserunners: Since 1990, Buehrle has allowed just 49 of 117 runners to successfully steal a base. That’s a phenomenal 42% steal rate (6th best in MLB since 1980). In addition, Buehrle has 84 pickoffs, which is 2nd only to Andy Pettitte since 1980. We definitely would like a game in which a runner is either picked off or caught stealing against Buehrle.
- Defensive Skill: He has won 3 Gold Gloves and turned in one of the most memorable defensive plays in recent years
- Low Walk Totals: In his career, Buehrle has issued walks to only about 5% of the batters he’s faced (not counting intentional walks). While that number is not quite Madduxian
- Fairly Low Strikeout Totals: Not all lefties are finesse pitchers, obviously, but it’s no secret that Buehrle’s fastball isn’t overpowering. He’s never posted high strikeout rates, and in recent seasons, he’s been well below average in that metric. Overall for his career, he’s struck out about 13.5% of batters, which is definitely on the low end for this era. That translates to 3-5 strikeouts in a typical game.
- Hittability: In large part because of those low strikeout rates, Buehrle has given up his fair share of hits. His career average of 9.49 Hits per 9 Innings is right up there with much lesser pitchers like Odalis Perez (9.50 H/9) and Eric Milton (9.47 H/9). So we’ll look for a game with as many hits as innings pitched (or a bit more).
- Slight Fly Ball Tendencies: Buehrle may “pitch to contact,” but he’s not a ground-ball specialist. He’s been fairly close to the league average throughout his career, allowing slightly more balls in the air (fly balls + line drives) than ground balls. So we’ll look for a game with a few more fly balls than grounders.
Obviously, on top of those things, we also want a start that was at least fairly successful, since Buehrle has been pretty good in his career. On average, he’s increased his teams’ Win Probability by around 4 to 5 percent in his starts, so something with a WPA of around +.05 would be nice. Also, since Buehrle’s career ERA is 3.83 and we’re looking in the 6 to 7 inning range, we want him to have given up no more than 2 or 3 runs in the start.
Sifting through all of Buehrle’s 367 starts to find the right one took a while, but I found some good ones. Before I name the Quintessential Mark Buehrle Game, here are two Honorable Mentions:
Line: 7 IP, 7 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, and 2 home runs allowed
Pros: Buehrle’s ERA in this game (3.86) is almost exactly equal to his career 3.83 mark. The number of hits, walks, and strikeouts are all within our range. His WPA (+0.042) is very close to his career average. With 10 ground balls, 12 fly balls, and 3 line drives, the batted-ball profile is very Buehrle-like. And in addition, Buehrle recorded a pickoff-caught stealing combo, catching Ben Francisco napping in the 3rd inning.
Cons: The two homers allowed might mislead someone into thinking that Buehrle was very prone to the home run, which he is not (he’s about average). Buehrle recorded no outs in the field in this game, either. And ultimately, the 3 Ks in 7 innings ratio might overstate Buehrle’s lack of strikeouts.
Line: 6.2 IP, 8 hits, 2 runs (earned), 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, and 1 HR
Pros: The innings-pitched mark is right on Buehrle’s average, and the hits, walks, strikeouts, and homers are all in range as well. His game WPA of +0.075 is close to his average, and the batted-ball numbers (12 GB, 13 FB, 4 LD) are typical. He also recorded an assist on a bunt in the 1st inning.
Cons: This is a deal-breaker for me: in this game, Buehrle allowed a stolen base (to Johnny Damon) and didn’t catch anyone stealing or record a pickoff. Since his stolen-base prevention is one of his most important attributes, that prevents this game from winning.
And now, our winner, the Quintessential Mark Buehrle Game:
Line: 7 IP, 7 hits, 3 runs (earned), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts, and 1 HR
Pros: As with the 2009 game above, this game hits the ERA jackpot, coming within .03 of his career mark. The hits, walks, strikeouts, and homers are in our range as well. His game WPA of +.089 is fairly close to our target, as is the batted-ball profile of 11 GB, 12 FB, and 5 LD. Buehrle also recorded a pickoff-caught stealing of Coco Crisp in the 3rd inning (erasing his only walk) and a whopping 4 assists in the field, so this game really shows off his non-pitching skills.
Cons: The 4 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is a bit high; he’s good, but not really that good (career: 2.5 to 1). The 5 line drives are also a bit high. But these are minor issues.
There you have it. No game can perfectly sum up Mark Buehrle, but this one comes about as close as possible.
What do you think? Do you prefer one of the honorable mention games, or another game that I didn’t list? Are there any other pitchers that you would like me to perform this exercise on? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@junkstats
Tagged with: batted ball profiles Ben Francisco Coco Crisp defense durability Gold Gloves Greg Maddux Johnny Damon low walk rates Mark Buehrle pickoffs quintessential stolen base rates walks
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
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