While engaged in a recent discussion about the career credentials of longtime White Sox ace Mark Buehrle, the possibility arose that we might one day see Buehrle end up enshrined in Cooperstown. Why not, I said, he's got an interesting résumé: a ledger full of wins, a perfect game, a World Series ring, not to mention that time Buehrle once fought off a tyrannosaurus rex with his meaty fists of fury. Besides, it's the Hall of Fame, and Mark Buehrle is famous. The mere fact that folks are having discussions about his candidacy should be enough to get him in. I call that the "Jim Rice Rule".
But after doing a bit of research at Baseball-Reference.com, one learns that Buehrle's most similar pitcher over the course of his entire career is one Tom Browning. This similarity score, as calculated by Sean Forman based off Bill James' writings, only takes into account the most basic of stats (accumulation of wins, losses, ERA, strikeouts, etc) so let's investigate this comparison a bit more:
- Both pitchers are lefties just a bit over six feet tall.
- Both received Cy Young votes in only one year of their careers.
- Both spent their careers playing for a flyover team and both won a single World Series ring.
- Both threw a perfect game despite not being high strikeout pitchers.
It turns out Browning never made a big splash in the Hall of Fame election pool because he battled injuries late in his career, including that time in 1994 when he actually broke his freaking arm throwing a pitch. He retired a year later at age 35 after a brief comeback attempt with the Royals, but we can actually peg his career downfall to age 31, when he began to miss time with ouchies.
Prior to his age 31 season, Browning was 93-61 in his career for the Reds with an ERA+ of 103 and recorded twice as many strikeouts as walks. After that age 31 season, he was 30-29 and had a far worse ERA+ of 86; his strikeout number fell while his walk rate rose.
Mark Buehrle turned 31 in March and, including his second half slump that followed his magical perfect game last season, has since been down in the dumps. Prior to this season, he was 135-97 for the ChiSox with a boffo ERA+ of 122 and more than 2.5 times as many K's as BBs. This year? Not even including yesterday's flop in the Bronx, Buehrle sports an ERA+ of 93 and is not getting guys out with his cutter anymore.
PECOTA does no favors for Buehrle's future, either. It projects him to be at best a 2 WAR pitcher for a few years and then drop off into the replacement level chasm that swallowed up teammate Freddy Garcia in aught-seven. So, with Buehrle's contract due to expire after the 2011, the day might soon come when we are no longer privy to his fast-paced stylings and charming presence on the White Sox.
But don't let this comparison piece serve to bury Buehrle before his time is up. Unlike Browning, Buehrle has not yet shown any health issues. Will Carroll continually gives him the green light in his annual health risk roundup. After all, Buehrle's a hearty fellow who has never failed to reach 200 innings in a season. Perhaps a move to the NL to his beloved hometown Cardinals would be in order come 2012.
Recent struggles aside, can Buehrle revert to form and get back to being an all-consuming consumer of innings? Can he once again assert his husky stature on the mound and confuse batters with his tidy pace and mystifying cutter? Perhaps, but his chances of making the Hall of Fame one day won't improve if he can't get off the schneid. Watch out for that T-rex, big fella.