This winter, Mark Buehrle gets his turn on the Hall of Fame ballot. His first goal is to remain on next winter’s ballot, because 75 percent of the vote is a steep uphill climb away.
Buehrle could have difficulty standing out, partially because voters are slow to warm up to most 200-win pitchers, and partially because he doesn’t have much of a peak to offset the shortage of other milestones. His first full season might’ve been his best year in the majors, and the remainder of his career involved maintaining those standards: 200 innings, double-digit wins, an above-average ERA. His ERA+ fell on the wrong side of 100 just twice, albeit within a rounding error, and he infamously fell four outs short of his 15th consecutive 200-inning, 10-win season thanks to errors by two future White Sox, Ryan Goins and Edwin Encarnación.
The incredible consistency for starting-pitcher benchmarks sets him apart, but if you don’t place a whole lot of importance on checking every box every year, his profile loses some of its allure. The number of pitchers who happened to be a little bit better than Buehrle over the first two decades of the 21st century now requires two hands to count.
Eight of the 10 pitchers on that list won a Cy Young. Hudson is the only one who didn’t, but he received Cy Young support in four seasons, including a runner-up in 2000. Buehrle only received votes in 2005, when he finished fifth. That’s why Buehrle is bringing up the rear in the peak column, and of the pitchers above him, he’s only close to Sabathia, who managed to compile just a little bit better across the board.
Assuming Scherzer climbs up at least one spot, it wouldn’t surprise me if voters draw a line between Sabathia and Buehrle, with Sabathia’s Cy Young and four other top-five finishes making the difference. It doesn’t help Buehrle that his FanGraphs’ WAR comes up seven short of his bWAR. The projection systems could seldom account for his personal role in defying fielding-independent metrics (suffocating the running game), nor could they trust his outlier-level durability. Considering he beat his FIPs in most seasons, I don’t think it’s cherry-picking to disregard his fWAR in favor of the higher number.
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The biggest advantage Buehrle possesses as he embarks on a course to Cooperstown? His case is going to age beautifully. The franchise’s previous fringe cases like Paul Konerko and Harold Baines also had problems with lackluster peaks, and it was compounded by their good-but-not-great output getting surpassed by more impressive hitters every season. Baines’ support topped out at 6.1 percent, while Konerko fell off the ballot after just 10 votes his first year (2.5 percent).
For Buehrle, time is only going to make him more of a unicorn. His ability to throw 200 innings every season will pop off the page as injuries and strategies diminish the impact of the starting pitcher. His rapid-fire delivery will be an elusive role model for everybody pained by the game’s pace-of-play issues. Those who didn’t watch Buehrle might soon forget what it looked like to throw a pitch every 16 seconds every start, or completing a game in 99 minutes, which is why I put together this video:
Should Buehrle be able to get any foothold in support, I can see him building momentum. Fans loved him for his everyman persona and reliability, and writers loved him because he helped them meet deadline. Voters might be unwilling to flock to a fringe case at the risk of lowering the bar, but Buehrle doesn’t pose much of a threat, because the combination of his statistical record, career highlights and personal style isn’t likely to be duplicated. It might not be enough to get him to 75 percent, but enough voter support can help make his case more appealing to whatever veterans committees handle his case down the line.
He could also get more of a head start because the ballot is finally opening up some. For the first time since 2013, the ballot features no locks among incumbents or first-timers. Buehrle probably has the best case of the latter group:
- Mark Buehrle
- Tim Hudson
- Torii Hunter
- Dan Haren
- Barry Zito
- Aramis Ramirez
- Shane Victorino
- A.J. Burnett
- Nick Swisher
- LaTroy Hawkins
- Michael Cuddyer
And among the holdovers, you probably have to go five spots before finding the first guy without a major obstacle:
- Curt Schilling (70%)
- Roger Clemens (61%)
- Barry Bonds (60.7%)
- Omar Vizquel (52.6%)
- Scott Rolen (35.3%)
- Billy Wagner (31.7%)
- Gary Sheffield (30.5%)
- Todd Helton (29.2%)
- Manny Ramirez (28.2%)
- Jeff Kent (27.5%)
- Andruw Jones (19.4%)
- Sammy Sosa (13.9%)
- Andy Pettitte (11.3%)
- Bobby Abreu (5.5%)
I figured Schilling would wear down the electorate at some point, but he manages to be a worse human just about every year he’s on the ballot. Clemens and Bonds have a healthy amount of hardliners against them because of their ties to performance-enhancing drugs, while Vizquel’s sabermetric case is far weaker than his counting numbers. Rolen is the first guy who merely faces the traditional path of hard-won appreciation — his case is one of those that looks far more impressive against other third basemen than it does against the whole of baseball.
(Pettitte’s 11.3 percent foreshadows headwinds for Buehrle, but Pettitte’s PED history clouds the comparison.)
When the combination of productivity and likeability is in such short supply, it’s possible that a guy like Buehrle can make an early dent. If he can pull double-digits in the first year, he might also make progress simply because there isn’t another comparable starting pitcher on the ballot until Sabathia in 2025. The fact that it takes four years for a better pitcher to show up on the ballot is another way to make Buehrle’s case, and I have a feeling that every anecdote, narrative and rhetorical angle is going to be needed to get him over the hump.
(Photo by Keith Allison)
Buehrle is ours; the Hall can’t have him.
Abreu at 5.6% s a travesty. Rolen and Wagner should be in. Wagner was far better than Hoffman. I hope Schilling does not get in.
I’d fight hard for Buehrle. Aside from the traditional numbers, the accolades should help. A Perfect Game, No-Hitter, and the 2005 playoffs help a resume. He had a four year stretch of Gold Gloves, too, including one of the best plays I’ve seen to this day.
Buehrle’s case would probably be easier if he wrung the last ounce of baseball from himself, but he called it quits after 15 good years. He could’ve gotten a few more seasons of good back of the rotation starting pitching and maybe even could still be playing today.
He got cortisone shots in his shoulder twice during his final year. I don’t think he had much more left to give.
I hope you’re right about his case aging well owing to pitching trends. I absolutely loved watching him work. I have my doubts about it being a truly Hall-worthy career, but I’ll be second to no one in my delight if he eventually makes it.
White Sox ZiPS https://blogs.fangraphs.com/2021-zips-projections-chicago-white-sox/
Seems pretty good
Why wasn’t Dunning treated as a starter in the model?
Presumably because he grades as just slightly lower than Lopez, and so Lopez gets the nod. Realistically the projections seem to consider them effectively identical, and I suspect if you swap them they turn out the same. (I would like to think Dunning will far outperform those projections, of course, but he’s new, and so more risky to project)
The actual ZIPS projections do have him as a starter (18 games, all starts). Don’t know why FanGraphs’ Depth Charts have him primarily as a reliever, but that will probably change if Rodon is non-tendered.
I’d vote for him for sure. A very unique pitcher whose accomplishments won’t be duplicated anytime soon. The combination of consistency, durability, defense (running game and fielding his position), perfect game, no-no, and working quickly to everyone’s enjoyment. There really is no other pitcher I can think of with that resumé.
Few people talk about it but Buehrle’s control was elite. Maddux-like control. It is not a sexy skill and not very impactful as strikeouts, but not many pitchers have the control Buehrle or Maddux had.
While I think he is just about the very definition of borderline HOF (probably on the wrong side), I’m hoping his unique list of accolades and highlights (Perfect Game, No-Hitter, WS save, etc.) help him stand out and push him over the top. Just gotta keep tweeting stuff like this at the voters
IIRC, Buehrle’s the only pitcher in the modern era who has pitched three 9-inning CGs where he faced the minimum 27 batters — the perfect game (obviously), the no-hitter where one batter reached base but was picked-off (I think), and a 1- or 2- hitter where the only base runners were retired via double-play.
If those were all perfect games, he’d be a shoe in. I say one perfect plus two near perfect games is close enough.
Even if those weren’t perfect games, that still is impressive.
buehrle faced the minimum 27 batters on july 21, 2004 against cleveland. it was a two hitter. two singles. both runners were eliminated in double plays. (and in the 2007 no hitter he walked sammy sosa then promptly picked him off)
i am fairly certain but don’t have absolute proof that buehrle is the only pitcher to ever face the minimum three times. i also wonder if he’s the only pitcher to do it twice. anyone with a baseball-reference subscription that’s handy with how to figure that stuff out?
This is a great stat. Will be interesting to see what someone can find on this.
Koufax faced the minimum twice, once during his Perfect Game ( https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN196509090.shtml ) and once during a no-hitter ( https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PHI/PHI196406040.shtml ), where Dick Allen walked and then was caught stealing. I believe those are the only two times he faced the minimum, and I don’t see anybody else facing the minimum 3 times. But I was looking this up way back when Buehrle retired, so there may be additional people who have been added to the list since then.
This article appears to confirm that Buehrle is in fact the only pitcher to face the minimum 3 times: http://thebaseballkid98.blogspot.com/2020/03/todays-fun-fact-about-white-sox-history.html
Hes in this odd spot where if he gets in its obviously awesome. But at the same time you can see why he might not make it and not get too upset over it. I also found it relevant that the 2 video’s that were recommended after watching the pace of play one were F1 related.
As an aside im kinda surprised at Felix numbers on that list. It feels like he should be much higher. I guess that’s just a testament on just how fast he lost it.
Yeah, I thought Felix had a higher peak too