If you buy the Oney-Jenks flap as just another example of the crazy mad-cap White Sox doing crazy things, then Mark Buehrle kinda getting knocked around in 2010 can just be written off as 'Buehrle being Buehrle'; with 'Buehrle' being a guy who occasionally gets shelled because being unable to miss bats at some point makes you helpless against the randomness of BABIP, or worse yet, the randomness of Carlos Quentin's defense.
As amusing conceptually it would be to just write "Fuhgeddabout it, it's a blip. Burls'll bounce back," and have that be the entire wrap-up, I feel I owe you a bit more than that.
As possibly discussed before in a piece I stayed up till 4:30 writing, FanGraphs calculates a pitcher's wins above replacement with FIP, a neat little tool that assesses the quality of their pitching by measuring strikeouts, homers, and walks. For relievers, this is really useful, because they have too small of a sample size, and one bad inning can jack up their ERA in a way that doesn't represent their ability (For example, Matt Thornton had an absurdly bad inning against the Tigers just before the big win streak started that jumped his ERA a point, and made some think that he wasn't still Matt "F@#$%n' Awesome!" Thornton). Baseball Reference calculates pitcher's WAR using their total runs allowed, which is a pretty fair representation of these guys outputs over an 150-200 inning season. So we'll just go ahead and put both, representing them as fWAR and bWAR respectively. And for funsies, we'll put Wins and Losses up too.
Stat line: 33 starts, 210.1 IP, 13-13, 4.28 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 246 H, 17 HR, 99 K (4.24 K/9), 49 BB (2.10 BB/9), .317 BABIP, 3.8 fWAR, 3.5 bWAR
What did we expect?: I thought of Buehrle coming into 2010 what I think of him now; he's a weird baseball enigma who operates contrary to the way most of our statistics are geared to evaluate pitchers. As such, it's hard to project if he's on the decline or if he's on the cusp of one of his runs. I wrote this in March: (as a side note, I count it as a sign of my progress as a writer that putting quotes of my old season preview keeps getting more embarrassing, even though the piece itself stays the same)
"This is probably not a man who should have a no-hitter
and a perfect game in his career. He simultaneously can't overpower
anyone, but owns the longest streak for consecutive batters retired in
MLB history. He's too crafty to ever be counted out, but doesn't have
the electric stuff or dominance to ever be considered an ace. The
baffling nature of his career is epitomized in his spring training
stats. 0-3, 2.70 ERA, .362 BAA.
So he's not winning, but people aren't scoring on him. People aren't scoring on him, but he's getting shelled.
Expect 11-15 wins from Buehrle, expect an ERA that stays under 4.00, and expect no reasonable explanation for it."
If you sub out ERA with FIP--and all my saber-inclined colleagues say I should--then I nailed this extremely vague projection.
The result: Buehrle, like most of the White Sox starters, loosely followed the general bell curve of the team.
April-Mid June: Bad badness
Mid June-August: Whooaaaa Nelly!
August-Early September: Fade away, fade away, fade away
September to close: We blew the division, so now we can go back to playing well
FIP will tell you that September was one of his best months and August was lucky as hell, so you can see how these things can get confusing.
But you kinda need to glance at the stats with Buehrle, because he doesn't have the obvious cues (such as Gavin Floyd not being able to throw his curve for a strike or John Danks leaving his changeup up--resulting in frequent flyer miles) to show when he's off. His control over the game, and the difference between a quality start and a 6-run inning, relies on him being able to slap a lot of little things to overcome the fact that his hits are always going to be high.
No one shot Mark in the leg during the season, so his personal defense didn't fall off. Joe West declared war on Buehrle's pickoff move, but that only affected two of his starts, and his walk totals were right in line with career numbers. His groundball rate was as good as ever, and his home run totals were the lowest ever. So what the hell was the matter?
Well, Mark's never been a big strikeout guy, but he was particularly low on the gas in 2010 (like the worst of his career). On top of that, all that increased contact turned into hits at a higher than usual percentage (.317, the worst of his career). Buehrle already gives up a lot of hits, so the higher rate of balls dropping were enough to make him the league leader at 246. That many baserunners, especially when you can't rack up the strikeouts to get out of it, can be a lot to overcome.
While the uptick in hits certainly doomed his final month, it was an otherwise typically waxing and waning Buehrle year. He produced a great Opening Day, but played as well in the early cold as Alexei Ramirez, before pitching against the NL jumpstarted an 8-game quality start streak. His admirable performance in August was brought down by the team's slide and two losses to the Orioles, and 48 hits in 31 innings made for a pretty horrendous September.
Still, Buehrle was above average, not way above average by any means, but simply better than most. He wasn't dominant in any stretch, and got knocked around a little more, but stayed squarely in the realm of a typical Buehrle season. He's no ace anymore...and really he never was, but above average is what you fill your rotation out with. That or Freddy Garcia.
Love him or leave him?: The no-trade clause will make Mark pretty unmovable (unless maybe the Cardinals come calling) in 2011, and even then it will be hard to get someone to pick up the full tab of his contract. Going forward, while a lot his numbers bounce around from year-to-year, the largest trends are negative.
2010 was the second-straight season Buehrle K'd batters at an unthinkably low rate, and while he's never relied on punchouts, it makes things harder for him and makes him more reliant on his defense (a defense with Carlos Quentin in it no less). Worse, Buehrle is now a good-innings guy, but no longer a super-innings guy. He hasn't eclipsed 220 innings since the World Series year. 210.1 IP is still good, but as someone who is never overwhelming, a lot of Mark's value came from the fact that he was absurdly consistent and saved bullpens like no other. This season he failed to get to 6 innings on seven occasions. He's already ordinary in so many measures, but his workload was something about him that was extraordinary...and it's coming back to Earth.
Buehrle has been fairly ambivalent about coming back at all next season, and is the oldest member of the rotation. The White Sox certainly don't want to spend $15 million a season on him again, and have the option of moving Chris Sale to start if they wish, but have also have proven themselves to be very loyal to longtime players. A lot is going to depend on where his head is, and a lot of that will depend on whether he and the White Sox have a bounce back year, or slide further into uncomfortable mediocrity. I for one, would be willing to put up with the confusion of aging veteran inexplicably having a career season in a contract year again.
JJ Stankevitz at White Sox Examiner was finally goaded into addressing the Oney Guillen-Bobby Jenks feud.
Jim Margalus posted what's probably his 12th to last post at Sox Machine about how Juan Pierre bunts a lot but isn't good at it. I can't help but think that mighty fine site re-design is going to waste as he moves to South Side Sox