Because he's not an ace, he's Buehrle

Because he's not an ace, he's Buehrle
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This needs to be happening under different circumstances // Rick Osentoski, US PRESSWIRE

Losing 9-3 in cold, rainy Detroit ain't no kinda way to spend a Friday night, and not the way to start a stirring winning streak that carries the Sox back over .500 either.

The pain of the loss was blunted somewhat by the simple circumstance that it wasn't the Sox 9th loss in a row, and because the pitching matchup of Mark Buehrle vs. Justin Verlander was a pretty noticeable mismatch.  Over the last three seasons Verlander has produced over 6 fWAR more than Buehrle in essentially the same amount of starts.  The Sox had a chance--they do love fastballs--but it'd be an upset to remember if they pulled it off.

Not so long ago, a match-up like this would have been billed as a
showdown between aces; but while this notion could have been undermined
statistically some time ago, Buehrle's suggestion that John Danks should be the Opening Day starter was a pretty good indicator the intangible transition has occurred as well.

Mark earned his title for breaking through as a bright spot in a dreadful era for White Sox hurlers,
and maintained it as a reward for his consistency and durability.  But
with Danks, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson, and potentially Jake Peavy in
tow, the need for Mark Buehrle to have another 2005 is pretty much null.

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This is pretty much just as fast as it used to be // Rick Osentoski, Chicago Tribune

However,
Buehrle has always been a pitcher who has lived on the margins.  His 86
mph fastball is on the low-end of major league viability, and has left
him without the ability to miss many bats.  He bottomed out with a 4.24
strikeouts per 9 innings last season, which leaves him subject to the
whims of the defense behind him more than most.

Those have always been dangerous borderlines to straddle, so there's no guarantee that his decline will be gradual. 

Meanwhile,
Burls is sitting at a 5.40 ERA after his 5th start on Friday, or for a
even more zoomed out view, he's had start of extremely high quality, and
four outings of unabashed mediocrity.  What you can draw from that is
kind of a mixed bag.

  • His strikeouts are at an
    unreasonably craptacular level, suggesting a continuation of the 3-year
    decline.  However, after recording only 3 in his first 21 innings, he's
    K'd 5 each of his last two times out.  Unfortunately neither of those
    outings were that great.
  • His FIP remains a promising 3.77 on the
    strength of his control and avoidance of the longball, the latter is
    kinda-sorta unsustainable
  • "Subject to the whims of his defense"
    has been a significantly worse proposition so far in 2011 than most
    seasons, even for a traditionally slow-footed team like the Sox.  An
    Alex Rios' misplay cost him two runs in the 2nd inning Friday night, and
    the brief tenure of Lastings Milledge did no favors to his ERA either. 
    In theory, catchable fly balls will get caught sooner or later, but
    optimism about that is ebbing away game by game

His xFIP at
4.42, it's reasonable to expect better from Buehrle--who's become prone
to alternating stretches of pitch-to-soft-contact masterpieces, and
getting bashed around--but not worlds better.  His margin-of-error for
control is low and he has an unforgiving ballpark.  Unless he goes back
to over 6 K/9, he won't be an elite starter again

But ith Danks, Floyd, Jackson, and Peavy around, Mark is essentially the
4th starter (between Jackson's inconsistency and Peavy's injuries, they
count as one together).  Being the #4 guy means an ERA in the low 4s,
and people being happy that you can actually eat up 200 innings.

These
are standards Buehrle is more than capable of meeting and exceeding,
but perhaps a bitter pill to swallow.  Mark has been one of the most
valuable players in team history, had the highest WAR of any member of
2005 World Series team (by a lot), has started 9 Opening Days, and is
making $15 million a year, so a lesser role is not what most have in
mind for a guy like him, but he can be good at it.

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