As someone who watched his career first-hand for years in Chicago, I can testify there are many things to like, but first, go ahead and set your autocorrect to fill in Buehrle's name for you when you type it, otherwise you're going to spend the whole season wondering if you got the H, R, and L in the right spot.
If you're the type that likes mnemonic devices, it's easy to remember the right order: He gives up a lot of hits (H), not as many runs (R), and he rarely loses (L), so they go in that order. If you're the type to switch up the vowels, try this rhyme: "U before E, especially in Mark Buehrle." I've never disclosed these secret spelling tips before, so you're welcome, Bluebird Banter.
Buehrle's command as a pitcher is downright endearing. His average fastball velocity is only 86 miles per hour, but he's able to locate his pitches precisely, an approach that has yielded a career walk rate of an even 2.0 per nine innings, not to mention a no-hitter and a perfect game thus far. He's a workhorse and stays healthy -- since 2002, he has pitched at least 200 innings per season and has won at least 13 games every year since 2007, and his next trip to the disabled list will be his first in recorded memory.
Buehrle is not an ace in the usual sense of the term, but he's a fan favorite who was easily one of the most likeable players on the South Side during his years with the Sox (though when A.J. Pierzynski is the competition, that's not saying much) and pitched eight Opening Days for the pale hose. Perhaps his greatest quality, one that surely contributed to his popularity, is that he works quickly -- averaging just 16.5 seconds between pitches -- a pace that will undoubtedly be refreshing at the glacial speed of the AL East.
Yet, as much as I like Buehrle and wish him well, I'm only cautiously optimistic that he will have success in the AL East next season. Even though his career has been great, he's spent all but one year of it in the AL Central, which probably has favorably skewed his numbers. The AL Central isn't a league of bat-wielding Messiahs, but rather it's the home of Minnesota Twins teams who have had Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and a bunch of other guys no one can name, Royals teams notable only for their lack of ability, and Indians teams that have yo-yoed up and down the standings. Buehrle spent 12 years facing off against the Matt LaPortas of the world before moving to the NL East for showdowns in a league of Ike Davii, so there's a chance that even though he's been consistent throughout his career that he struggles with the competition in the AL East.
Buehrle has given hints that he might have trouble with the East throughout his career. When I mentioned I wanted to write this piece to my editor, a Yankees fan, he recalled watching them beat Buehrle regularly, which is no exaggeration. Sure, the Yankees are aging, but they finished second in the AL in OPS+, and can likely expect repeat performances from Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and possibly Mark Teixeira. The Yankees have been the toughest opponents for Buehrle in his career, and he's given up 10 home runs and allowed Yankees to hit .333/.373/.498 against him, a reminder that not only does gives up a lot of hits, but also home runs.
The Red Sox may be wounded offensively without Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup next season, but David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Will Middlebrooks might feast on those slow fastballs. Unsurprisingly, Fenway Park is one of the toughest parks for Buehrle; he's given up eight home runs there on the way to an .899 OPS. For a pitcher that led the league in hits allowed in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010 despite solid defensive support, the image reel in my head of Buehrle at Fenway would be fly ball after fly ball bouncing off the Green Monster, as runners barrel across home plate.
Unless the Tampa Bay Rays open their wallets and spend money or trade James Shields for offense, they won't pose much of a threat to Buehrle, but in 2010, when their lineup was hot, the Rays hit .500/.476/.722 against him. The Orioles have been the easiest in the AL East for Buehrle in his career, but he has given up 11 home runs vs. the O's in his career, and to be fair, he hasn't faced them since they sold their souls to the devil for voodoo magic slugging powers. Still, even if the Rays and Orioles have lesser offenses, they still represent better competition than Buehrle saw regularly in either league.
It's obvious that Buehrle wasn't brought in to save the Blue Jays' rotation, but rather that the remainder of his four-year, $58 million contract was the poison pill Alex Anthopoulos was willing to swallow to get Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson on the roster. Don't get me wrong -- there's certainly a value-add in a pitcher like Buehrle who will pitch at least 200 innings and get double digit wins for the 13th consecutive season, but $11 million next season is a lot to spend on a left-hander that's really a number-two or -three caliber pitcher when what they Jays are desperately in need of an ace following Ricky Romero's implosion, uncertainty as to Brandon Morrow's durability and that the success this season will carry over, and Johnson's uneven season.
Then again, given how the Blue Jays have had trouble keeping a healthy rotation, maybe unspectacular reliability isn't something to complain about at all.