Mark Buehrle might be making his last start as a Blue Jay today, though I figure he'll likely get a couple of innings in Sunday's game to get him to 200 innings. Who knows what will happen in the playoffs. You never know, the Jays might decide to try to talk him into one more year. But, I figured we should praise the guy while he is still here.
If you would have told me, back when Alex made the big trade with the Marlins, that Mark would be the last man standing (with the Jays) of the players we picked up, I wouldn't have believed you. But, John Buck was gone before the ink on the trade papers dried. Emilio Bonfacio's painful tenure ended in early August. Josh Johnson made it until the end of the season, but much of that time was on the DL.
At the start of this season, I still figured Jose Reyes would out last him, mostly because I didn't think Alex could find someone to take his contract. I should know, by now, that I should never doubt Alex.
Not only is he the last Marlin standing, he's been, quite easily, the most valuable, to the Jays, of the players picked up in that trade. As a Jay, he's thrown 597 innings, with a 3.77 ERA (ERA+ of 105). There is a lot of value to getting 200 slightly above average innings a season out of a guy, especially when your team has a very good offense. The Jays, over the 3 years, are 57-38 in his starts, which does say a lot about the offense playing behind him. Baseball Reference has him at a 7.6 WAR.
Beyond his stats, I've really loved watching him play, other than he makes GameThreads tougher. I've developed a rhythm, over the years, watch a pitch, look down at the thread, read some comments, then look back up at the game. With Buehrle that system causes me to miss pitches.
He's taught me about pitching. I've always thought that pitchers should be convinced that they are throwing the right pitch before they start their wind up. Buehrle would rather throw the wrong pitch and keep himself in his rhythm. Keeping in rhythm is the most important thing to Mark.
He also kind of just throws and uses his defense. That's not quite a fair way of saying it, but he tries for contact, preferably soft contact, and he figures, most times, the ball will find a glove.
When he's going good, he is a joy to watch. Innings go by quickly, he doesn't walk anyone (less than 2 per 9 innings as a Jay). He pitches to the edges of the strike zone, but rarely off the edge. He gets by with movement, changing speeds....mostly from slow to slower. He kind of gives us the feeling that we could be pitchers, if we learned to hit our spots. He's kind of Batman, not Superman, we think we could work hard enough to be him. We all know we can't throw 100 mph, but we all think we could hit high 70's (with work) and if we had learned to hit those spots, we could be him. We know we can't throw as hard as Marcus Stroman, but we think (wrongly) that if we worked enough we could have been Buehrle.
He's had deeper hot and cold stretches than I figured he would. The first month of his first season with the team, I figured that he just couldn't pitch in the AL East. When he gave up 7 runs in an inning, on May 7th 2013, I really thought it was time to give up on him, but he turned his season around from there. This year, he was great in the first half of the season (3.29 ERA), and far less great, to the point where he has, very likely, pitched himself out of the Jays playoff rotation, in the second half.
In the first half of the season, I thought it was more likely that the Jays would keep Buehrle and cut ties with R.A. Dickey. Now that isn't the way it looks.
Beyond his ability on the field and how much he's taught me about pitching, I love how he interacts with his teammates. Chemistry? I know nothing about it, but he seems to have taken up the job of elder statesmen. He's great with Stroman in particular but he seems to be a calming voice with all the pitchers. He always seems to be sitting with other pitchers.
I think a perfect story is how he talked, quietly, away from the cameras, to Stroman, after Marcus behind Caleb Joseph. He doesn't feel the urge (or at least he doesn't act on the urge) to choke a teammate who he feels has done wrong. As much as many former MLB players will tell us violence is the way to teach, I'm pretty sure that calm words work much better.
I also like that he didn't wear goggles for the Jays celebration, preferring to let the champagne sting his eyes. For some reason, that seems far more zen to me. Why spray it around if you don't want to feel it when it hits you.
If we are at the end of our time with Mark, I'll miss him. I'm glad we've had a chance to get to know him. Cee Angi was right, I did love him.