Mark Buehrle turns 42 today.
Mark came to us in the big trade with the Miami Marlins, which won us the off-season (well, some other moves helped out) before the 2012 season. Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes (and some money) came over from Florida, for Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis and Justin Nicolino.
Mark wasn’t the primary piece that Alex Anthopoulos wanted in the deal. Alex was more interested in Reyes and Johnson, but the Marlins wanted to dump salary. If you had told me, back then, that Mark would be the last man standing (with the Jays) of the players we picked up, I wouldn’t have believed you. But Buck was gone before the ink on the trade papers dried. Bonifacio’s painful tenure ended in early August. Johnson made it until the end of the season, but much of that time was on the DL. And Reyes was run out of town at the end of July 2015. Mark made it to the end of the 2015 season.
Not only did he stay with the Jays the longest, but he also turned out to be the most valuable piece we picked up. As a Blue Jay, he threw 604.1 innings (24th on the all-time Jays list) in 97 starts (19th) over his three seasons, with a 3.78 ERA. He had a 40-28 record (20th in wins). We were 57-39 in his starts (we had a pretty great offense in those days). Baseball-Reference has him at a 6.9 WAR (33rd).
Mark was fun to watch. He worked quickly. He taught me something new about pitching; I always thought pitchers need to believe that they are throwing the right pitch before they go into their windup. Buehrle would rather throw the wrong pitch and keep himself in his rhythm. Keeping in rhythm is the essential thing to Mark.
He kind of just threw and let his defense do the work. That’s not 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 was good, he was a joy to watch. Innings went by quickly. He didn’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 got by with movement, changing speeds....mostly from slow to slower. He gave us the feeling that we could be pitchers. He was 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 think we could hit the 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 Nate Pearson, but we think (wrongly) that we could have been Buehrle if we had worked enough.
He’s had deeper hot and cold stretches than I figured he would. The first month of his first season with the team, I just thought he couldn’t pitch in the AL East. When he gave up seven runs in an inning on May 7th, 2013, I thought it was time to give up on him, but he turned his season around from there. After that game, he had a 6.75 ERA. The rest of the way, he had a 3.32 ERA that year.
Beyond his ability on the field and how much he taught me about pitching, I loved how he interacted with his teammates. Chemistry? I know nothing about it, but he seemed to take the role of elder statesmen. He was great with Marcus Stroman, but he seemed to be a calming voice with all the pitchers. He always seemed to be sitting with other pitchers.
I think a perfect story is how he talked, quietly, away from the cameras, to Stroman after Marcus threw behind Caleb Joseph’s head, as revenge for stepping on Jose Reyes.
He seemed to resist the urge to choke a teammate who he felt had 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.
Mark ended up with a 16-year MLB career. He had a 214-160 record in 518 games, 493 starts, a 3.81 ERA, and a 29.3 bWAR. And, of course, he threw 200+ innings in every season except for his first and last season (and he came up just 1.1 innings short of 200 in 2015).
Mark will be on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. It will be interesting to see what the Writers think about his career. We aren’t likely to see a pitcher with 14 straight 200 innings again. I don’t see him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he might get there.
Happy Birthday, Mark. I hope it is a good one.