Was Mark Buehrle One Of The Best Pitchers In Major League Baseball History? The Answer Might Surprise You

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As MLB fans track the 2021 candidates, there's a debate surrounding Mark Buehrle. Does he deserve to be in the Major League Baseball Hall Of Fame? Specifically, the debate over Buehrle's HOF worthiness centers on two simple questions:

  • Was Mark Buehrle just a stat compiler?
  • Or was Mark Buerhle one of the best to ever play?

You may think you know. But many writers find themselves thunderstruck by the answer they arrive at after looking at Buehrle’s career, digging into his stats, and revisiting his stories.

And that's not just hyperbole. According to Ryan Thibodaux's Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker at least 13 Hall Of Fame votes have already gone to Mark Buehrle in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.

Would You Vote Buehrle Into The Hall Of Fame?

In this article, we’ll look beyond the usual career highlights, stats and comparisons to other Hall of Famers. We’ll dig a little deeper (because that’s what looking at Buehrle’s stats make you want to do.)

In other words, you start finding Buehrle’s name at the top of a lot of interesting and sometimes odd all-time lists. And when you look at his body of work, the stats and career begin to look, well, elite.

For example — did you know Mark Buehrle is one of only three men in baseball history to throw a perfect game, no hitter, and win a world series for one team? (The other two guys were Cy Young and Sandy Koufax.)


(Photo by Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune via Getty Images)

On the other hand, yes, Buehrle didn’t have overpowering strikeouts, wins, or ERA. The average Hall of Fame starting pitcher has a 73.3 WAR, 50.0 WAR7, and a 61.6 JAWS. Buehrle is at a 59.1, 35.8, 47.4.

That said, in several (sometimes odd) statistical pitching categories, Mark Buehrle was not only elite — he’s one of (if not) the greatest of all-time.

For those Hall of Fame voters out there, here’s eleven reasons one could say "don't stop believing" in Mark Buerhle:

  1. Mark Buerhle Threw the 18th Perfect Game in MLB history (his second No-Hitter)
  2. The prerequisite World Series heroics of Mark Buehrle.
  3. Mark Buehrle, the all-time MLB leader in career pick-offs.
  4. He begat “The Buerhle-Meter,” after perhaps the best defensive play of all time.
  5. Mark Buehrle has the most Defensive-Runs-Saved (DRS) of all time.
  6. “Baseball’s Speedrunner” — and the 99 minute game.
  7. Mark Buerhle has the 3rd most Quality Starts all time.
  8. Mark Buehrle’s Elite Longevity: 15 yrs of 30+ Starts, 14 yrs of 200+IP —and ZERO time on the DL
  9. Mark Buehrle’s Hall-of-Fame-worthy 6.0 career WAR, and BB/IP ratio.
  10. Mark Buehrle MLB career leader in Wild Pitch/ Pitches Thrown ratio.
  11. The only pitcher in history to face the 27-batter minimum twice (and Buehrle did it three times)

Buehrle Was A Paradox, And A Supremely Talented One At That

Other writers and Youtubers have noticed the curious case of Mark Buehrle over the years as well. That doesn’t surprise me. Because any fan of his will tell you — Mark Buehrle did memorable things in memorable ways.

He was something of a paradox. Put another way — he was a career stat compiler, but also a gamer that reached the pinnacle of the profession time and again. In other words, he flashed the ability to harness greatness at peak moments. But unlike some flash-in-the-pan pitchers — Buehrle was supremely reliable and durable.

And he did it all with a fastball that rarely topped 90 mph!

This article thus investigates the paradox of Mark Buehrle. He was a generational talent. One of the greatest pitchers of all time — just not in the tradition sense.

Thus, for reasons that I hope to make obvious, Mark Buehrle deserves to be the 84th pitcher elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2020.

1. Mark Buehrle Threw the 18th Perfect Game In MLB History — Then Went Perfecto for 17 more outs in his Next Start.

Let’s begin with the obvious proof of Mark Buehrle’s pitching brilliance. In 2009, he threw the 18th perfect game in MLB history. He did so against a Rays team that had the second-highest on-base percentage in baseball.

As mentioned, there’s 83 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and only a fraction of them have a perfect game on their resume.

But don’t forget Buehrle recorded another 17 consecutive outs his next start against the Twins.

Buehrle’s 45 consecutive outs broke the old MLB record of 41 outs. What’s even more rare about this stat, is that it’s owned by relievers.

That said, let’s throw Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter into the mix. In 2009, the perfect game made Buehrle the first pitcher with two no-hitters since Randy Johnson.

2. Buehrle’s Prerequisite World Series and Playoff Heroics

In 2005, Buehrle was the ace of the White Sox championship staff that went 11–1 and is regarded as one of the most dominant performances by a rotation in playoff history.

For Buehrle’s part, he won a 1-run complete game win in Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS. That game has been graded as a 1-WPA performance (Win Probability Added) meaning “the pitcher was worth a win for his performance alone.” Buehrle’s performance kicked off four consecutive complete game wins by the Sox starters. For fun, Buehrle also got the save in Game 3 of the World Series.

And while we’re on 2005, Buehrle won the All-Star game that year too. Now that we covered that, let’s move on to some of Buehrle’s truly rarified stats.

3. Mark Buerhle Is The All-Time Career Pick-Off Leader

MLB.com lists Mark Buehrle as the career leader in pick-offs with 95, and it isn’t even close. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw sits thirty back, with 64 career pick-offs. Buehrle was the best to ever pick off baserunners.

In addition to that, Buerhle’s control of the run game included an uncanny stolen base ratio. During his 3,283.3 innings pitched, only 69 runners successfully stole a base on Mark Buehrle. 81 got caught stealing. That’s a stolen base percentage of 42%. The league average is around 70%.

Buehrle is 10th all-time for runners caught stealing. And, when you combine his caught stealing ratio and record number of pick-offs, it becomes clear — Buehrle was the best of all time at controlling the run game. Young ballplayers could truly watch and learn.

But his defense didn’t stop there.

4. “The Buehrle-Meter” And The Best Defensive Play Of All-Time?

Mark Buehrle won four consecutive Gold Gloves from 2009–2012. He also won four straight Fielding Bibles from Bill James’ cohort during that same stretch.

Beyond that, Mark Buehrle made a defensive play on Opening Day of 2010 that’s regarded as perhaps the greatest defensive play of all time. We’re talking about the play where the batter hit’s the ball back up the middle and Buehrle kick-saved it towards the visiting team dugout. But instead of just giving up an infield single, Buehrle sprints after the ball into foul territory, avoids the runner, and flips the ball backwards with his mitt — between his legs — perfectly into Paul Konerko’s outstretched bare hand for the out.

This play spawned the “Buehrle-Meter” which was used by Baseball Tonight thereafter to gauge the degree of difficulty of a defensive web gem. Not many could compare to Buehrle’s benchmark play. That play is one of the most recognizable plays in baseball history. 5. Mark Buehrle’s “88 Defensive-Runs-Saved” is The All-Time MLB Record

But it wasn’t just one play. It was everything, every time he toed the rubber Buehrle was a clinician. As a result, Mark Buehrle finished his career with 88 defensive-runs-saved— the most all time for a pitcher.

To put that number in context, that’s better than three-time Gold Glove winner J.J. Hardy could accrue (84 DRS) across 13,386 innings at short stop. The second-best pitcher on the DRS list is Zack Greinke (80 DRS) who’s a close comp to Buehrle in several categories.

6. Mark Buehrle Has The Third Most Quality Starts in MLB History.

Certainly his defense helped Mark Buehrle accumulate another impressive stat — the third most quality starts in MLB history at 304.

MLB didn’t begin tracking quality starts until 1985, and it was an underappreciated stat during Buehrle’s career. That said, here’s some comps of Buehrle’s contemporaries. Pedro Martinez threw 173 quality starts; Roger Clemens, 166 — Curt Schilling, 157.

It’s worth pointing that if we fast forward to bullpen-heavy 2020-baseball, it’s nearly as rare to see a pitcher earn a quality start as it was a win. Perhaps Buehrle’s numbers will age well in the statcast era?

And yet, from May 2004 to July 2005, there was Mark Buehrle going 6+ innings in 49 consecutive starts. That was good for the second longest streak in baseball history only to Steve Carlton’s streak of 69.https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3tASlC_0YIl58v300(Mark Buehrle, image courtesy of wikicommons)

7. Mark Buehrle aka“Baseball’s Speedrunner,” and his 99-Minute Game

Buehrle wasn’t the hardest thrower — but he was the quickest. He worked incredibly fast on the mound. In 2014, Jeff Passan described Buehrle’s fast pitching rhythm as symphonic. Others have called Buehrle, “Baseball’s Speedrunner,” which is a nod to videogame culture.

The reality is, Buehrle averaged 15.8 seconds between pitches, which is 2.1 seconds quicker than the next quickest pitcher. He simply controlled a game like no one else in recorded history.

For example, once on April 16th, 2005, Buehrle finished a game in 1:39 minutes (99 minutes!). Meanwhile the average baseball game in 2019 took 3:05 to complete.

Needless to say, Buehrle didn’t need the modern pitch clock. And his fans knew to not show up late to the park when it was his turn in the rotation!

8. Mark Buehrle’s Elite Longevity: 15-yrs of 30+ Starts, 14-yrs of 200+IP — Zero time on the DL

Speaking of turns in the rotation — Buehrle literally never missed one. Yes, he had elite performances. But unlike so many pitchers that flashed in the pan — Buehrle never spent a day on the DL his entire 16-year career.

His 15 straight seasons of 10+ wins is one thing. But Buehrle’s 15 straight seasons with 30+ starts is third highest in baseball history. Buehrle’s 14-seasons with 200+ innings pitched missed the all-time record by just 1.1 innings.

Only the best pitchers of their era are on the 200+ inning list year after year. If Buehrle could have found 1.1 innings his final year, he would have tied the record of 15 consecutive seasons with 200+ innings shared by Cy Young, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, and Warren Spahn. That’s good company.

It’s worth pointing out that the number of pitchers throwing 200+ innings has been shrinking for the last decade. For example, in 2011 44 pitchers threw 200+ innings. But in 2019 only 17 pitchers threw 200+ innings.

In other words, with the heavy reliance nowadays on bullpens, Buehrle’s inning-eating numbers and durability as a starter looks even more elite.

9. Mark Buehrle’s 6.0 Career WAR, and Elite 2.01 BB/9 ratio

Buehrle’s 6.0 WAR is 65th in MLB history. That puts him right between Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, and ties with Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser.

As noted, there’s 83 pitchers already in the Hall Of Fame. 17 pitchers have a better WAR than Buehrle who are not Hall of Famers. Some of them are still active, others are steroid era guys. But there’s also 20 Hall of Fame pitchers with a worse WAR than Buehrle.

Here’s a little known stat. Buehrle isn’t remembered for being stingy with his walks. But his career 2.01 BB/9 is another of his elite stats. That ratio puts him just behind Mike Mussina with 1.98. And it puts him ahead of first-ballot Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, and Zach Greinke, both at 2.07 BB/9.

10. Mark Buehrle Had The Best Wild Pitch Metrics In MLB History

Ok, here’s another little gem I stumbled across. According to MLB.com, Mark Buehrle threw 49,092 pitches in his career — yet only 27 wild pitches. That’s the best wild pitch ratio in history.

Scour the wild pitch metrics for another pitcher that threw to the mitt better than Buehrle — there’s no one even close to him in this stat. And to give you one comp on this, the second most wild pitches in history belong to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Here’s another one that fits the pattern. I found evidence that Buehrle had elite GIDP-induced numbers, finishing 13th all-time with 337. For example, in an August 2009 game, Buehrle induced 6 in a game, which was the most GIDP since 1954.

11. Mark Buehrle Faced The 27-Batter Minimum And Won, An MLB Record Three Times

Here’s one final stat to prove Buehrle was more than just a stat compiler. No other pitcher faced the 27-batter minimum more than once in their career. Mark Buehrle faced 27 batters and won not once, not twice, but three times.

One was obviously his perfect game. Then there was the complete game shutout in 2004 when Buehrle allowed only two base runners, and subsequently in Buehrle fashion — retired both runners on double plays. Thus he faced only 27 batters.

And the third 27 batter game was Buehrle’s 2007 No-Hitter. The only baserunner he allowed that game was a walk to Sammy Sosa. And after Sammy got on, (you guessed it) Buehrle promptly picked him off at first base.

In Summary — Mark Buehrle Would Be A Different Kind of Hall Of Famer, But His Record Will Hold As More Learn His Legend

Mark Buerhrle was elite, if not one of the all-time greats, at several aspects and categories of pitching that don’t include Ks, Wins, JAWS, or WAR7. As we’ve noted, he owned a definitive statistical space.

That said, anyone who loves the game knows baseball is a game of little things. And when you add up all the little things from his body of work, it’s obvious that Mark Buehrle completely mastered the art of pitching a baseball.

He proved the reach of his greatness during his perfect 45-batter consecutive out streak. And he proved it during his 49-game consecutive 6+ inning streak. Buehrle proved he could both flash — and go the distance with the all-time greats.

The Final Tally

In the final analysis, while not traditional, the evidence does make a very compelling case that Mark Buehrle was one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. In addition, he did it his way. His unique, classy, team-focused style of play allowed him to make the most of his ability. More pitchers and players would do well to emulate him.

It’s time to acknowledge the uniqueness, character, and class that Mark Buehrle would add to the Hall of Fame’s greatness.

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