Assessing Mark Buehrle’s Hall of Fame Resume

On Monday the Baseball Hall of Fame released their 2021 ballot which included 11 first-time candidates, one of them being White Sox legend Mark Buehrle. Buehrle pitched 16 major league seasons from 2000-2015, compiling 214 wins and a lifetime ERA of 3.81 over the course of 3,283.1 innings of work.

While Buehrle is no doubt one of the best modern-day pitchers to ever don a Chicago White Sox uniform and has his No. 56 retired by the club, does his resume earn him consideration to be enshrined as one of the greatest to ever dot it?

After being drafted by the White Sox in the thirty-eighth round of the 1998 June Ametuer Draft, Buehrle had an unlikely quick route through the White Sox minor league system. After signing with the White Sox in May of 1999, Buehrle made just 36 minor league appearances before being called up on July 16, 2000.

While in the minors Buehrle pitched for the Single-A affiliate at the time, the Burlington Bees, where he posted a 7-4 record with a 4.10 ERA. In 2000 Buehrle began the season with the White Sox Double-A affiliate the Birmingham Barons, Buehrle pitched his way to an 8-4 record with a 2.28 ERA while giving up just 17 walks over 119 innings pitched. He was eventually named the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher that season, and he was also the winning pitcher in the Futures Game during the MLB All-Star festivities.

On July 16, 2000, the then 21-year-old left-hander made his major league debut for the White Sox, throwing one inning against the Milwaukee Brewers allowing an earned run on two hits, while striking out one and walking one.

Buehrle would make his first career start just three days later against the Minnesota Twins. The 21-year-old southpaw tossed seven innings of two-run ball while allowing just six hits against the rival Twins en route to his first MLB win.

Buehrle contributed right away in a hybrid role that featured him in the bullpen and as a spot starter in a season in which the White Sox would win the American League Central. Buehrle compiled a 4-1 record with a 4.21 ERA over 55 innings of work.

In his first full season as a starter in 2001, Buehrle went 16-8 with a 3.29 ERA in 32 starts. He threw four complete games — two of which were shutouts — over a span of 221.1 innings, while only allowing 81 earned runs.

Buehrle was not a big swing-and-miss type pitcher, but he had a solid arsenal of pitches that he was able to locate effectively enough to get hitters out start after start for parts of 16 seasons. Buehrle made up for a lack of swing-and-miss stuff (career 5.13 K/9) by limiting walks (2.01 BB/9), keeping the ball on the ground (45.3% GB%), and limiting hard contact (25.4% Hard%). He always kept hitters on their toes with the rapid pace that he played with. Over his career, Buehrle has an average time between pitches of just 15.8 seconds.

Buehrle won more than 15 games in a season six times in his 15 years as a starter and won over 10 games in a season every single season as a starter. In his 15 years as a starting pitcher Buehrle only threw less than 200 innings in a season once; in 2015 when he threw 198.2 innings, missing the mark by just four outs.

In this era of pitching, the number of innings that Mark Buehrle was able to consume year after year is incredibly remarkable. Buehrle was truly an Iron-Man of pitchers in an era where Tommy John surgery was rapidly increasing in pitchers every season, Buehrle managed to start 493 games throwing 3,283.1 innings, and never spending an extended period on the disabled list over his 16 year MLB career.

Despite being incredibly underrated throughout his career because of his lack of high velocity and swing-and-miss stuff, Buehrle managed to win a World Series Championship in 2005 with the White Sox, as well as throw a No-Hitter in 2007 against the Texas Rangers, and a perfect game on July 23 of 2009 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Photo: Ron Vesely

A World Series Champion, a five-time All-Star, and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner over his 16 years in Major League Baseball to go along with his 214 wins and you have to seriously consider talking Cooperstown in five years. Mark Buehrle may not be a first-ballot or even second ballot Hall-of-Famer, but he certainly needs to be in the discussion. He was a modern marvel of longevity, and durability in the era that saw astronomical Tommy John surgeries and pitchers spending seasons at a time on the disabled list.

Here’s how Buehrle stacks up against the rest of the starting pitchers on the 2021 ballot in 10 categories and fWAR:

Mark Buehrle (NA, 1st)4933283.12143.815.132.011.2833101452.3
A.J. Burnett (NA, 1st)4302732.11643.998.283.621.322410642.5
Roger Clemens (61%, 9th)7074916.23543.128.552.891.171184615133.7
Dan Haren (NA, 1st)3802419.21533.757.491.861.18166740.4
Tim Hudson (NA, 1st)4793126.22223.495.992.641.242613848.9
Andy Pettitte (11.3%, 3rd)52133162563.856.642.801.352641068.2
Curt Schilling (70%, 9th)43632612163.468.001.961.148320979.8
Barry Zito (NA, 1st)4212575.21654.046.583.721.34125630.2

Roger Clemens’ 24-season career towers over the rest of the field by a lot in nearly every category here, and it goes without saying that he’s in a different class than the rest of the field. It’s because of his connection and/or use of PEDs that he’s still on the ballot here in his ninth year, and at just 61 percent of the necessary 75 percent of the vote with just two cracks left, I’m not sure the BBWAA will ever overlook his involvement of steroids.

The same can be said for Andy Pettitte, who while only in his third year of eligibility, only received 11.3 percent of the vote in 2020.

Curt Schilling is at 70 percent with two shots left and is the closest of the three pitchers on this list linked to the PED scandal that rocked baseball.

If you removed Schilling, Clemens, and Pettitte from the ballot, here’s what it looks like for the rest of the field:

Mark Buehrle (NA, 1st)4933283.12143.815.132.011.2833101452.3
A.J. Burnett (NA, 1st)4302732.11643.998.283.621.322410642.5
Dan Haren (NA, 1st)3802419.21533.757.491.861.18166740.4
Tim Hudson (NA, 1st)4793126.22223.495.992.641.242613848.9
Barry Zito (NA, 1st)4212575.21654.046.583.721.34125630.2

With Curt Schilling either making his way into the Hall of Fame or being dropped from the ballot after next year, and Clemens/Pettitte an unlikely combo to ever get in, Buehrle’s case becomes much stronger in a field of candidates beyond the stretch of legendary first-ballot players that we’ve seen over the past few years.

Even with leading this particular field in starts, innings pitched, complete games, seasons with 200+ innings, and fWAR (and coming in second or third in every other category) there’s very little chance that Buehrle makes it in his first year on the ballot.

The same might go for his first 2-3 years on the ballot, but, I do think that Buehrle will make his way into the hall before his eligibility comes to an end.

As David Brown pointed out on Monday, of the 80 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, only 31 have more bWAR than Buehrle. If elected this year (hypothetically speaking), Buehrle’s 60.0 bWAR would rank thirty-second among 81 Hall of Fame pitchers.

In addition to his strong statistical resume, Buehrle’s World Series Championship, five All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Glove Awards, complete game, and perfect game have to factor into the decision-making process, making Buehrle a qualified candidate compared to previously elected starting pitchers.

Many people may argue that Buehrle’s career is more “Hall of Good” than Hall of Fame, but I think that he has a case to be made, not this year, but in the next few years.

Featured Photo: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

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