Miami Marlins Season Preview: Mark Buehrle

March 11, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) pitches during the spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to the Miami Marlins Season Preview! After this, check out the other previews:

02/24: Catcher
02/27: First base
02/28:
Second base
03/01:
Third base
03/05: Shortstop
03/06: Left Field
03/08:
Center Field
03/12: Right Field
03/14: #1 Starter
03/15: #2 Starter

The Miami Marlins Season Preview series chugs right along, and now we reach the third starter slot for the Marlins. Last season, the team was depending on incumbents like Ricky Nolasco along with one-year fliers like Javier Vazquez to deliver for the Fish, and this yielded mixed results. On the one hand, Vazquez completed the 2011 season on an absolute tear that would have made him a healthy sum in 2012 were he interested in pitching rather than retiring to his family in Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Ricky Nolasco struggled once again to do anything right and suffered through another season in which his peripherals vastly outperformed his on-field play.

But this article is not to discuss either player, but the one who will actually occupy the third slot. This offseason, the Fish acquired free agent starter Mark Buehrle after flirting and nearly landing C.J. Wilson. Buehrle filled a need that the Marlins could not since Dontrelle Willis left after 2007: a lefty starter who can go 200 innings without much of a problem.

We previewed Buehrle when he was first acquired back at the tail end of the Winter Meetings. Here is what we said we could expect from him in 2012:

Since we have had no problem discussing how utterly consistent Buehrle has been since his career began in 2000, we suspect that a 2012 projection would not be entirely difficult to perform. For the last three years, Buehrle's ERA has been at 3.91, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable starting point for analysis. Compare this to the Bill James projection of 3.98 and the projection of nine fans on FanGraphs of 3.89. There does not seem to be much doubt about that. Let us use the average of the three projections and give him a 3.92 ERA for 2012.

That projection sounds completely in line. Very little about Mark Buehrle has changed over the last few seasons, and it is doubtful that anything will change drastically by 2012. One thing to note about Buehrle's play since 2009 is that his strikeouts have dropped over the last three years compared to his first nine years in the league.

Buehrle IP K% BB% ERA FIP
2011 205 1/3 12.7 5.2 3.59 3.98
2010 210 1/3 11.0 5.5 4.28 3.90
2009 213 1/3 12.0 5.2 3.84 4.46
2000-2008 1847 2/3 14.1 5.5 3.80 4.13

As you can see, even in the last three years, Buehrle has not seemed like he lost much despite losing two percentage points on his strikeout rate. These past three seasons, he has posted a 3.91 ERA and a 4.12 FIP, numbers that are fairly similar to his previous seasons' levels.

One interesting thing to point out is how Buehrle may change with the change to Miami and the team's spacious new stadium compared to his old stomping grounds of Chicago. The White Sox played in one of the friendliest home run parks in the game, with a Patriot five-year home run park factor of 1.12. This sort of environment rivaled the current Coors Field environment as well, meaning it is an extremely friendly home run park. Now he is moving to an environment that is likely to suppress home runs and when Buehrle has already done a decent job at suppressing them for his career.

Buehrle, Home/Road IP HR%
Home 1165 1/3 2.8
Road 1038 2/3 2.5

As you can see, over the course of his career, he does not have a significant split in his home runs allowed between home and road, and both are decent numbers compared to the league average of 2.4 percent. Now, Buehrle will be moving away from a bandbox to a spacious park, so it is easy to imagine him suppressing home runs more than he has in his career, which should only help his ERA.

Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We will use the same method we have been using the last few articles in order to make a projection.

Buehrle, Proj IP K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 178 13.5 5.4 3.69 3.86
Steamer 199 13.9 5.8 4.54 4.08
PECOTA 194 1/3 14.1 5.6 4.09 3.81
Fans 210 13.1 5.6 3.84 4.08

The projections listed here look extremely viable. ZiPS seems to be the most optimistic in terms of rates, while Steamer seems the most pessimistic. The innings projections all basically expect 200 innings from Buehrle, and I will override the average of the four statistics and go ahead and project another 200 innings from Buehrle in 2012. From the average of the eight runs estimates listed, we get an average ERA estimate of 4.00.

Projection: 200 IP, 2.5 WAR

Buehrle's play should yield a consistent 2.5 WAR, which admittedly is less than what the Marlins were expecting to pay for this season based on previous calculations. Of course, if Buehrle can maintain this sort of production for a few more seasons after that, he may still be useful to the Fish in future years. But right now, we only care about 2012, and for 2012, Buehrle seems to be yet another decent play for the Fish in their rotation.

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