Mark Buehrle takes the mound tonight for the Miami Marlins versus the Philadelphia Phillies in the first of a three-game set, and that occasion reminded me that we are now two months into the Buehrle era here in Miami. We are two months in, and surprisingly I have had nothing to say about Mark Buehrle, and the reason for that is actually not negative at all. The reason why I have had nothing to say about Mark Buehrle is because all he has done thus far in 2012 is be the typical Mark Buehrle.
Sure, the ERA and FIP have dropped, and some of the numbers have gotten better in his move to Miami, but those are naturally expected results given the fact that he is moving to the National League and avoiding the designated hitter. Other than that, the lack of change is uncanny. Everywhere you look, the Marlins' starting pitchers are changing colors like leaves in the fall. Ricky Nolasco is losing strikeouts. Josh Johnson has lost his velocity. Anibal Sanchez has potentially become an ace and a very well-paid pitcher in the future. Carlos Zambrano has changed his pitches and rediscovered the ground ball.
All the meanwhile, the one pitcher who has remained constant among all of those guys is the metronome that is Mark Buehrle.To illustrate how metronome-like Buehrle has been this season, let us take a look at some statistics that form the backbone of his strikeout and walk rates, the plate discipline numbers from Pitch F/X, as provided by FanGraphs.
There are differences, but they are so slight that they are barely recognizable. Buehrle has gotten the same swing and contact rates this season as he has over the last three years with the Chicago White Sox. He has gotten the same results on these perhaps in part because he has been using the same repertoire at the same frequency as he usually does. Here are his pitch frequencies in 2012 from Brooks Baseball.
Now look at the frequency at which he used these pitches throughout the Pitch F/X era since 2007.
Over the years, he has begun to trust his changeup primarily and shied away from the other secondary offerings, but looking at the overall picture, the usage of his pitches has barely moved the needle. His fastball, which has consistently been clocked at 85 to 86 mph throughout his career, has been used at almost the exact same rate throughout the Pitch F/X era. The cutter and two-seamers have been used similarly, as well as the curveball. Mark Buehrle has not changed his approach since 2007, and it has worked in the exact same manner as it did back then.
Buehrle has always been known for his defensive prowess, both with the glove and in controlling the running game. It does not seem like he has lost much of a step in that department either. We have seen plenty of great defensive plays from Buehrle, and while I cannot speak to the frequency of his glove use thus far, the early numbers from John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved statistic (the one found under DRS on FanGraphs and the main one used post-2003 on Baseball-Reference) have been positive. The stat says he has saved seven runs this season above the average pitcher, and while that number is probably inflated, it would not be surprising if he ended the season with that kind of value. Over the last nine season before this, Buehrle has averaged 7.2 runs saved per year with his glove.
Part of that is the running game control, and he has shown his typical prowess in that respect as well. So far in 2012, he has picked off two runners out of 93 runners who had stolen base opportunities and presumably would have taken leads against him. That constitutes a 2.1 percent rate of pickoffs for those runners who could steal. Last season, he took out six runners in 311 opportunities, a rate of 1.9 percent. His career rate is at 2.3 percent, meaning that even in this regard, Buehrle is doing the exact thing that we expected of him.
His move still looks the same too. This is a Buehrle move from 2011.
Here's a move from 2012.
He has that same leg motion that looks borderline balky but moves him just enough towards the bag that umpires do not call it. That motion is at the same quickness, and it gets runners fooled for just long enough to knock them off the bases. In that respect, Buehrle is also like a machine.
The One Difference
Buehrle's one difference so far this season is that he has been a little fortunate on balls in play, posting a .262 mark. That is sure to regress just because of how consistent he is with everything else, but it is funny to note that Buehrle has also done an excellent job of being mostly average in that department as well. Since the early part of the last decade, the league BABIP has crawled from .292 in the American League in 2003 to .305 in 2007 to .294 last season. Overall, hitters have hit .298 on balls in play since Buehrle entered the league, and he has posted a .293 BABIP since that time. Despite him always outperforming his peripherals, he has been about league average in that department as well.
There is a reason why Mark Buehrle has not really been discussed on the site until today. There simply has not been anything to discuss. Before the season began, we had certain expectations of the 33 year-old free agent starter, and so far he has met every single one to the letter. There really is not much to say other than "Nothing home to report, all quiet on the Buehrle front."