The Miami Marlins made three signings in the offseason that were designed to bolster a ready-made core that was expected to be close to contention after some rebound seasons from key players. One of the players that the Marlins wanted to pick up was a consistently good starting pitcher on whom the team could count for 200 innings every year. The club felt that there was no better example of such a player than veteran free agent Mark Buehrle, who signed a four-year, $58 million contract before the 2012 season.
What the Marlins received was a very close version of what they wanted. While Buehrle was not as efficient as he was in previous seasons, he still provided the team a lot of what they wanted from him when they signed him.
|Mark Buehrle||202 1/3||15.1||4.8||3.74||4.18||2.0||3.2|
Mark Buehrle's 2012 season was an oddity in some respects. On the positive side of things, his peripherals improved as expected given his move to the National League. Buehrle's 15.1 percent strikeout rate is the highest he has posted since 2008. He got batters to swing and miss at his stuff in 7.3 percent of his pitches, which is his highest mark since 2007. It also seems that Buehrle was getting more called strikes than in years past, as his swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone decreased from a career rate of 62 percent to 59 percent in 2012, with no change to his out-of-zone swings.
At the same time, Buerle continued to limit walks in a great way. He pounded the strike zone at a similar rate, throwing his pitches in the zone at a 48.6 percent rate that is very similar to his 48.8 percent mark since 2007. But a combination of more strikes on pitches in and out of the zone and a consistent, zone-pounding approach led to the second-lowest walk rate of his career, as Buehrle walked only 4.8 percent of his batters.
Part of the reasoning behind Buehrle's increased strikeout proficiency is his use of the changeup, which we have documented before. Sometime in the middle of the year, Buehrle began missing a lot more bats, and his changeup's increased effectiveness had a lot to do with his success. Buehrle has not only increased his changeup use to its highest level (26 to 27 percent depending on the source), but it also missed the most bats and received the most ground balls out of all of his pitches this season.
Again, all of this was to be expected, as Buehrle was facing the pitcher's slot instead of another real hitter for at least two plate appearances every game. Going into the season, we expected him to put up better strikeout and walk rates simply from the move to the NL, so his improvement should not be all that surprising. So why were Buehrle's ERA and FIP marks similar to his career rates despite this visible improvement?
The answer to that question lies in his only problematic area in 2012, the home run. Buehrle allowed 26 home runs in 2012, good for the third-largest total he has given up in any one season. His home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate of 11.4 percent was the highest he has recorded since his awful 2006 season. Prior to the season starting, it was perfectly reasonable to expect Buehrle to at worst maintain his home run rates from his time with the Chicago White Sox, if only because he was never all that affected by the bandbox that was U.S. Cellular Field. It seemed even more likely that he would decrease his homers by playing in the spacious Marlins Park, which suppressed home runs all year for pitchers. However, the home runs flew for Buehrle in 2012, and it helped to inflate his overall numbers and make him look significantly worse against the lower run environment of the National League.
However, do not look at Marlins Park as being the problem, as Buehrle performed fairly well at home. His stirkeouts, walks, and home runs were all better at home than on the road this season, leading to a 3.13 ERA and 3.48 FIP at home versus a 4.45 ERA and 5.01 FIP on the road. In particular, Buehrle allowed six more homers on the road while throwing 16 1/3 fewer innings and facing 42 fewer batters. Despite a career with relatively minor home / road splits, Buehrle suffered the wrath of the opposing power bats on the road.
Overall, Buehrle's ERA and FIP suggested a pitcher that was closer to league average than someone who the team will be paying about $50 million over the next three years. Nevertheless, his 200-inning season streak continued in 2012 as the Fish expected, and an average performance for that much playing time is still worth a decent amount, and the Marlins have to be happy that the average performance was consistent throughout the year. With some regression on the home run rates, Buehrle should look a little better in 2013.