There is something to be said for the start that Mark Buehrle has gotten off to for the Toronto Blue Jays. With his win Sunday over the Kansas City Royals, the veteran lefty became the first pitcher to cross the 10-win threshold in 2014 and is in the midst of a career season as the ripe old age of 35.
So how is Buehrle managing to defy the odds and enjoying the most dominating start to the season of any pitcher in the game?
Mark Buehrle has never been the most overpowering pitcher, and is getting by on an average fastball velocity of just 83.4 MPH in 2014, a career-low. However, he is instead relying on a quick tempo, pinpoint control, and the ability to make hitters guess by constantly changing speeds at any point in the count and on any pitch.
But it is more than just simply keeping hitters off balance and inducing weak contact. Mark Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays have found a winning formula that has helped to make both parties exceptionally successful with Buehrle on the mound.
While Buehrle has a sparkling 2.10 ERA and a solid 1.193 WHIP, his FIP of 3.06 is nearly full run higher and his SIERA of 4.34 in 2014 actually sits higher than his 4.13 mark in 2013, when he posted a 4.15 ERA. That would indicate that Buehrle is pitching with a bit of luck in 2014, but it also shows that he has limited damage when needed. Specifically, Buehrle has only surrendered 2 home runs in 81.1 innings pitched, a significant improvement over the 11 he had given up in his first 12 starts of 2013. That’s good for a HR/FB ratio of 2.7% compared to 10.6% a season ago and 9.8% for his career.
Meanwhile, while Buehrle has done everything in his power to keep his team in every start, the Blue Jays have done everything to reward that effort. The Blue Jays have scored an average of 6.08 runs per game when the lefty starts, good enough for 4th best of any starting pitcher in the game. That four run cushion helps explain why Buehrle has a decision in all but one of his starts.
That all said, this kind of season is not unprecedented, even among the soft-tossing, aging left-handers.
In 2003, despite being 40-years-old and possessing an average fastball in the low 80’s, Seattle Mariners starter Jamie Moyer set a career high in wins with 21 and a career-low in ERA with 3.27. However, the similarities run deeper than just the arsenal, as he table below shows.
2014 (Age 35)
2003 (Age 40)
Now the higher FIP and SIERA indicate that Buehrle is due for some regression, and let’s be honest, the Blue Jays are not going to maintain scoring him 6+ runs per start. However, with a precedent previously set, it is not completely unlikely that Buehrle could get to 20 wins in 2014 for the first time in his illustrious career either. That would mark the first time since 2008 (Roy Halladay) that a Blue Jays pitcher reached the 20-win threshold. At his current pace, Mark Buehrle has a chance to top the Blue Jays record for wins in a season (Halladay – 22 – 2003) and ERA (Roger Clemens – 2.05 – 1997).
Then again, we’ll just be happy to continue to ride out the hot streak and hope that another Blue Jays starter is ready to pick up the baton should he regress. For now, it’s nice knowing we’ll see a solid start every fifth day and that the Blue Jays will be in a position to win.