Toronto Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle was never suspected of greatness. With beer league velocity that left him off his own High School baseball team until his senior season, Buehrle watched 1,138 players be selected ahead of him in the 1998 MLB Draft. Now on the cusp of cracking 200.0 innings pitched for the 15th straight season, the former (and perhaps future) World Series champion could be making his last stop. If that’s the case, we’re lucky to have seen it.
Despite being one of the more respected pitchers of this generation, Buehrle’s addition in the Miami Marlins deal didn’t lead many headlines. Josh Johnson was the primary pitching target in the deal, while Jose Reyes gave the Jays another true “star”. In hindsight, that trade was for Mark Buehrle.
The 38th round pick has been invaluable to the Blue Jays rotations over the past three seasons, ones which often lacked depth or clarity. This 2015 season has put Buehrle to the forefront, however, as his two-month stretch of dominance carried the pitching staff through some difficult times. His playoff roster spot is still highly debatable, but without Buehrle in the regular season, we’re still fighting for the A.L. East, not the top spot in the American League.
Buehrle isn’t a Kershaw or Greinke, capable of single-handedly deciding the winner of a game on a nightly basis. He is, however, one of the game’s greatest keep-it-close artists. The lefty has given Toronto a 40-29 record over the past three years, but the Blue jays are 58-38 in the games he’s started.
Toronto hasn’t received a declining version of Buehrle, either. His winning percentage and ERA are both stronger than his career averages, while he’s recorded WARs of 2.3, 3.2 and 2.3. It’s often difficult for an aging pitcher to live up to their high salarys ($11M, $18M, $20M), but relatively speaking, he’s done it.
With 2.0 innings needed to push Buehrle over the much-discussed 200.0 IP plateau one more time, it’s likely that we see him tomorrow in Tampa Bay for the final game of the series. If he wants it, he’s earned it.
Buehlre has kept his offseason plans very private, but the likelihood of him returning to Toronto seems to be slim. If retirement doesn’t take him out of the game, many have suggested he’d like to play closer to family for the final year or two of his career. Wherever the coming seasons take him, though, we’re just fortunate to have witnessed him passing through.