Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle enjoyed the best of times and the worst of times in 2015. The veteran posted his highest win total (15) since 2008 and matched his career average with a 3.81 ERA, representing the final link to the Miami Marlins deal after Jose Reyes left town at the deadline.
With David Price not entering the picture until late in the season and Marcus Stroman arriving over a month after that, Buehrle and Marco Estrada took turns keeping the Blue Jays rotation afloat throughout some trying summer months. In classic Buehrle fashion, he enjoyed several stretches of pure dominance on the mound, but at age 36, he eventually began to slow down.
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While this shouldn’t be the case, the lasting image of Buehrle from 2015 may be his failed attempt to reach 200.0 innings with a last-gasp emergency start in Tampa Bay. Needing just 2.0 innings, manager John Gibbons was forced to yank the lefty after 0.2 IP when the Rays put eight runs on the board with five hits, a walk and some sloppy defense. Buehrle would then be left off the postseason roster, likely bringing his productive tenure in Toronto to a rather unceremonious end.
From June 3rd until July 21st, Buehrle enjoyed a stretch that was downright elite. In nine starts, he would go 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA, holding opposing hitters to a .593 OPS. With a pitcher that puts this many balls in play, some of these swings must be attributed to above-average batted-ball luck, but Buehrle still threw magnificently.
His 1.5 BB/9 were a career best for the longtime vet, and while he didn’t factor in as prominently when it mattered most, what would the current roster look like without Buehrle? Without his summer performance, Toronto may not have been in position to add the likes of Price, Tulowitzki, Hawkins, Lowe and Revere. In many ways, Buehrle was a catalyst for larger things.
The stretch run was a struggle for Buehrle, who dealt with a throwing shoulder that was well below 100%. In his six games from the first of September onwards, Buehrle put up a 5.53 ERA while striking out just six batters over 27.2 IP. He’s never been a strikeout pitcher, but his 4.1 K/9 rate in 2015 was a career low, and left him to rely quite heavily on defense and chance.
It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibilities that Toronto slaps Buehrle with a qualifying offer before today’s 5:00 ET deadline, just in case he does choose to sign with another team for 2016. While he’s stayed mum on retirement, this past season could very well have been the workhorse’s last ride. If he does return to pitch another season, the general expectation is that he’d like to sign with a franchise closer to home. Buehrle is from Missouri.
It’s been a Hell of a ride, Papa Buehrle. I’ll never forget the night in 2013 when you two-hit the Houston Astros in 2 hours and 18 minutes because you had Tim McGraw concert tickets.