The Nationals have been talking about using Mark Buehrle to fill the “innings eating old guy” need that Rizzo has proclaimed. I’m not saying this is a bad idea, although I’m not positive if its necessary. I won’t quibble with the philosophy though, let’s talk more about what Buehrle brings to the table.

Back in 2007, when I only wrote a post a week, and spent many hours on each post (you can do that when its weekly), I had a big writeup at the ready about how the Nats should sign Buehrle. Instead, mid-season the White Sox locked him up, and since it wasn’t really applicable, I scrapped the post. This is all I ended up writing, shoved onto the end of another post:

The White Sox locked up Mark Buehrle to a four year deal this weekend, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Not that the Nationals had much of a chance of signing him, but it would have been nice to see them take a shot. What’s so great about him?

…He is not considered by many to be an elite pitcher, but he may be a “quiet” elite pitcher. Since 2001 he has been top 10 in the AL in the following categories multiple times:

  • ERA, Wins, WHIP, K/BB ratio (3 times each)
  • Games started, CGs, shutouts (4 times each)
  • Innings pitched (5 times)

Buehrle is a machine. This season, besides throwing a no-hitter, he is on pace to have over 200 IP again, for the 7th year in a row. And as of the All-Star break, had the 6th best ERA in the AL. Take a good look at this 28-year-old one more time. If he continues what he’s done for the next 10 years, he may never win a Cy Young, but he could rack up 250 wins. If he moved to the pitcher-friendly confines of NL East parks, who knows what he could have done. Oh well, congrats to him for playing just where he wants to play.

I’ll start by saying that today I stand by what I wrote there. He added top 10 notches for wins (2008), CG (2008), shutouts (2009), 2 for innings pitched (08, 09) and three for games started (08, 09, 10). I especially stand by the “Buerhle is a machine” sentiment, as he threw 200 innings or more in all 4 of those seasons.

Now, 4 years later, some wear and tear, and general aging, should be a concern. But with Buerhle, I’m actually not that concerned. As for aging, his 2010 was bad by his standards, but it was still an ERA+ of 100 (league average) in a tougher league. His Ks were down a tick and hits were up a tick, but that appeared to have been corrected in 2011. His ERA+ of 117 was more in line with his career number of 120. In the NL, he’d almost certainly look better by striking out a few more guys. And he’s only turning 33 next year, so while a 5 year contract might not be wise, a 2 or 3 year deal shouldn’t be terrifying.

Regarding the wear and tear, well, you never know. But Buerhle has pitched 200 innings or more every single one of the last 11 seasons. At some point all that work moves from being troublesome to being an indicator of durability. I don’t know what that point is, but its probably some time before 11 full seasons. Maybe he has the perfect motion, or an arm and shoulder made of granite, I really don’t know. But he has an 80 ability to stay healthy, and that should be something very important when looking at a veteran starter. And if you’re wondering, Buerhle is only a Type B free agent, because even Elias doesn’t understand his unparallelled ability to gobble up innings like he’s Cy Young (sorry, Old Hoss Radbourn, Cy pitched like 62% more innings than you).

Buerhle, as an innings eating old guy, performs that function perfectly well, if you think you need that. As a pitcher in a rotation, which everyone needs, he’s a strong addition who can be counted on to take the mound and perform well, something more important than simply toeing the rubber. Buerhle would be a fine addition to an already fairly good rotation, and could really help tip the balance, making this team a winner.

By Charlie