First of all, I’d like to introduce myself to you. My name is Jordan Lazowski, and I am a student at the University of Notre Dame. I’m a Statistics Major and a big believer in the power of Sabermetrics. Now, just as important is the fact that I’m both a huge baseball fan and a die-hard White Sox fan. I’ve played baseball throughout my life, and I can truly say it is the biggest love and passion I will ever have. This is my first attempt to become involved in looking at my beloved hometown team and sharing my opinions with someone other than my uncle, father, brother, and cousins, so I certainly hope to learn along the way.
This first project was certainly a personal one for me, mostly because I grew up LOVING Mark Buehrle. As I got older and continued my career in Baseball, I would re-watch Buehrle’s Perfect Game before every game in which I was the Starting Pitcher. It reminded me of the fact that no matter what my velocity was (usually a whopping 70 MPH), good location and smart pitching could beat any team on any day. So, when I read a comment which “Sox On 35th” responded to about Mark Buehrle being “mediocre”, I immediately went into defense mode. But, it is a good topic of conversation for my first post: what is the legacy of Mark Buehrle on the South Side?
Now, nostalgia and facts are two different things, so let’s dive into the statistics of the matter. As I’ve said before, I’m a Sabermetric lover, so pitcher wins and losses don’t tell the story for me, even though Buehrle played under a manager that let his starting pitchers work deep into the game (SEE: 2005 ALCS). However, I will mention that Buehrle has the 6th most wins in franchise history, behind 3 Hall of Famers in Ted Lyons, Red Faber, and Ed Walsh, as well as All-Stars Billy Pierce and Wilbur Wood. He is 7th in White Sox history in Innings Pitched, and his ERA was consistently below league average (see link to take a look at the season-by-season numbers). He only had two seasons with an ERA above league average (2006, 2010).
Let’s look at some of Buehrle’s awards. He was a 4x All-Star and 3x Gold Glove Winner with the White Sox (5x All-Star with 4 Gold Gloves in his career). He is one of 18 pitchers in the history of Baseball to win multiple Gold Glove Awards as a Pitcher, and he is in the Top 10 All Time for the number of Gold Glove Awards won by a Pitcher.
Let’s also consider some more Sabermetric-driven statistics. Buehrle is 12th and 4th in White Sox history in ERA+ and Win Probability Added (WPA), respectively. In other words, Buehrle’s ERA was objectively solid, considering he pitched most his career in a hitter’s ballpark, and he made significant contributions in turning the outcome of the game in favor of the Sox throughout his career. Five times in his career he was in the Top 10 in the AL in Pitcher WAR, and he currently sits 62nd All Time in this stat. In White Sox history, he is 7th in Pitcher WAR, and 3 of the Pitchers above him are Hall of Famers (Lyons, Faber, Walsh).
So, is Mark Buehrle a Hall of Famer? No. But was Mark Buehrle “mediocre”? Also no. The White Sox retired Mark Buehrle’s number not because he was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play Baseball, but because he was one of the greatest White Sox pitchers to play Baseball. He was consistent (11 consecutive seasons with 200+ IP on the South Side), dependable (4th in franchise history in games started), and someone you could turn to with the game on the line (SEE: 2005 World Series, Game 3). Simply put, Mark Buehrle knew how to pitch in a traditional, intelligent fashion, and you could feel confident the Sox would be in the game every time he took the mound.
But don’t forget the tarp slides during rain delays, the between-the-legs flip on Opening Day 2010 (I was at that game), or the 99-minute complete-game victory. Let’s remember the Perfect Game, the No-Hitter, and his Home Run against the Brewers before it became commonplace for Pitchers to do that. These are the moments that White Sox fans will remember, and these are some of the best reasons the White Sox retired the number of a true fan-favorite and clubhouse leader. Mark Buehrle’s leadership on and off the field led the White Sox to believe that, in a year greatly focused on the future, a nostalgic remembrance of a past leader was rightly deserved. Congratulations, Mark. This White Sox fan truly believes you earned the honor.
**Any statistics referenced were taken from either FanGraphs or BaseballReference**