The Evolution of Mark BuehrleBy
When the Miami Marlins became one of the most active teams on the free agent market this past winter, most of the attention was focused on their pursuit of Albert Pujols and ultimately the signing of Jose Reyes. Mark Buehrle, who followed his skipper Ozzie Guillen to the bath salt capital of the world, was seen as a solid addition to the Marlins’ rotation, and most figured that the lefty would give fans what he had put up routinely in his days with the White Sox. 200+ innings, a low walk rate and a sub-4.00 ERA. So far in 2012, Buehrle is on pace to do just that, albeit with a surprisingly different approach.
When I was perusing Buehrle’s Fangraphs page the other day, most of the numbers lined up for what you would expect to see. A low K/9 rate, low BB/9, and a FIP hovering around 4.00. But after doing a little bit of digging, I discovered one set of numbers that were a bit out of the ordinary having to do with the lefty’s pitch selection this season. So far in 2012, Buehrle is relying far more heavily on his offspeed stuff than in recent years, but still managing to produce similar (and in some categories better) results.
Buehrle is throwing his slider 15% of the time in 2012, way up from his career rate of 5.9%. In addition, he’s throwing his change-up 30.7% of the time (career rate of 18.8%). As a result, both his fastball and cutter are being thrown fewer than at any point during his career. In fact, Buehrle has the seventh-lowest FB% among qualified starters in the majors. For some perspective, Tommy Millone has thrown more fastballs than Mark Buehrle this season and Tommy Millone sounds like a name that I just made up to illustrate my point.
The under-use of Buehrle’s fastball doesn’t mean all that much in the long run, but it does show that with his fastball and off-speed pitches only being separated by less than 10 mph on the radar gun, the movement of these pitches is what translates to success. The Marlins haven’t been all that stellar in the field this season, meaning the “pitch to contact” mentality could be part of the reason for Buehrle’s struggles.
All that we know is that Mark Buehrle is throwing way more offspeed stuff and that he’ll likely give the Marlins 200 solid innings as they hope the rest of their rotation can keep things together for a full season. We can only hope that it translates to more W’s for the Fish, and maybe even one of those cool between-the-legs glove flips to first base like we saw in Chicago.