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Buehrle's Brilliance!

by CubbieKilla

I'm living proof of nothing if not the fact that it didn't take a brilliant evaluator of baseball talent to recognize something special in Mark Buehrle from the beginning, and I accordingly began to track his early numbers against the preeminent starting pitchers of the previous generation two years ago --we're talking about guys who are assuredly bound for Cooperstown and who, at the time, were lining up a realistic shot at 300 career wins.
I speak of Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and the following data are culled from the first four "full" major league seasons posted by each man.  With the exception of Clemens, the seasonal numbers fit snugly.  In Clemens' case, he started 21 games in his rookie season and another 15 in his second campaign, and he worked in relief only once during those two years; I therefore have elected to combine his first and second seasons and consider them together as his "rookie season," and his totals below represent his numbers through what his record reflects to be his fifth year in the majors.
Such contemporary luminaries as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling are omitted from the sample due to the comparatively shaky, stop/start nature of their early seasons in the bigs, relative to the men who did make the sample.  The major statistical categories represented are games started, win-loss record, innings pitched, earned run average and walks-plus-hits per inning, and the age given for each man denotes his age as of the end of what I represent to be his fourth season.
BUEHRLE 139 starts, 69-45 W/L, 987.1 IP, 3.76 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, age 25
MADDUX 136 starts, 60-53 W/L, 911 IP 3.68 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, age 24
GLAVINE 139 starts, 53-52 W/L, 893 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, age 25
CLEMENS 139 starts 78-34 W/L 1031.1 IP, 3.05 ER, 1.12 WHIP, age 26
The conclusions tend to leap off of the page today, as they did two years ago: if Mark Buehrle harbors ambitions of being a Hall of Fame pitcher and mounting a legitimate bid for 300 career wins, then his performance as compared to his near-contemporaries indicates that he has, at the very least, nailed the introductory portion of the routine.  It's a mere question of health and longevity from here on in; his ability is not in question.
Clemens has run off six 20-win seasons over the course of his career, and Glavine has managed to win 20 in five seasons (and Johnson and Schilling are the only other actives with a minimum of three 20-win campaigns to their credit).  Maddux has done it twice and has won exactly 19 games in five other seasons, and he would have won at least 20 in 1994 if the season not been scrubbed on August 7th (as he sat on a 16-6 record with a career-best ERA of 1.56), and he likely could have gotten a 20th win in 1995 and finished better than the astonishing 19-2 (with an ERA of 1.63) had the season not been shortened by a couple of weeks due to the lingering work stoppage.
I bring these things up because Buehrle has yet to post a 20-win season, itself a feat that tends to be assigned entirely too much importance, both among fans and pitchers themselves --how much better a pitcher is the man who wins 20 once than the man who wins one game less in multiple seasons?  More to the point here is that the other men in the sample didn't start to rack up 20-win and near-20-win seasons on an annual basis until they entered the latter half of their 20s, which is what Buehrle is in the process of doing right now --and 20-win seasons are hardly beyond him.  If anything, he positively flew out of the blocks in his first two seasons, posting a 39-21 record and an ERA of 3.52 over 2001 and 2002 (plus part of 2000), but he then cooled off over the last two, going a more modest 30-24 with an ERA of 4.01 for 2003 and 2004 combined.
I nevertheless strongly suspect that his performance over his three starts to date in 2005 will provide a more accurate snapshot of his next five seasons to come, the end of which will see him aged 30 years and, one must hope, still comfortably under contract to the Chicago American League Base Ball Club, Inc.  No reasonable expense should be spared to make this happen when his turn for free agency and the highly-coveted "career contract" comes up after the conclusion of the 2006 season.  He has been an absolute rock for this team over his half-decade's service to it, and there is nothing in his history or pitching mechanics that would lead one to conclude that it is set for a dramatic dropoff anytime soon.
If it's my cash and my call, I wait until the right moment --like, after next season's All-Star break-- I have the medical workup done, and, thus satisfied, I then offer him $15 million a year for seven seasons, which would carry thru the age of 34 and the 2013 regular season.  In the meantime, I measure my public utterances about the matter very carefully, acknowledging the fact that both parties have rights and responsibilities to constituencies beyond themselves and one another and expressing the sincere hope that a long-term, mutually beneficial agreement will emerge.  I'm certain that I'm incapable of holding my breath until then, but if keeping my fingers crossed would be of any benefit, then I'm thoroughly prepared to spare one good hand for the duration.

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