The Toronto Blue Jays have been a surprising contender this season, being in and out of 1st place in the always tough AL East and currently sitting 3.0 games back of the Baltimore Orioles. A big reason for their success has been a career year from Mark Buehrle, who has gone 10-6 with a career best 2.60 ERA en route to an All-Star bid. But can Buehrle continue this career resurgent season?
The simple answer to that question is no, Buehrle is likely to regress, as many stats indicate he has been lucky. First and foremost is that Buerhle has an abnormally high strand rate at 81.2%, well off his career mark of 72.9% and 73% league average. Basically this means that he is leaving runners on base at a higher clip that he should be, and 10% of these runners should really be coming around to score. Another indicator of Buehrle’s luck is his low HR/FB ratio, which sits at 6.4% despite Buehrle’s career 9.8% and a league average of 9.8%, as well as the fact that Toronto is generally a hitter’s park. About 3.4% more of the flyballs that Buerhle allows should go for home runs, but they have not. Another indication of a bit of luck is that Buehrle’s BABIP against sits at .285 while the league average is .295, though that is not a very significant difference. Basically these three stats are the most common indicators of luck in baseball, and each one indicates that Buehrle has been a product of luck.
Because of these, pitching metrics like FIP and xFIP say that Buehrle’s ERA should be much higher than the 2.60 mark he has put up so far. FIP says that he should have a 3.74 ERA, while xFIP says it should be 4.25. Now, these metrics are fairly speculative, and they are by no means the end-all-be-all of pitching statistics. However, never in Buehrle’s career has he put up such a large disparity between his actual ERA and his FIP and xFIP, which is even more indication that he is likely to regress this year.
All of that said, Mark Buehrle remains a valuable pitcher to the Toronto Blue Jays. Thanks to exceptional command and deception, he has been a successful pitcher over his career, never dazzling, but always putting up solid numbers. He also is underrated for how much of a workhorse he is, as he has thrown more than 200 innings 13 seasons in a row, and with 121.1 innings this year he seems on pace to do that again. However, Buehrle has gotten lucky this year, and his ERA is too good to be true. More than likely we will see stats like his strand rate, HR/FB ratio, and BABIP start to trend closer to league average, and that will result in him giving up more runs. Expect his ERA to sit somewhere in the low-mid 3.00’s by season’s end- still an impressive mark for a 35-year old pitcher in the ultra competitive AL East.