Mark Buehrle – One of the Most Durable Pitchers of All Time

November 30, 2014

Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Gaylord Perry, Christy Mathewson. And Mark Buehrle. That’s an amazing list. How does Mark Buerhrle get on that list?

In recent years, baseball has moved more and more toward specialization. In the early 1900s, starters would routinely finish the games they started, often throwing every fourth day. Cy Young, the pitcher perhaps most famous for his rubber arm, topped 40 starts and 400 innings in multiple seasons. Now, the league leader in innings barely eclipses half of that total.

That’s what makes Mark Buehrle such an incredible pitcher. He has two no-hitters to his credit, but he is not known as a dominant pitcher. His 3.81 career ERA is definitely solid, but he has only received Cy Young votes in one of his 15 years in the majors. He just keeps his team in every game he pitches, game after game after game. Buehrle is a throwback to those early days of baseball. He never misses any time, which is why he has started at least 30 games for 14 consecutive seasons.

We know that Buehrle stands out among his contemporaries, but where does he stack up compared to pitchers like Cy Young through the entire history of baseball?

Most Consecutive Seasons with 30+ Starts
Pitcher Streak (Years) Time Frame
Cy Young 19 1891-1909
Warren Spahn 17 1947-1963
Gaylord Perry 15 1966-1980
Christy Mathewson 14 1901-1914
Mark Buehrle 14 2001-2014
Greg Maddux 13 1996-2008
Livan Hernandez 13 1998-2010
Steve Carlton 13 1968-1980
Phil Niekro 13 1968-1980
Tom Seaver 13 1967-1979
Mickey Lolich 13 1964-1976

 

It’s no surprise to see Young in the top spot with 19 consecutive seasons of 30 or more starts. However, it looks like the expansion era of the 1960s is even more popular than the turn of the previous century. Warren Spahn, Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, and Mickey Lolich—6 of the 11 starters with at least 13 consecutive 30-start seasons—all touched the 1960s during their streaks. Livan Hernandez and Greg Maddux are the only starters besides Buehrle from the current era who made the list, although Maddux’s teammate Tom Glavine was one of three starters who just missed with 12 consecutive seasons. Meanwhile, but for the 1994 work stoppage that limited Maddux and Glavine to 25 starts each, they may well have ended up with incredible streaks of 21 seasons (1988-2008) and 18 seasons (1990-2007), respectively.

Buehrle is already tied for fourth place in MLB history with his 14 consecutive seasons. Meanwhile, Buehrle is still just 35 years old and is showing no decline in performance. He has half a decade to go to reach Young, but it’s not inconceivable that he could reach that total, especially since he does not rely on big velocity to be effective. If he does break the record, it will be in 2020 when Buehrle is 41 years old.

I had my idea for this topic because of a fascinating article Bill James recently wrote on Rotation Emperors, which you can read with a subscription to Bill James Online. Rather than look at pitchers on the season-level, Bill looks at consecutive-start streaks. On that list, Buehrle became the current Rotation Emperor when Justin Verlander missed a start in late August of this season. Buehrle currently has 228 consecutive starts, which dates back to September of 2007.

What’s interesting is that Buehrle did not miss a start then because of an injury. Instead, manager Ozzie Guillen skipped Buehrle to allow rookie John Danks to get a start off the DL; the White Sox were well out of the race, so he was simply looking at his young pitcher to help plan for the 2008 season. That snapped a 224-game streak Buehrle had entering that rotation turn, which dated back to his sophomore season in 2001, his first season as a full-time starter. Had Buehrle’s streak not been snapped in 2007, his active streak would be 452 consecutive games. That would have been the longest streak, by far, of any pitcher Bill studied, going back to 1955 where Bill started his list! The player with the longest streak Bill studied was Jim Bunning, who had a streak of 337 consecutive starts end in 1968. That’s almost 50 years ago.

 
 

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

JSAL_STL
As I read this, I am reminded of the "Mark Buerhle Rule" at his High School. He got cut his freshman and sophomore year from the baseball team by the JV coach. It took his dad quite a bit of convincing to get Mark to give it one more shot his junior year. "The Rule" after Mark's Junior year was the Varsity coach made all decisions regarding players at all levels. Glad Buerhle came back to the game!
3:14 PM Jan 29th
 
doncoffin
smbakeresq--maybe the best taken in exactly the 38th round...but Mike Piazza was, famously, taken in the 62nd (1) round...I don't think, any longer, the draft even goes 38, let alone 62, rounds...
3:46 PM Dec 11th
 
smbakeresq
I don't know, but he might be the best 38th round pick in history!
10:31 AM Dec 4th
 
smbakeresq
Always liked him. Just a good guy and very under rated as a pitcher since he has pitched in hitter ball parks. I always wonder what guys like him would be like if they pitched in Dodger Stadium or some other big park.
10:30 AM Dec 4th
 
MWeddell
The Bill James Handbook 2015 claims that Mark Buehrle has a 6% chance of reaching 300 wins.
1:24 AM Dec 4th
 
jbdominicano
Remarkable. He's a lefty in the family of Tommy John, Andy Pettite, David Wells, Kenny Rogers and so: excellent control, no stolen bases and no long balls. So if you take out all of that, it will take a lot of singles to beat you. On the other hand, that pitchers' family usually doesn't make the Hall of Fame and Buehrle surely won't. A good pitcher, but the last time he won 15 games was a lot of years ago. Can he get to 300 wins? He could make the HOF if he gets that rounded number. Remember, Tommy John is not in the HOF because he didn't (288); Jim Kaat isn't (287) and Bert Blyleven had to wait a lot before the voters "discovered" that he was a Hall of Famer... On the other hand, Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry are in essentially because they reached that plateau. But for Buehrle it will be difficult to win 101 more games, having won up to 13 in the last 6 seasons... he would have to pitch 8 more seasons, until his 43rd birthday. I don't rule out that, but I would be surprised if he does it.
9:33 AM Dec 3rd
 
doncoffin
I had a similar take on this, which I posted on September 3:
isolatedpower.blogspot.com/2014/09/makr-buehrle-outlier.html


7:23 PM Dec 1st
 
CWright
The strike-shortened seasons of 1994-95 definitely have hidden what an incredibly durable pitcher Greg Maddux was. He holds the major league record for most seasons leading his league in games started (7).
7:43 AM Dec 1st
 
rgregory1956
Hey John, I was wondering how often a strike interrupted a lengthy streak. If a pitcher started 28+ games in 1972, 20+ games in 1981, 22+ games in 1994 or 27+ games in 1995, he was on pace to start 30 games; and I gave him "credit" for a 30-start season. Some names I found:
21 Greg Maddux
19 Phil Niekro
19 Don Sutton
18 Tom Glavine
18 Gaylord Perry
17 Steve Carlton
I understand that "on pace" is not the same thing as "did", actually accomplishing something. Still, I thought it was worth looking up.
5:58 AM Dec 1st
 
 
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