|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
Few pitchers in baseball have as substantial a difference in value between fantasy and the on-field game as Mark Buehrle.
|Mark Buehrle's stellar interleague record could play well with the Marlins.|
In "real life," he has thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter. He has started an All-Star Game and won a World Series. And his only relief appearance in the past 11 seasons resulted in a save -- and it happened in that World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
In fantasy -- focusing now upon his numbers -- Buehrle has never won 20 games, never posted an ERA under three, and only once struck out more than 150 hitters in a season, when he whiffed 165 in 2004. To say that he has never made a serious case for top-10 consideration at his position is a fair assessment.
But perhaps that gap in fantasy-versus-real-life value is about to narrow, now that he has agreed to a four-year deal with the Miami Marlins. At least slightly.
It's all about two things: The shift from the hitting-oriented American League to pitching-oriented National League; as well as the move from homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field to, while still an unknown in terms of park factors, a new Marlins ballpark that has similarly pitching-friendly dimensions to the team's previous venue, Sun Life Stadium.
Buehrle's career interleague statistics tell an intriguing story: He is 24-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 40 career games (39 starts) against National League teams, compared to 137-113 with a 3.89 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 350 career games (326 starts) against American League foes. In the past seven seasons, he's 16-2 with a 2.29 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 25 interleague starts.
The samples aren't equal, and for that reason shouldn't be taken at face value, but Buehrle's perennial success during interleague play at least offers promise of lowered ratios. Remember, this is a pitcher who, in four of the past seven seasons, has led the American League in hits allowed. The advantage of facing the pitcher -- as opposed to the designated hitter -- three times through a lineup per start should help; he has allowed only one hit to an opposing pitcher (in 23 plate appearances) in the past seven years combined. Last season, NL pitchers as a whole managed a .142/.176/.183 stat line. AL designated hitters, meanwhile, managed .265/.340/.429 numbers.
Perhaps that will result in something closer to a 3.68 ERA, compared to Buehrle's career 3.83 mark in the category, but that'd still be a slight improvement, and meaningful to matchups-seekers. Heck, there's always the possibility that Buehrle might thrive with the league switch, shaving up to a run off his ERA.
Remember Andy Pettitte? Though not a perfect comparable, they followed strangely similar career paths. At the time Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros following the 2003 season, he had completed nine seasons as a full-time New York Yankees starter, was 31 years old and had a 3.94 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his career. In the next three years in Houston, he managed 3.39/1.23 numbers. Like Buehrle, Pettitte wasn't a dominating strikeout artist, and like Buehrle, Pettitte regularly surrendered more hits than innings pitched.
Buehrle, meanwhile, has completed 11 seasons as a full-time starter, was 32 years old when he signed and has career ratios of 3.83 and 1.28.
That's not to say that he'll suddenly leap several tiers, or even close to the top 25 at his position. But if you were anti-Buehrle in fantasy yesterday, certainly you should be a little more pro-Buehrle today.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.