The Key To Mark Buehrle’s Early Success

Mark Buerhle

This past week, our affiliate at ESPN – The SweetSpot Network – posted a record number of articles pertaining to the Blue Jays (two).  The first, by Rays blogger Tommy Rancel, discusses how the Jays will go as far as their rotation will take them.  Because the offense is so good, the Jays will need to lean on an unproven starting staff and bullpen that has been a mess this season.  The second, by the excellent Christina Kahrl, tackles (with some incredulity)  how the Jays were able to make it to first place… in the first place.  Like Rancel, Kahrl waxes about how the Blue Jays are an offensively-focused ballclub with a shaky pitching staff (the team is 21-22 when Mark Buehrle doesn’t start).  Because of this vulnerability, John Gibbons is forced to be creative to address limitations and get the most of his team.

If you have been reading Mop-Up Duty this season, you know that the Blue Jays’ record should not come as a surprise.  For the first time, the starting nine is healthy (more-or-less) and they are performing to their potential – both defensively and offensively.  Gibbons creativity and resourcefulness?  We addressed this when #firegibbons was trending on Twitter.

But it is interesting to note that the Jays are a .500 club when Mark Buehrle doesn’t toe the rubber.  There’s nothing to suggest he wasn’t healthy last season; he pitched more than 200 innings.  Yet he’s performing so much better in 2014 than he did in 2013.  Rancel writes that Buehrle has been “using masterful command and throwing a cocktail of pitches like a true mixologist en route to the second-lowest ERA among AL starters (2.16).”  Using FitzFX, here is pitch-type data on a random start for Buehrle in May:

Data courtesy of FitzFX

As you can see, Buehrle is still throwing that same cocktail of pitches like a true mixologist. The difference now?  He’s throwing the pitches to Dioner Navarro instead of JP Arencibia.  Mark Buerhle has a long-standing reputation for never shaking off his catcher’s calls.  And this season Dioner Navarro has changed up the recipe of the Buehrle cocktail.  According to Fangraphs, Navarro (and to an extent Thole and Kratz) has removed a substantial amount of the four-seam and cut fastball from the recipe.  In their place, Navarro has added some spicy two-seamers and a generous helping of Buehrle curveballs.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise – Buehrle’s straight, four-seam fastball tops out at 82-83mph (about the same as RA Dickey).  But the frequency of Buehrle’s curveball use might.  He’s throwing it 15% of the time, which is more than twice as often as all of last season and nearly 50% more than any other time in his career.  While Buehrle’s best pitch is undoubtedly his changeup, it seems Navarro has uncovered a hidden gem to put in the back of hitters minds when they fall behind in the count.  Whether Navarro or the increased curveball usage is the key to Buehrle’s success,  the mix is certainly working.

Mark Buehrle Dioner Navarro
Photo credit: Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

Featured image credit: Kathy Willems/AP

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  • Legion Coleke

    It would not surprise me to see Buehrle win between 15-20 games with the stuff he is throwing . If you can then get Dickey to continue to pitch well, you might have 30-35 from these two alone. If you hearken back to another offensively charged Jays team- 1993, there was really only Guzman (14-4, 3.99 ERA) and Hentgen with superb years (19-9, 3.87), while the rest of the starting pitching was hovering around .500 with ERA closer to 5. 1993 team was 29-22 at end of May.

  • Early

    Mind you the 1993 Blue Jays were only a 0.50 ERA worse that the best pitching AL team that year. their starters logged a lot of innings (about 65% of teams innings) and won a proportionate amount of those games (about 70%). This year the starters have accounted for 70% of the teams innings pitched.

    As we are realizing now that winning isn’t everything when it comes to pitchers. What is essential for starters is to keep your team in the game and with the way the Jays have been hitting in May, they are always in the game. But you need starting pitchers that can go deep in the game and allow the bullpen to maintain effectiveness with rest and proper match ups. This season, the top three Jays pitchers Buerhle, Dickey and Hutchison are all on pace for 190 or more if they start all 32 games they would be scheduled to make. A baseball season is made up of 1458 innings give or take. Those three starters are on pace to pitch 40 percent of those innings.

    The 4 and 5 starters are normally replacement level guys and anything you get over replacement level is awesome. You can’t chastice JA Happ for being JA Happ but you can set up JA Happ not to be JA Crapp when he has to pitch 7 innings because the bullpen is burned out and Gibbons has no choice other to hope the bats can put up 10+ runs and win games 11-10.

    A good offense has a great effect on pitching. It is nice to be able to leave your starter in for 6 runs over 7 innings if the offense is able to score 10! I think Gibbons gets this, thinking specifically of Hutchinson’s start in Philadelphia.

    As long as the Jays can consistently get 6-7 quality innings out of their top three pitchers I think they will be ok this year and will definitely be in the hunt in September. The hitting cannot maintain but the pitching can keep pace with what they are doing in regards to keeping the bats within striking distance and giving the relievers some time to repair. (Burhle isn’t going to go 29-2 with a 1.99 ERA).

  • Early

    Also, it is a team game, and yes the Jays are a .500 team in games that Buerhle doesn’t start but the Yanks are a losing team in games that Tanaka does’t start. The Cubs would have a better record than they do now if they didn’t play the games that Samardzija with his sub 2 ERA and 1.0 WHIP pitched in (Cubs are playing .181 ball in those games). What Burhle did yesterday has an effect on what happens today, regardless of last nights result.