Haugh: As MLB changes pitching demands, Mark Buehrle’s Hall of Fame case gets stronger


(670 The Score) In the interest of efficiency, let's get to the point, Mark Buehrle style.

I'm voting for Buehrle on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year.

Live On-Air
Ask Your Smart Speaker to Play six seventy the score
670 The Score
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

This marks Buehrle's third year of eligibility but the first time I've voted for the legendary White Sox left-hander. Opinions evolve and in light of how Major League Baseball continues to change the job description of starting pitchers, Buehrle's qualifications have aged well.

It occurred to me last summer, around the umpteenth time I scoffed at an MLB starter getting praised for going 4 2/3 innings, that pitchers like Buehrle risked being historically taken for granted without raising awareness. Expecting your favorite team’s ace to pitch 200 innings nowadays is like thinking ticket prices will fall. There’s likely no going back either, which only enhances the accomplishments of pitchers who just took the ball and threw every fifth day without drama or complaint. Pitchers like Buehrle.

So, in my fourth year of having the privilege to vote for the Hall as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, I checked the box next to Buehrle’s name for the class of 2023 – along with votes for Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones and Todd Helton. And if seeing Buehrle up close and personal for much of his career with the White Sox influenced that thinking, so be it. That proximity to 35th and Shields also offered insight and an appreciation for how Buehrle succeeded.

The only thing better than Buehrle’s pace was his dependability – an increasingly foreign concept in today's game. Only seven pitchers in MLB history have thrown 200 innings in 14 consecutive seasons since 1901. Buehrle is among that esteemed group. The other six – Warren Spahn, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux and Christy Mathewson – all have plaques in Cooperstown.

No pitcher from 2001-'15 recorded more outs than Buehrle or pitched more innings – 3,232.

But the crafty, quick-working lefty did more than just show up and help people at the game keep their dinner reservations. He won most of those games too – 214 to be exact. He made five All-Star teams and won four Gold Glove awards. The highest Buehrle ever finished in the Cy Young voting was fifth in 2005, a World Series championship season that stamped him a winner. But if Buehrle didn’t necessarily stand alone, he always stood strong on the mound.

They don't make starting pitchers like Buehrle anymore. They don't ask starters to do what he did for such a long period of time. The more removed we get from his stellar career, the more we need to appreciate his consistency – the biggest reason I now believe it should be immortalized.

Buehrle making the Hall also would bode well for Jon Lester, another career workhorse who has a richer championship pedigree with durability quickly becoming out of date.

A perfect game and no-hitter combined with 15 seasons of double-digit victories further legitimizes Buehrle’s induction. The only three other pitchers with those credentials are Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Spahn.

My list of selections again ignores players under the cloud of suspicion that hovers over baseball's steroid era and omits, for the first time, a player in Carlos Beltran who was a major cog in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. To get the Hall of Fame nod, candidates must receive at least 75% of the vote and can remain on the BBWAA ballot for 10 years if they don't.

The explanations for my decisions are below.

Billy Wagner
I continue to push Wagner's candidacy despite waning support. Wagner suffers from the tradition of relievers being viewed differently than starters when evaluating their historical value. But no pitcher since 1900 with at least 900 innings pitched allowed fewer hits per nine innings than Wagner – 5.99. Wagner’s strikeout rate of 11.92 per nine innings ranks first among pitchers with at least 900 innings. The lefty flamethrower owns the lowest WHIP of any pitcher of the modern era with at least 900 innings – 0.998. His career 2.31 ERA ranks atop the list of left-handed relievers who have thrown at least 900 innings. In 16 seasons, Wagner saved 422 games and converted 85.9% of his opportunities, numbers that make him more than worthy of induction.

Scott Rolen
Last year, Rolen fell just short of the 75% threshold of votes necessary for enshrinement by getting 63.2% – the highest total other than David Ortiz, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. This might be the year Rolen makes an even bigger jump. His credentials remain as sound as ever. Nobody really talks about Rolen’s offense, but he had eight straight seasons with an .846 OPS or better – something no other third baseman in history has done. Among third basemen, only Mike Schmidt won more Gold Gloves (10) than Rolen (eight) and had at least a 120-plus OPS+ at the plate. Rolen ranks ninth among third basemen in all-time WAR (70.1), behind seven Hall of Famers and likely future enshrinee Adrian Beltre, and he hit 316 home runs in 17 seasons, offensive pop that complemented his defensive excellence. Injuries perhaps shortened and marred his career but not enough to deprive Rolen of a spot in Cooperstown.

Andruw Jones
Jones defined his position defensively for the better part of a decade and contributed to a long Braves run of success. Jones won 10 Gold Gloves, a rare feat that among outfielders has been accomplished only by future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki and current enshrinees Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline. His career declined sharply after his 30th birthday, but through his age-29 season, only Alex Rodriguez, Eddie Mathews and Griffey had hit more home runs at that point of their careers than Jones, whose flame burned brightest during his prime from 1998-2007. He hit 434 career home runs, making him the only center fielder ever with at least 400 home runs and a dWAR of 24.0 or higher.

Todd Helton
With Fred McGriff getting unanimously elected by the Hall’s Contemporary Era Committee earlier in December, it opened the door wider for Helton – whose numbers are, at least, comparable to McGriff’s. Helton hit .316 with 369 home runs and 1406 RBIs with a .953 OPS. McGriff hit .284 with 493 home runs and 1,550 RBIs with an .886 OPS. Helton’s career WAR was 61.9 compared to McGriff’s 52.6 – with Helton’s WAR higher than already-enshrined first basemen such as Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell and Tony Perez. From 2000 through 2005, only two MLB players produced more bWAR than Helton’s 42.1 – Rodriguez and Bonds. Only four players in that span had a higher OPS+: Bonds, Albert Pujols, Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez. Helton belongs, especially now.

Focusing on the disparity between Helton’s home/road splits punishes him for playing his entire career at Coors Field, an element out of his control. He made the best of a good situation by becoming the greatest Rockie ever. This also marks Helton’s fifth time on the ballot, and he has increased his totals annually, from 16.5% in his first year to 52% last year. A 23% jump might be too steep of a climb in one year, but a vote for Helton possibly will help create momentum. If McGriff is deserving, so is Helton.

The "cheaters"
I remain opposed to voting for candidates whose careers don’t pass the smell test when it comes to their use of performance-enhancing drugs. I’m not saying I’ll never vote for them, just not now. Not yet. It still seems like a bridge too far for me, philosophically.

For me, the same logic applies to Beltran, whose first year on the ballot creates a different level of discourse given his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal that tainted, well, everything and everyone in that organization at the time. Beltran’s dilemma feels similar but different than the one implicating alleged PED users.

It’s complicated separating statistics from the suspicions when considering players like Rodriguez, Ramirez, Andy Pettitte and Gary Sheffield. Baseball’s caretakers could address this annual, uncomfortable dance with doubt for Hall voters.

I’m all for the addition of a wing in Cooperstown to include tributes to players with impressive credentials whose methods raised eyebrows. I openly acknowledge you can't write the history of baseball without including those whose career accomplishments carry legitimacy concerns. I admit not knowing how many other players gained entry into the Hall of Fame despite cutting corners or bending rules and I respect the presumption of innocence. But it's a baseball museum and not a courtroom, so the criteria remains subjective. And to this voter, leaving those implicated by convincing evidence linking them to performance-enhancing drugs off the ballot still feels like the right thing to do.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show from 5-10 a.m. weekdays on 670 The Score. Click here to listen. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh.

Listen live to 670 The Score via:
Audacy App  |  Online Stream  |  Smart Speaker

Featured Image Photo Credit: David Haugh/670 The Score