By picking up a victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night, Mark Buehrle added yet another noteworthy accomplishment to his storied career.
I'm not talking about his 10th victory, which gives him double digits in the win column for each of his first 11 seasons as a starter. That's an impressive feat no matter how you look at it. CC Sabathia is the only active pitcher in his company, and looking ahead to next season, only 13 pitchers have extended that streak to 12 seasons, dating back to the formation of the American League. That group includes:
Hall of Famers: Tom Seaver, Carl Hubbell, Don Sutton, Eddie Plank, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson
Ineligible (for different reasons): Mike Mussina, Eddie Cicotte
Hall of Very Good: Mickey Lolich, Allie Reynolds
Earl Whitehill: Earl Whitehill
But I'm not talking about that.
Nor am I talking about the other streak Buehrle extended in the process -- 18 consecutive starts with three or fewer runs allowed, which is the longest active streak in the majors. If you want to read more about it, J.J. did plenty of research over at Beerleaguer.
No, I'll tell you what was the most awesome historical impact of Buehrle's eight strong innings against Baltimore:
He's now a .500 pitcher in August.
For most of his career, Buehrle has been a first-half pitcher who wears down as the season goes on. His decline isn't enough to stop him from taking the mound every four to six days, but he definitely becomes more hittable in the process.
In particular, it all came to a head in August. It was the only month where Buehrle owned a losing record, and he deserved it. He lost a little velocity and lost some precision on the corners, which narrowed his strikeout-to-walk ratio and caused his home-run rate to balloon. Through 2009, he wore it in a number of areas (with the other five months in parentheses):
- Winning percentage: .452 (.605)
- ERA: 4.35 (3.68)
- HR/9IP: 1.26 (0.99)
- WHIP: 1.34 (1.25)
- K/9IP: 4.60 (5.27)
And those numbers looked even worse after the Sox won the World Series -- 6-10 with a 5.19 ERA, and an average of 6.13 innings per start.
The 2009 season summed up his problems succinctly, as Buehrle had his most Mark Buehrle season. He went 13-10 with a 3.84 ERA over 213 1/3 innings, which comes close to matching his average seasonal output across those categories. However, those numbers were depressed by another August faceplant, when opposing batters hit .368 with an OPS of an even 1.000 against him.
Another season of lost momentum finally spurred Buehrle to start an offseason throwing regimen following that season, which was an idea he had rejected in April of 2009. Don Cooper and Co. put Buehrle on a winter long-toss program, and when combined with a lighter spring workload, the Sox hoped it would allow him to feel fresher after the All-Star break.
The preparation is paying off so far. After defeating the Orioles on Thursday, Buehrle is 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA over his last eight August starts, and he's lasting an inning longer to boot (7.13 per start).
And for his career, Buehrle is now 26-26 over 61 August starts. Maybe that's not the best news in a year like this, since the Sox have collapsed every time they reach the .500 mark. On the other hand, if you're up for a dose of optimism, maybe this just means Buehrle and the Sox will power through their respective break-even points together.