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Jun 7, 2014

Has there been a more surprising story in 2014 than Toronto southpaw Mark Buehrle? The crafty veteran is an eye-popping 10-1 with a 2.10 ERA and 1.19 WHIP this season, including going 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.46 WHIP at home, 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in day starts and 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over his last three outings. Consistency epitomizes Buehrle’s performance this season as he has allowed more than two earned runs in just two of his twelve starts.

Buehrle now faces a struggling St. Louis offense that is batting just .252 with a .313 on base percentage in 2014 (3.8 runs per game), including hitting .248 with a .303 on base percentage on the road (3.4 runs per game), .235 with a .292 on base percentage in day contests (3.6 runs per game) and .199 with a .266 on base percentage over the last ten days (2.9 runs per game). Buehrle is also supported by an improving Toronto bullpen that owns a 2.37 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over the last seven games.

Meanwhile, St. Louis starter Shelby Miller has become one of the greatest regression candidates of the 2014 campaign. After garnering a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched in 2012 (10.54 K/9) and a 3.06 ERA in 173.1 innings of work last season (8.78 K/9; 2.96 BB/9), the wheels have fallen off Miller’s bandwagon. Specifically, Miller is 6-5 with a 4.06 ERA and 1.42 WHIP this season, including posting an 8.25 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in interleague play and a 7.94 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over his last three outings. Miller owns the highest walk rate (12%) among starting pitchers, and his strikeout-walk ratio (1.44) is the third worst.

The metrics only get worse for Miller has his swinging strike rate has dropped from 10% in 2013 to 7% this season, left-handed batters are hitting .283 with an .843 OPS against him (compared to .266 and .761 OPS in 2013) and his 6.29 K/9 rate is a far cry from the 8.78 K/9 rate garnered last year. The most telling metrics could be the fact that Miller owns a 5.09 FIP, a 4.69 xFIP and a 4.82 SIERA, all of which are significantly higher than his current ERA. Another issue facing Miller is the fact that his secondary pitches – his changeup and curveball – don’t have good pitch peripherals as neither gets average strikeouts or ground-balls for their pitch type. Let’s also note that only nine starters threw the fastball more than Miller last season, which is likely one of the reasons for his plummeting K/9 rate in 2014.

Miller is now given the unenviable task of taming Toronto’s explosive offense that is averaging 5.5 runs per game at home, 7.0 runs per game in interleague play and 6.1 runs over the last seven games. Edwin Encarnacion is hitting .362 with 11 homers and 20 RBIs in his last 16 games, Jose Bautista is batting .450 with 11 RBIs during his hit streak and Adam Lind is hitting .406 with seven RBIs and 11 runs in his last nine contests. From a technical standpoint, Buehrle is 18-4 (+13.1 units) at home versus teams averaging less than 4.4 runs per game, 7-0 (+7.4 units) versus teams averaging 0.75 or less home runs per game, 34-14 (+18.9 units) in interleague play, 26-12 (+13.4 units) at home, 14-3 (+10.4 units) as a favorite and 72-26 (+25.4 units) as a home favorite of -150 or more. I also like the following trends:

  • Toronto is 15-3 in Buehrle’s L/18 starts as a favorite;
  • Toronto is 12-2 in Buehrle’s L/14 starts as a home favorite;
  • Toronto is 8-2 in Buehrle’s L/10 home starts vs. teams with a winning record;
  • Toronto is 19-7 in Buehrle’s L/26 starts overall

Take Toronto and invest with confidence.

Caveat: Mark Buehrle has outperformed his underlying metrics for four consecutive seasons so I am not surprised to once again see the 35-year-old defy mathematical probabilities in 2014. With that said, Buehrle’s 4.09 xFIP and 4.35 SIERA suggest that his current 2.10 ERA is due for significant regression in the future. But, so-called experts have been predicting his demise for years without much success.