Wednesday January 4th, 2012
Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): Aside from their pitching style and repertoire, Mark Buehrle and Gio Gonzalez have a lot in common. They are both left-handed and have also made the shift to the National League during this 2011 offseason. However, their connection dates back even further.
The Chicago White Sox selected Gonzalez in the first round of the 2004 draft. The following season, the White Sox earned a World Championship, thanks in large part to Mark Buehrle’s regular and postseason contributions. Buehrle, a 36th round pick of the White Sox in 1999, continued to be a model of consistency and success, winning at least 10 games and throwing at least 200 innings for 11 consecutive seasons for the White Sox. Forever a legend in the White Sox community, Buehrle joined his second major league franchise this offseason with the Miami Marlins. The move is one I saw coming when Ozzie Guillen became the manager of the Marlins. Clearly the left-hander is comfortable with Guillen, and the National League is truly where Buehrle belongs at this point of his career. He has amassed a 24-6 win loss record with a 3.32 ERA in 39 Interleague starts. However, before we look at his 2012 value, I must continue with the Buehrle-Gonzalez narrative.
Ironically for the White Sox, it was a 36th round pick and not the first round pick that became the face of the franchise. Such is baseball and is an example of what makes the game so interesting. In fact, Gonzalez has never even pitched an inning for the White Sox. He was traded in 2005 along with Aaron Rowand to the Phillies for Jim Thome. Remarkably, The White Sox reacquired him along with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia in December 2006 and still never got him into a major league game while a part of their organization.
It should be noted that 2008 marked a breakout year for White Sox left-hander John Danks (12-9 win loss record). Gavin Floyd also flourished that year, winning 17 games. Going into that season, there did not appear to be room for Gonzalez in the White Sox rotation. Particularly with Buehrle in place and Floyd/Danks set to emerge (as they did), the White Sox felt that it did not make sense to try to add a third left-hander to the starting staff. Obviously high on the team’s radar, the White Sox had to make a tough decision and trade Gonzalez…again. In a regrettable move, Kenny Williams sent Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Fautino De Los Santos to the Oakland Athletics for one miserable season of Nick Swisher. As a member of the A’s, Gonzalez came into his own, finishing 2011 with a 16-12 record and a 3.12 ERA with 197 K’s in 202 innings.
Now- going into 2012, both Gonzalez and Buehrle land in the National League for the next stage of their respective careers.
Looking at Gonzalez, his value remains high in 2012. Although he leaves the friendly pitching confines of Oakland, he is going to another pitching friendly park in Washington. His 2011 XFIP indicates that his ERA should have been closer to 4, rather than an even 3.00. Therefore, I expect Gonzalez’s ERA to hover right in the middle of those two numbers. He has an incredible ability to miss bats, but the walk rate, which he has yet to show any improvement at any level, prevents him from being a fantasy ace. With 4 walks per 9 innings, he is prone to give up high run totals and also have trouble pitching deep into games. He does do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. But the only way for Gonzalez to really improve upon his 2011 campaign is if he can cut down on the free passes. His control is simply not that good, but he is also a player that can be categorized as effectively wild. I simply do not see any signs of Gonzalez improving his walk rate, especially as he his mainly a fastball/curveball pitcher.
In a sharp contrast, Mark Buehrle relies on command and mastery of the strike zone to retire batters. He has really shown no signs of true decline and he will still only be 33 years of age in 2012. He is not much different that the pitcher he was in 2004. He strikes out enough batters to be effective and has a stellar career 2.05 BB rate. He strikes out about half as many batters as Gonzalez, but also walks half as many. The two pitchers do have similar groundball rates. However, the change of scenery may have a much bigger impact on Buehrle than it does for Gonzalez. As I have mentioned, the Interleague numbers speak for themselves and Buehrle is finally leaving the hitter friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Park. He will surely benefit from facing the National League lineups most nights and is in a better position to succeed in Miami in 2012.
Overall, Mark Buehrle is the guy to keep an eye on during draft day in 2012. Most people view him as an aging soft throwing left-hander with a falling stock. However, he has potential to put up above average numbers for perhaps a below average price. Now while I say to keep an eye on Buehrle, it is not to say he will outperform Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is clearly the better fantasy option, but he will likely come at a higher cost. This is a 26-year-old pitcher who has posted 3.23 and 3.12 ERA in his last two seasons, respectively. However, do not expect him to necessarily improve upon these numbers due to some of the luck he experienced in 2011 and his inability to improve his walk rate. He will most likely be valued as an ace in many fantasy circles, when he is truly more of a number three-type starter. Buehrle, who will be off many people’s radars, could produce as a cheap yet quality four/five type of pitcher.
Mark Buehrle: 206 IP, 14-9 W/L, 3.69 ERA, 120 Ks
Gio Gonzalez: 208 IP, 14-12 W/L, 3.43 ERA, 206 K
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***
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