Why the Nats want Buehrle, not Livo

Why the Nats want Buehrle, not Livo
November 22, 2011, 1:15 pm
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Yesterday's revelation that Mike Rizzo paid a visit to Mark Buehrle's house outside St. Louis in an attempt to recruit the veteran left-hander to sign with the Nationals brought some mixed reactions from all of you.

Some are in favor of paying top dollar for Buehrle, who would seem to slide nicely into the Nationals' rotation behind Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and ahead of Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan. Others don't think Buehrle is worth the money and would rather see the Nationals go hard after Roy Oswalt.

But the comments that caught my attention most were those of you who questioned why the Nationals would be willing to offer a three- or four-year contract for Buehrle when they could instead lock up another veteran starter who would happily sign for one year and a modest salary. A guy by the name of Livan Hernandez.

Is there really that much difference between the two soft-tossing, innings-eating workhorses? Well, actually, yeah.

Look, we all love Livo and what he has meant to this franchise. But he's not a legitimate No. 3 starter in the big leagues right now. Buehrle absolutely is.

We probably tend to remember "Good Livo" far more than we remember "Bad Livo." But fact is, the bad version has shown up a lot more regularly in recent seasons. Indeed, only once in the past five years has Hernandez produced an ERA under 4.40: in 2010, when he posted a 3.66 ERA to pace the Nationals' staff.

Throw out that one fine season, and it hasn't been a pretty run for the big guy. His combined ERA the last five years: 4.87. His combined WHIP: 1.506. Those are numbers reserved for No. 5 starters.

Now, take a look at Buehrle's stats over the same time frame. His combined ERA the last five years is a solid 3.83. His WHIP is 1.309. He's only once posted an ERA over 4.00: In 2010, when he went 13-13, 4.28.

The biggest difference between Buehrle and Hernandez at this stage of their respective careers is consistency. Buehrle (who also happens to be four years younger than Hernandez) has been as reliable as any starter in baseball. There's also reason to believe his numbers would look even better if he moves to the National League after 11 seasons in the AL.

Livo, meanwhile, has had his moments of glory, but he's put up a fair share of stinkers along the way as well. He doesn't give his team a chance to win nearly as often as Buehrle does.

That's why Buehrle is going to get upwards of 15 million a year for three or four years, while Hernandez is probably going to have to settle for a minor-league contract and an invitation to big-league camp next spring.

That may be a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who have adored Livo for years and will always have a soft spot for the big guy. But the truth sometimes hurts. And the truth right now is that the Nationals have become too good for Livan Hernandez.