Ben Sheets used to be really good. I mean really good. In 2004, he had a 62 ERA -, 59 FIP -, and 8 F-WAR. For comparison, Justin Verlander last year: 58 ERA -, 73 FIP -, and 7 WAR. Sheets’ 2004 was better than Verlander’s 2011, and it was not all that close. Of course, those years are long gone but Sheets was a good pitcher until 2008. He then missed 2009 with an injury. The A’s ill-advisedly gave him a 10 million dollar contract for the 2010 season.
When he was healthy, he was mediocre at best, and he wasn’t healthy. Sheets then missed the 2011 season after having Tommy John Surgery. After a workout last month, the Braves signed him to a minor league contract. No one is expecting 2004 Sheets, but can Sheets provide value in a MLB rotation? I watched his first outing in the Braves Organization, a start for the AA Mississippi Braves in order to find out.
His fastball velocity was at about 88-92 MPH hitting 93 MPH a couple times. In 2010, his average fastball velocity was 91.4 MPH. His command was not sharp, especially early on, but when he was locating it, he was keeping it away from both lefties and righties.
His first curveball was a good one low and out of the zone. His second was hung in the middle of the strikezone and banged for a 3B. An outside fastball was hit for another triple in a horrible start to the outing. The curve was good when he kept it down (which he was able to do the majority of the time), it was his best pitch, getting swings and misses and strikeouts. He left it high sometimes, but was getting some pretty soft grounders (some of them got through for weak singles, which is why pitching lines box scores are pretty worthless without context). It was about 79 MPH and it was really his only swing and miss pitch. It made some of the hitters look really bad, but you would expect that from AA hitters facing big league breaking stuff.
He also mixed in a 82 MPH change that he didn’t throw that often. It didn’t look like anything special, but it was serviceable. Overall, he was keeping the ball low for the most part and he should get plenty of grounders.
After getting a grounder to start the 2nd, he walked his first batter. He wasn’t wild, his problems early on were more command oriented than control. When he was making mistakes, it wasn’t wild pitches, it was hard hit balls. He got his 4th strikeout with a nice curve but a fastball was smoked to the wall. He broke a bat in the 3rd in part of a really good inning. The 4th was also a good quick inning and he even came off the mound to make a nice play on the bunt. He looks a little big, but he still has enough athleticism that he won’t absolutely embarrass himself on the mound.
He really settled down after a couple of rough innings. He got 10 hitters in a row in a 28 pitch stretch to end his outing after 5 innings.
So does Sheets have the stuff to fit into a big league rotation? It looks like it to me. The fastball seems good enough, at about average velocity, that he won’t be destroyed by big league pitching. His curveball looked good enough that he will be able to miss bats with once he continues to shake off the rust and gains consistent command. Assuming his command gets more polished, he is going to be a perfectly fine back of the rotation starter.