Player Profile: Ben Sheets

6 03 2008

Ben Sheets had another injury-plagued season in ’07. Pitchers normally injure their shoulder or their elbow, but Ben likes to be a little creative with his injuries. After a lat injury in ’05 and tendinitis in ’06, Ben hurt a ligament in his finger in a freak injury while pitching. The injury put an end to an impressive stretch that he had between May and early-June, when he had 8 straight quality starts for the Crew. Let’s take a closer look at what Ben brings to the Brewers’ rotation.

’07 Stat Line:

12-5 W-L, 3.82 ERA, 141.3 IP, 37 BB, 106 K

Strengths:

Ben Sheets is the ace of the rotation.  When he is on the mound, the Brewers are a far better team than when he is on the shelf with an injury.  Stop me if you’ve heard this all before.  While Ben is the best pitcher in Milwaukee’s rotation, he’s changed his approach a lot.  He’s no longer the fireballer that tries to overpower every batter to strike them out.  He’s become more mature and has become a pitcher.  He no longer simply throws.  He pitches.  Gone are the days of only the 96-97 mph fastball and the hammer curve.  Ben now throws a two-seam fastball and has even played with a cutter.  His change-up has become much more reliable than it has been in the past few seasons.  This change in pitching style has caused his strikeout numbers to have gone down, but most feel that he is a much better pitcher than he was before.  Lefties used to kill him in 2004, but they only had a .200 average against him last season.  He’s maturing and getting better.

In the past four seasons, Ben has not had an ERA higher than 3.82 (which he’s posted in the past two seasons).  He had 264 strike outs in 2004, but that has steadily declined since that season.  While his strikeouts have declined, his walk rate has steadily declined as well.  Last season, Ben gave up a few more walks than he’s used to, 37 BB in 141.3 innings.  Not that those numbers are bad, but take into consideration that he gave up 11 walks in 106 innings of work in 2006, you can understand why that number is a jump.  I do look for that walk rate to come down again this upcoming season.

When Ben is healthy, he pitches deeper into games than most.  He provides many quality innings for Milwaukee, which is shown by his 8-game quality start streak between May 1 and June 9.  Ben did fail to reach 6 IP per start in 2007, but that is mostly because of the few starts that he had to leave very early because of injury problems.  Between 2002 and 2004, Ben did not pitch less than 216 innings.  If he’s healthy the entire season, Ben has shown that he can eat innings.  Brewers fans would love to see that happen again this season.

Weaknesses:

His health.  Ben is labeled as “injury-prone,” and he has done nothing to dispel that image in the past couple seasons.  Brewers fans collectively hold their breath when Ben pauses on the mound, or he looks at his finger like something is wrong.  It has gotten to the point that everyone simply expects Ben to get hurt, and they are surprised if he pitches more than three or four starts without some type of injury.  Compounding the problem is Ben’s image that he does not take care of himself or try to.  His weight has been criticized and so has his diet.  He’s known for eating tons of junk-food and not caring that he has a bit of a double-chin and a gut.  Brewers fans would not care a bit if he would be able to stay on the mound, but because he cannot seem to do that, fans need to come up with a reason to why that can’t happen.  His diet and body image have become the culprits.

Let’s face it.  Ben cannot hit at all.  He knows he cannot hit.  It’s actually become a joke to Brewers fans when Ben steps into the batters box.  He’s getting better at bunting, but his plate discipline and swing are a sight to behold.  There’s not too much else to say about Ben’s offensive skills, as they are definitely not going to improve this season.

Arsenal:

Ben no longer throws his fastball as hard as he used to.  It now settles in at about 93-94 mph, but he’s become very comfortable with his 2-seam fastball that moves a lot.  His 2-seamer gives him a change of velocity, as that generally comes at about 88-92 mph range.  His 12-6 power curve is still one of the best in the game, but he’s also developed a steady change up that compliments his other pitches.  He’s become much more finesse-oriented with his pitching style, but Ben still has all the pitches in his arsenal to get the job done.  Pitching savvy and stuff usually equals trouble for the opposing hitters.

Projections:

ZiPS – 11-7 W-L, 3.72 ERA, 145 IP, 27 BB, 128 K
The Hardball Times – 9-8 W-L, 3.91 ERA, 150 IP, 36 BB, 124 K

These projections are obviously counting on Ben to get hurt again this season, and I suppose why wouldn’t you expect it?  I have said this many times on the site in the past few weeks, but I expect Ben to come out firing on all cylinders this season.  I project that he’s going to have 28-30 starts this season and give the Brewers close to 200 innings pitched.  It sounds crazy, I know, but Ben is in his contract year this year.  Combine that with the drive to prove his critics wrong that I’ve heard from him this season, and I fully expect him to have a Cy Young caliber season this year.  Obviously I could be incorrect in this assessment, and Ben could get hurt within 2 months of the season.  I just have a very strong hunch that Ben is going to be the bona fide ace that Milwaukee is paying him to be.  He should be one of the leaders that will push Milwaukee to have a chance at a post-season appearance in September.

Projected Line: 16-6 W-L, 3.54 ERA, 190 IP, 37 BB, 174 K
Projected Season Rating (out of 10): 8.9

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