If you haven’t heard by now, Atlanta has agreed to a minor league contract with former Brewers workhorse, Ben Sheets. The Braves were one of the few teams that watched a simulated five-inning stint Sheets threw at Georgia Tech last week and saw enough to believe that it was time to act. Sheets’ agent and Braves GM Frank Wren agreed to the deal Saturday night and after Sheets passed the physical today, the comeback attempt was on. Sheets was hitting the low 90’s in his simulated game, which is encouraging because that’s where he has lived his whole career.
Sheets broke into the majors just two seasons after he was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft. He rocketed up the ladder, recording 13 starts in AAA as a 21-22 year-old in his second professional season and started 25 games in the bigs in 2001 as the Brewers’ future ace. After three seasons of harnessing his ability, Sheets broke out in 2004, striking out 264 batters for the Brewers in a worrisome 237 innings. When people ask why pitchers get babied, Sheets can often be cited as a cautionary tale. Three seasons of 215 innings and Sheets as a workhorse was done.
He would miss considerable time over the next three seasons, never starting more than 24 games at the MLB level or pitching over 160 innings. He was able to turn the corner some in 2008, but seeking out a playoff run, the Brewers rode Sheets and C.C. Sabathia into the ground down the stretch. While they made the playoffs, the damage was done. Sheets threw a ridiculous amount of curveballs in 2008…33% of his pitches were curveballs, in fact. Amazingly, that’s the second most curveballs by percentage he had thrown in his career. Sheets was diagnosed with a tear in his right elbow and missed the playoffs.
After missing 2009, Sheets caught on with the A’s in 2010. The results weren’t so pretty. The 4.71 FIP he suffered through was the second worst of his career (have to go back to his rookie year for the worst). His K/9 rate tumbled while his walk rate went higher than ever before. In late July, his season was over after a torn flexor in his right elbow that required Tommy John.
But he’s back…what can the Braves expect? Not really sure. Sheets will begin a minor league stint with Mississippi soon and is expected to make a couple of starts. If he starts getting back to his Brewers days, the Braves have acquired a big arm for the playoff push. If he looks like the guy who was fairly abysmal in 20 starts with the A’s in 2009, did Atlanta waste too much time putting hope in a guy who is done rather than bring in an impact starter?
Provided they aren’t putting too much into the hope that Sheets comes back at his 2004-2008 self, the Braves acquired a guy for pennies that can provide pretty much anything they may have gotten in trades for the likes of Joe Saunders or Jason Vargas. They can continue to seek out an impact arm like Zack Greinke and see if things work for bringing him in with an extension. If Sheets puts up a 1.20 WHIP, keeps the BB/9 rate under 3 and the K/BB rate over 2, the Braves are getting massive bang for their buck.
Can’t say anything bad about this pickup provided that it does nothing to keep Wren from continuing to try to work a deal for an impact arm.