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Entries in Ben Sheets (2)

Monday
Aug062012

Sheets Getting Swings and Misses

Ben Sheets is 33 years old, hadn't pitched in the majors in nearly two years prior to July following Tommy John surgery and last posted an ERA better than the league average back in 2008. Yet Sheets, signed to a minor league deal a little over a month ago, has quickly become the Atlanta Braves' ace by putting up numbers (1.46 ERA, 23/6 K/BB ratio in 24 innings pitched) that best what he did as a workhorse for the Brewers the better part of a decade ago. He's doing that by racking up swings and misses with his fastball and signature curve.

Sheets isn't wowing hitters with velocity, averaging 90.5 MPH with his fastball and maxing out at 93 MPH. But he's peppering the zone with the pitch (62% have been thrown over the plate, compared to the 52% average for starters) and getting a surprising number of whiffs. Check out his contact rate with the fastball compared to the average for starters:

Sheets' fastball contact rate by pitch location

 

Average fastball contact rate by location for SP

 

Sheets has a 17.6% miss rate with his fastball, well above the 14.7% average for starting pitchers this season. The last time Sheets was on a mound with the A's in 2010, he had a 10.8% fastball miss rate.

His curve, by contrast, has been used as a chase pitch (just 35% have been thrown in the zone, below the 45% average for starters). And hitters have obliged, going after 43% of Sheets' out-of-zone-curves (28% average for starters). Those hacks aren't leading to much contact:

Sheets' curveball contact rate by pitch location

 

Average curveball contact rate by pitch location for SP

 

Batters have missed 37.5% of Sheets' curves, well north of the 29% average for starters. His curveball miss rate was 27% with Oakland in 2010.

While he was tuning up at Double-A Mississippi this time last month, it's now hard to imagine the Braves' once-vaunted rotation without Sheets. For all the preseason talk of Atlanta's starting pitching surplus, this retread has given the Braves renewed life in the NL East and Wild Card races.

Monday
Jul162012

Sheets Gets Whiffs in MLB Return

The Atlanta Braves' seven-strong starting rotation quickly crumbled in 2012, with Arodys Vizcaino and Brandon Beachy getting matching Tommy John scars and Julio Teheran coming down with whiplash from all the homers given up at Triple-A Gwinnett. Enter Ben Sheets, the one-time Brewers ace whose career has been short-circuited by back, shoulder, finger and elbow injuries, including his own Tommy John procedure in August 2010.

Sheets, who sports the 12th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among starting pitchers tossing at least 1,000 frames during the new Millennium, was sharp yesterday versus the Mets in his first MLB start since July 19, 2010. The now-33-year-old righty threw six scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out five and walking one. Sheets got Mets batters to whiff at 10 of the 40 pitches they swung at (25 percent), missing bats with both his fastball and sweeping curve.

Sheets averaged 90.9 MPH on the gun with his fastball, topping out at 93.3. That's still down a couple of ticks from his halcyon days with the Brew Crew, but he did manage to get David Wright to swing through a pair of high heaters. Josh Thole, Ike Davis and Kirk Nieuwenheis also came up empty against high fastballs:

Location of Sheets' fastball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

By contrast, Sheets kept his high-70s curveball low, getting whiffs on the pitch from Davis, Thole, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Andres Torres:

Location of Sheets' curveball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

While Sheets has never had a problem avoiding lumber with his curve, he had one of the 15-lowest fastball miss rates among AL starters when he last pitched with the Athletics in 2010. With so much contact being made, opponents slugged .583 against the pitch (third-highest among AL starters). If Sheets can miss more bats with his fastball while still snapping off quality curves, the Braves could have a low-cost solution to the club's unexpected rotation woes.