Oft injured starter Ben Sheets has signed with the Oakland Athletics and will try to reestablish himself as one of the better pitchers in baseball.
For the A’s, ten million seems like a reasonable risk given Sheets’s upside if healthy, but for fantasy owners the cost on draft day will have to be much less.
In 2008, Sheets was about to wrap up his best season since 2004 when an injury to his throwing elbow ended his season. That injury also caused Sheets to miss the entire 2009 season.
Claiming 100 percent health, Sheets threw for teams last week and was reportedly hitting 92 mph consistently. That’s all well and good, but how about the curveball and more importantly, how often can he throw it? The 2008 season that ended in injury saw Sheets lead all Major League regulars in percentage of curveballs thrown (33 percent). Sheets has always relied heavily on the curveball. He has thrown curveballs on over 30 percent of his pitches each season since 2002. While those curveballs wore on Sheet’s elbow over the years, it was also his best strikeout pitch. As his curve lost some of its effeciveness, his strikeout rate decreased and his contact rate increased. If you are into the deep stats, Sheets’s curve was once worth 12-15 runs above average from 2003 to 2005, but now for the past two seasons his curve has been worth negative runs above average.
Former Athletics starter, Rich Harden, used to throw a nasty slider. Now, after years of injury problems, he has now ditched that pitch all together, throwing only his fastball and changeup.
Will Sheets throw fewer curveballs? That is a question that will be answered in time, but it would seem that for his to stay healhty, he would have to. If he goes away from his curve, he loses his best strikeout pitch.
Aside from the use of his curve, Sheets just isn’t the strikeout pitcher has was from 2004 through 2006.
Heading to Oakland means that Sheets will pitch his home games in a ballpark favorable to pitchers. While that is a plus, heading from the National League to the American League is no bonus. Instead of the Mets, he faces the Yankees. Instead of the Padres, he gets the Rangers. Then there is that whole DH thing, which replaces pitchers and pinch hitters.
All together, there are more than a few question marks for Ben Sheets in 2010. Will he regain his old “stuff”? Will he throw his curveball less? If so, how will that affect his strikeouts? Will he stay healthy?
These questions make it next to impossible to invest a top ten round pick on Sheets. If he is available in the later rounds, there is no harm in taking a flier, but don’t overpay based on name value or the numbers he posted years ago.