Braves Sign Ben Sheets

As multiple sources have reported today, the Braves have signed 33 (soon to be 34) year-old Ben Sheets to a minor league contract. Sheets who has not pitched since Tommy John surgery in 2010, threw off the mound for a couple of teams the other day at Georgia Tech. The Braves decided he is worth the gamble, a low risk, high reward one in my opinion. He will make a start with Double-A Mississippi on July 4th and could be ready for the big club with in a month.

The reason I like the move for the Braves is because he was signed to a minor league deal. This about as little risk as you can take when signing a player. If all goes well with Sheets, which is far from certain, we could expect to see him replace Delgado, Minor or Jurrjens sometime before the trade deadline. All three starters have been very inconsistent on the mound, not a recipe for success for a team hunting for a playoff spot.

So what can we expect from Sheets? Well based on the fact he is basically being held together with paper mache, there is zero chance in predicting what he could bring to the table. His laundry list on injuries have included, bulging discs in lower back (’03 & ’04), ear infection/dizziness/loss of balance (’05), shoulder tendentious (’06), hamstring (’07), elbow tear (’08 & entire ’09 season), torn flexor in elbow (’10). These injuries have occurred like clockwork since 2003 and have occurred all over his body, and he certainly isn’t getting younger. There is a very stong chance he doesn’t even make it to the Majors. On the other had, his year and a half absence from baseball may have let all his lingering injuries heal, but lets not assume so.

Lets also not forget that when Sheets was healthy, he was a very good top of the rotation starter. Here is a look at some of his numbers since the 2006 season.

GS ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FB Velo.
2006 17 3.82 2.43 2.89 9.85 0.93 0.76 92.6
2007 24 3.82 4.11 4.28 6.75 2.36 1.08 92.9
2008 31 3.09 3.38 3.88 7.17 2.13 0.77 92.6
2010 20 4.53 4.71 4.27 6.34 3.24 1.36 91.2
Career 3.79 3.65 3.62 7.50 2.07 1.04 92.5

Sheets has been very up and down from year to year, jumping back and forth from above average to poor seasons. His overpowering fastball and heavy breaking curveball allowed him to become a feared strikeout pitcher in his prime. There is no reason to believe this should continue after a long layoff and Tommy John surgery. The Braves radar guns had him clocked in the low 90’s, topping out at 92, during his session yesterday. Some pitchers come back stronger after TJ. I think his control will be the most important though. His walk rate appeared to climb pre injury, and with a decline in FB velocity he will need to rely on his command. His first couple starts will be a huge gauge to what he has left in the tank. Apparently the scouts and the front office liked what they saw enough to give him a shot.

In his starts in Mississippi and likely Gwinnett, it will be important to focus on his K’s and BB’s along with the command and velocity on his fastball and movement on his curveball. I really have no clue what to expect. At the end of the day this is a great move by the front office because there is very little risk in which they can cut him at anytime without being on the hook for a significant amount of money. If all goes well, he will likely enter the rotation which could put Minor or Delgado back in the minors or used as trade bait.

On a side note, this shouldn’t stop the Braves from acquiring another free agent pitcher, like a Greinke. I think could also play a rile in the bullpen if the rotation turns around or acquires another proven starter in the coming months. I do not see that as a likely option however.

At worst the team took a no loss gamble, at best they found a veteran gem. The risk is definitely worth the possible reward.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave


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