Ben Sheets Returns, But Does His Fastball Also Return?

Monday night, Oakland’s Ben Sheets made his first regular season start in over a year. His results were decent. He went 5 innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned). He was a little lucky in that he allowed 4 walks and had only 3 strikeouts. This start was one I have been waiting for to see how surgery on his pitching elbow affected his fastball speed.

Ben was one of the best pitchers in the league from 2003 to 2005 when he was averaging 5.3 WAR a year. His dominant pitch during that time was his fastball with a average run value -1 more than his curve ball (a larger negative number is better).

Then in 2006 he had problems with his left shoulder and missed over half the season. Coming back in 2007, he threw his fastball the same amount of time, but the results were not the same. His curve ball became his dominate pitch with a average 100 pitch run value of 1 greater than his curve ball.

Ben missed all of the 2009 season as a free agent with a torn tendon in is right elbow. He signed with the A’s this off season for 8 million dollars and a chance to prove that he is back.

Ben pitched his first game with Pitch F/X cameras on Monday. The initial results don’t look that good. First, his average velocity was down 1.5 MPH from his previous averages. Also, his 2010 peak speed is near his 2007 and 2008 average speeds:

Ben Sheet's Velocity Charts

Mike Fast at the Hardball Times recently wrote that for every 1 MPH decrease, the pitchers run value with go up 0.28 runs. The run value on Ben’s fastball would increase to approximately the 1.4 run level level. The loss of velocity on his fastball could be costing Ben around one third a run per game depending on how much he throws it.

Ben Sheets first start shows that his fastball is not up to speed and will probably cost him some runs over the season. For the A’s, he was a risky investment, but one they probably needed to take in the competitive AL West.



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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


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Nelbowski
Member
Nelbowski
6 years 1 month ago

“effected” “His curve ball had became his dominate pitch with a average 100 pitch run value…” “Sheet’s”

I know most people on here just care about the content, but this is some pretty horrible writing and editing.

Sky Kalkman
Member
6 years 1 month ago

Jeff Sullivan looked at this game from the Mariners’ perspective and linked to this chart showing that the home plate umpire’s strike zone was, well, favorable to hitters. Something to keep in mind regarding Sheets’ four walks (Felix had six).

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfx/szone.php?pitchSel=all&game=gid_2010_04_05_seamlb_oakmlb_1/&innings=yyyyyyyyy&s_type=&sp_type=1&h_size=700&v_size=500&extraStr=|4/5/2010|Seattle%20Mariners%20@%20Oakland%20Athletics

There appears to be a lot of balls on the low side that could/should have been strikes, and a bunch mixed in throughout the strike zone.

Basil Ganglia
Guest
Basil Ganglia
6 years 1 month ago

I watched much of the game. Tschida was also inconsistent on the right side of the plate. It appeared to me that hitters didn’t have much idea of what to expect on pitches to that side of the plate. I saw several guys take called strikes that they clearly expected to be balls, getting themselves down in the count. And there were some other times that pitchers went out there, expecting to get a call that they didn’t get.

Basil Ganglia
Guest
Basil Ganglia
6 years 1 month ago

brain cramp – that should be the left side of the plate. As I was typing I had myself mentally placed on the mound instead of behind the plate.

Choo
Member
6 years 1 month ago

That’s alright. Tschida governed both edges of the plate with casual abandon.

opisgod
Member
opisgod
6 years 1 month ago

Oh god, don’t even get me started on Brandon League throwing two FASTBALLS in the absolute center of the zone that were called balls.

snapper
Guest
snapper
6 years 1 month ago

Isn’t a FB >91 MPH pretty good for his first start? The fact that he only lost 1.5 MPH is encouraging to me. No way he’s at full strength yet.

Rob
Guest
Rob
6 years 1 month ago

I hate to nitpick, but dominate is a verb. The word you are looking for is dominant.

Rut
Guest
Rut
6 years 1 month ago

I’m with Snapper- I’ll bet he’s throwing a little harder by mid May.

scatterbrian
Guest
scatterbrian
6 years 1 month ago

Is this the best time to analyze Sheets’ fastball, after the first game of the season for a guy who’s missed a year? Seems a tad premature to me.

Bill B
Guest
Bill B
6 years 1 month ago

I thought a higher number was better? At least I think so…because Randy Johnson’s numbers for his slider are off the charts (on the positive, not negative), and that by far is a super dominant pitch. Wouldn’t that make his curveball better from 03-05? I don’t understand pitch values.

Heather
Guest
Heather
6 years 1 month ago

Please bear with me, I’m a newbie at this whole stats thing, but here is my question:

“Mike Fast at the Hardball Times recently wrote that for every 1 MPH decrease, the pitchers run value with go up 0.28 runs.”

How to explain someone like Jamie Moyer? Granted, the guy isn’t an “ace” but he is still a decently serviceable pitcher even now. It’s not like his ERA is 12.00 or anything.

Seems to me obviously the harder you throw the better, but what is the “x” factor that allows some pitchers to throw a lot slower and be ok, but some to throw a lot slower and stink?

I guess what I’m saying is that I think the quoted statistic isn’t easily extrapolated to all pitchers. Can someone explain to me why it is?

Mike Fast
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Heather, I talked about that in my article. All else equal, for every 1 mph decrease in fastball speed, a starting pitcher will allow 0.25 more runs per game. That’s true across the population of major league pitchers.

But it does not mean that for every given pitcher, a 1 mph decrease will lead to exactly 0.25 more runs on their ERA. Some pitchers are better equipped to handle speed decreases than others. I found that very young pitchers and pitchers who threw very hard were the most susceptible to performance trouble when their velocity slipped.

I’d say the primary “x” factor is location, location, location. But there are other things, too: deception, good movement, out-thinking the hitter, etc.

Shoeless_Mike
Guest
Shoeless_Mike
6 years 1 month ago

I think a better comparison to make is Sheets’ first start this year vs his first start in 2008. Clearly in 2008 his fastball velocity improved after his fifth start (his second start looks like the early season ‘outlier here). Comparing just the first start in 08 and the first start this season there is a small decrease in his velocity but his start this season is still equal to or better than three of his first five starts in 2008. To summarize – let’s wait a month and revisit this…

MM

opisgod
Member
opisgod
6 years 1 month ago

Sheet’s fastball wasn’t just a tad slower in his last start, he was also missing well up in the strike zone; there was nary a fastball in the lower half of the plate and many were near eye level.

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfx/location.php?pitchSel=282656&game=gid_2010_04_05_seamlb_oakmlb_1/&batterX=0&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=2

Basically it reinforces that there is nothing to really worry about, it’s difficult to throw low with authority after that much time off; if he was all over the zone with his fastball maybe something of concern would be there about his future velocity.

Mike Fast
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Jeff, thanks for the link!

One clarification. I found that the pitcher’s overall run average went up by a quarter run for each 1 mph decrease in fastball speed, not that the fastball run value itself changed by that much. It could be that the lower fastball speed made the performance of the other pitches worse. I didn’t differentiate on which pitch type(s) the performance drop occurred–that’s an avenue for further research.

Kim Alan Harris
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

and the grammar nazi sez: You ‘dominate’ (verb) batters with a ‘dominant’ (adjective) pitch.’ Do not put all thy trust in spell checkers.

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