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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.