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Don’t Forget About Ben Sheets

In a market with such injury prone aces as Rich Harden and Erik Bedard available to teams this offseason, it can be easy to forget about one ace who missed all of 2009 on the shelf. That would be Ben Sheets, the former ace of the Milwaukee Brewers, who spent the entire season recovering from an elbow injury suffered at the end of the 2008 season, and whose elbow injury negated a two-year contract he had signed with Texas.

As a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers last season, I really missed Ben Sheets, as the Brewers starting pitching staff combined for a miserable 13.1 runs above replacement. Still, it had been nearly as disappointing watching, year after year, as Sheets missed more and more time due to injury. From 2005-2008, Sheets only averaged 150 innings per season. He missed significant time each season, only making more than 30 starts once, in 2008, before his season-ending injury which caused him to miss all of 2009.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Sheets doesn’t bring value to a team. He has legitimate ace stuff. He has a career K/BB ratio of 3.85 and a career FIP of 3.56. His fastball and curveball combo is deadly, as both pitches have been worth nearly +.60 runs above average per 100 pitches over his career.

Much like with J.D. Drew, we have an example of a very talented player who just can’t seem to play a full season. Still, Sheets has potential provide value at the level of a John Lackey type pitcher. Since 2002, Sheets has provided 29.8 WAR, or 3.8 per season (excluding 2009). That total WAR mark ties him for 16th of the win value era with Tim Hudson, who has thrown 200 more innings over that time frame. It’s 1.5 more wins than Carlos Zambrano has in 350 fewer innings.

The thing with Sheets is that the best predictor of future injury is past injury. Because of this, it would be irresponsible of any team to expect more than 150 innings out of the former Milwaukee ace. However, unless this latest injury took all the life out of Sheets’s arm, it’s a good bet that they’ll be excellent innings, and I would expect that major league teams understand this. The question is which one is willing to take the biggest chance.