Ben Sheets has returned with a vengeance. In his first start since July 2010, Sheets made a big statement. Sheets pitched six innings, striking out five batters against the New York Mets on Sunday. He did not allow a run. With the Braves in need of some stability in their rotation, Sheets could parlay this opportunity into a full-time role. If his first start is any indication, it looks like he might have some value in fantasy leagues.
The stats show just how good Sheets was on Sunday. Though he had just a few rehab starts, Sheets was fairly efficient. He threw 88 pitches over six innings. While that’s not great, it’s an encouraging sign that Sheets was able to go this far without being at full strength. As he continues to build up his stamina, he should go further into games. And that shouldn’t be a problem for him, either. Sheets’ trademark control showed up during his start, leading to just one walk. Even though he had been out of the game for two years, he showed signs of his old self.
At the same time, it was just one start. Even though the Mets rate in the upper half of the league on offense, there’s too much randomness to draw great conclusions from Sheets’ performance. But there are still some areas we can look at to make sure this wasn’t entirely a fluke. One of those areas is velocity.
Sheets performed well in that area on Sunday. His average fastball was 91.4 mph. That’s exactly as hard as Sheets was throwing in 2010, his last year in the majors. Sheets did average close to 93 mph with his fastball during his prime, so it is a bit of a loss. Still, Sheets hasn’t pitched in two years, so it’s somewhat impressive he was able to match his 2010 total. Problem is, he may not regain any more velocity.
Pitcher velocities tend to stabilize in just one start, according to our own Jeff Zimmerman. That article isn’t perfect, as it measures pitchers who are coming off the DL, but Sheets is coming back from a lengthy time off. If Sheets has any more velocity in his arm, he should show it in his next two starts. Otherwise, he’s probably going to sit at about 91 mph the rest of the year. He’s still able to hit 93 mph occasionally — he topped out at 93.3 on Sunday.
And while he was able to hit 93, he also had some trouble maintaining his velocity during the start. In the sixth inning, Sheets struggled to throw 90 mph. Only one of his pitches exceeded 90, the rest of his fastball hovered between 87-89 mph. Sheets’ velocity loss is something to be concerned about. Perhaps it was just a case of him being off a long time. Still, it bears watching during his next start.
The other promising aspect of Sheets’ start is that his curveball has effective. Throughout his career, Sheets has relied on the curve as his second best pitch. In his first start, Sheets was able to get five whiffs with the pitch in 25 chances. That’s good for a 20% whiff rate, which isn’t bad. At the very least, it shows that Sheets’ curve should remain an effective pitch.
Those are both decent signs, but they don’t really tell us much. The good thing is that there’s no major reason to look at Sheets’ performance and think it’s a fluke. At the same time, there’s no reason to think that he’s completely returned after such a tiny sample.
With Sheets’ history, he makes for an intriguing fantasy option. When healthy, he’s proven to be a great option. Now that he’s two years removed from the game, and still a health risk, there’s no telling what he’ll give you this season. Still, giving what he’s done in the past, he could be a low-risk pickup. If you have an extra roster spot, or are looking to cut some dead weight, Sheets is worth a shot. Even if you never use him, he won’t cost much. And if he’s able to string together some effective starts, it could turn into a decent move. You’re betting on Sheets’ past performances, though. While the fact that nothing bad stood out about his most recent start is good, it’s no guarantee for success. Sheets is still a major risk, but he could offer a fair reward.