Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ben Sheets and Pitch Distribution

Warning: non-expert analysis and gross speculation follows.

PitchFx is really, really cool.

I was scanning 2007 and 2008 data on Ben Sheets (yes, reminder - he missed all of 2009) and while it was instructive, it wasn't revealing anything worth reporting. From 07 to 08, his fastball velocity went from 92.9 to 92.8; curve virtually the same; change virtually the same.

But the distribution of his pitches changed. In 2007 he hardly ever threw his changeup. Based on the data, he only threw it 1.6% of the time in 2007 and relied heavily on his fastball at 70%. In 2008, he began the season using his curveball far more than 2007 and then about half way through the season, the curveball usage returned to normal, his fastball rate came down and he started throwing 15-20% changeups.

Now, the data is incomplete in 2007, so maybe it's not a fair comparison at all, and I know I'm kind of looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack here - but it seems to me that Ben Sheets got hurt midway through the season, and he pitched through (most of) it. Shocker of all shockers, I know.

But I guess the point is, he threw 2 innings shy of 200, managed an FIP of 3.38, and had the lowest HR/FB rate of his career.

If you're worried that Ben Sheets is damaged goods, you're right. But even when he's damaged, he's awfully damned good.

2009 was his only truly lost season, followed by 2006 when he threw only 106 innings. But his logged innings since 2001 are as follows: 151, 216, 220, 237, 156, 106, 141, 198. Looking at that, I like my chances of getting 200 innings from him, even if I know I should be happy with 160.

I've heard Mariner fans suggest this could be Erik Bedard all over again, and perhaps they're right. The risk/reward factor may be similar, but Erik Bedard has never thrown more than 200 innings and managed just 80 in the last two seasons. Bedard doesn't have nearly the track record of success that Sheets has.

I have no idea what kind of contracts the two might command, but if we make a wild guess and say that the M's have 10-12 million left to spend and they're thinking of using a couple million of that on a guy like Fernando Tatis, I'd say scrape the last penny out for a Ben Sheets offer and scare the shit out of Arte Moreno.

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