The Unlikeliness Of Ben Sheets And The Braves

Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ben Sheets (30) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The Atlanta Braves shouldn't have needed extra pitching this year. Ben Sheets shouldn't have been looking for a team this year. It's pretty amazing the two found each other, and things got off to a great start on Sunday.

Ben Sheets is just 33. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty young. In baseball years, he's not that old. He's the same age as Cliff Lee, for example. And after Sunday, Sheets is also tied with Lee for wins on the season.

The following sentence is a weird sentence. Ben Sheets started for the Braves on Sunday and picked up the win. It's weird because of the obvious -- Sheets isn't someone we were expecting to see this year -- but it's also a weird sentence because it was the Braves who ended up needing him. The Braves entered the offseason with as much pitching depth as any team in the majors. A cataloging of the surplus:

Jair Jurrjens
Tim Hudson
Tommy Hanson
Brandon Beachy
Mike Minor
Randall Delgado
Arodys Vizcaino
Julio Teheran

The Braves had three major-league ready pitching prospects ready to pitch if their plans had to be adjusted. Three! Do you know who most teams have as their sixth starter? Jeff Suppan. Every single team has Jeff Suppan waiting in the wings in case of injury. It might not be the actual Jeff Suppan, but it might as well be. It's probably Suppan with a fake mustache, to be honest. Not the Braves, though. The Braves had three hotshot prospects they couldn't make room for. Their fate in 2012:

  • Arodys was the first to go down, needing Tommy John surgery. That's pretty crushing, but it happens with prospects.
  • Teheran struggled in AAA. Heck, he's only 21. Can't assume they're all going to work out immediately.
  • Delgado has been inconsistent, just as you'd expect from a 22-year-old pitcher.
  • Jurrjens struggled so much, he was demoted to AAA. He's been better since coming back, but you can see how this is getting ridiculous.
  • The only thing keeping Minor from being the worst pitcher in the majors this season is Tim Lincecum. Now we've passed ridiculous and entered a bad acid trip from Lewis Carroll.
  • And of course, Beachy, the best pitcher on the team earlier in the season, is lost for the year after needing elbow surgery.

Eight potential starting pitchers. Six of them fell into an open manhole. Pitchers are an unpredictable lot, sure, but even by pitcher standards, that's freaky. And it's not like Hanson and Hudson have been stellar, either. It's been a rough year for Braves starters. The team even sent Kris Medlen to the minors to get him ready for a starting role, which is something they certainly weren't expecting to need when they were putting together their 2012 team.

The Braves could have done something drastic, like trading a half-dozen of their best prospects for someone like Zack Greinke or Matt Garza. They could have absorbed millions in salary if they were willing to take pitchers like Ryan Dempster and Wandy Rodriguez. Instead, their gamble was with Sheets. They saw something they liked, and they rushed it to the majors. It was easy to see the attraction on Sunday.:


Sheets has always been a rarity -- a two-pitch starting pitcher. In 2010, he played around with a change-up, but for the most part, he's been consistently fastball/curve since breaking into the big leagues. His fastball would normally sit around 92/93, and his curve would bite and spike, leaving hitters helpless when he was right. His command was usually impeccable. Look at those GIFs again. When Oakland made the rare decision to blow their budget out of the water and sign Sheets after elbow surgery, they thought they were getting the pitcher in those GIFs.

And occasionally, that's exactly what they got, so let's not get caught up in proclaiming that Sheets is the pitcher he was in 2008. He had flashes in 2010, too. It's still just one start. But his fastball was sitting around 91/92, and the curve was biting and spiking. It was as encouraging as six innings from Ben Sheets in 2012 could be.

Maybe this is the new market inefficiency. Go through the Rolodex and look for retired pitchers who used to be really, really good. Bartolo Colon and Andy Pettitte helped the Yankees in successive seasons, and both of them weren't expected to play at all. Maybe teams should call up Mark Mulder. What's Brandon Webb up to? Hold off on that Hamels trade, everybody. Gotta check on this Matt Morris lead.

It's 2012, and we're talking about Ben Sheets. More than that, we're talking about the Braves needing Ben Sheets -- a symbiotic relationship between a player who shouldn't be playing and a team that should be worried about having too many pitchers. The Braves have roared into position for a wild-card spot, winning seven straight and sweeping the Mets over the weekend. If Sheets can help the Braves for the rest of the season, it'd be a heckuva story. It doesn't get much more baseball than this. The only thing you know for sure is that baseball's never going to let you know anything for sure.

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