The Braves came into the season with enviable pitching depth, enough that they were able to trade innings eater Derek Lowe to the Indians in a cash-saving deal over the winter. Tim Hudson missed the first month of the season recovering from a back procedure, but they still had a solid rotation led by Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Minor. The prospect trio of Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, and Julio Teheran provided depth at Triple-A.
Fast-forward three months and things have changed rather dramatically. Both Beachy (2.00 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 81 IP) and Vizcaino are out with Tommy John surgery, Minor has been awful (6.20 ERA and 5.51 FIP in 85.2 IP), and Jurrjens was so bad earlier in the year (9.37 ERA and 7.89 FIP in 16.1 IP) that he was sent to the minors. He’s since resurfaced to take Beachy’s spot and has turned in two solid outings. Delgado is doing about as well as a 22-year-old can do in the show, with a 4.52 ERA and 4.17 FIP in 79.2 IP. Overall, Atlanta’s rotation has pitched to a 4.22 ERA and 4.35 FIP, the 19th and 22nd best marks in baseball.
With their pitching depth having gone sour, the Braves announced the signing of Ben Sheets to a minor league contract of unknown financial terms on their Twitter feed yesterday. He’s going to make his first tune-up start with the team’s Double-A affiliate on Wednesday. “You look at him being a guy who, if the progression goes as we hope, that he could join our rotation in the next few weeks,” said GM Frank Wren to Dave O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What we just saw in the bullpen was very impressive.”
Sheets, 34 in about two weeks, is several years removed from last being an above-average big league pitcher. He posted a 4.53 ERA and 4.71 FIP with career-worst strikeout (6.34 K/9 and 16.4 K%), walk (3.24 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%), and home run (1.36 HR/9) rates in 119.1 IP for the 2010 Athletics before going down with Tommy John surgery. Sheets missed all of 2009 after having surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his elbow and then all of 2011 with the TJS. You have to go all the way to 2008, his age 29 season with Milwaukee (3.09 ERA and 3.38 FIP) to find the last time he was a real impact pitcher. Even then he seemed to be constantly battling injury.
That said, it’s a minor league contract and it carries little risk. I doubt the guaranteed portion of his Major League salary will approach Roy Oswalt‘s ($5 million) or even Andy Pettitte’s ($2.5 million), this year’s other notable midseason starting pitching additions. It’s possible Sheets’ arm is as healthy as it’s been in years after all the rest and rehab, plus talent was never a question. If you’re going to roll the dice on a scrap heap pickup, going with a player who was once a star is about as good a bet as you can make. The Braves need the rotation help and Sheets gives them a low risk, moderately high reward internal option.