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Before the season began, I made statements among my baseball-savvy friends that Ben Sheets may rival Johan Santana this year as the best pitcher in all of baseball. Now of course, health is a concern with Sheets (averaged 19.5 starts over past two years) but when he pitched, you can actually make a pretty good case that he was the only pitcher who could even be uttered in the same breath as Johan:

Johan Santana

Ben Sheets
2005-2006 2005-2006
ERA 2.82 ERA 3.56
WHIP 1.00 WHIP 1.09
K/9 9.3 K/9 8.8
BB/9 1.8 BB/9 1.3
HR/9 .89 HR/9 .99
K/BB 5.25 K/BB 6.97
GB/FB 0.98 GB/FB 0.90

As the numbers show, Johan was still better, but not by much. ERA notwithstanding, their peripherals were very similar. They are both power pitchers who do a remarkable job at limiting walks and homeruns. If you don’t believe me, look around. Aside from these two, you will not find two starting pitchers who have this perfect assembly of limiting walks, homeruns, and contact simultaneously.

SheetsWhich may be why this article caught my attention. After his first outing this year, in which Sheets threw a complete-game two hitter against the Dodgers, I noticed that he had only registered three strikeouts, but I chalked it up to flukiness. But his strikeout rate is yet to improve. 20 innings pitched. 8 strikeouts. That’s 3.6Ks per 9 innings. Chien-Ming Wang territory.

Sheets has obviously noticed.

“To me, the lack of missing bats is kind of startling,” Sheets said Sunday after yet another frustrating outing against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I ain’t hit a spot all year, really,” he said. “I got away with everything (against the Dodgers). I didn’t miss any bats. They just hit it to people.”

Is Sheets DL-bound again? Seeing as the Brewers have an organizationally rampant hatred of all things defense, Sheets cannot succeed without his strikeouts. Bill Hall in centerfield will not be mistaken for Torii Hunter. Sheets has to limit the number of balls in play, and unless we see progress real soon on his strikeout numbers, he’s going to make me look absolutely stupid for even comparing him to Johan Santana (and we all know that’s the most important thing, right?).

6 Responses to “Ben Sheets and the Amazing Shrinking K-Rate”

  1. I’m glad you brought this up. There seems to be these conflicting ideas around baseball: 1. Pitchers shouldn’t be allowed to go past 100 pitches. 2. Relief pitchers are a crapshoot.

    If relief pitchers are a crapshoot (i.e. they’re not very good; they’re inconsistent; they’re living proof of depleted pitching), then how does it make sense to limit your starters? And yet, I feel, both these ideas are considered viable in today’s baseball world.

    There are very few teams in baseball who are genuinely comfortable with their bullpens. And yet, starters are seemingly being asked to go fewer and fewer innings. I’m not sure these two ideas can sufficiently coexist.

  2. This early in the season, there may be a couple of other factors at work:

    a. Managers may think their starters are still rounding into full-season form, and need a bit more TLC.

    b. Managers might want to get their relievers some early-season work, partly to keep them fresh and partly to sort out the wheat from the chaff (J.C. Romero, come on down!).

    After a few weeks of play, we may see starters going deeper into games if they’re still effective. However, your broader point is quite valid: most managers are too quick to pull a starter in favor of a middle reliever who is presumably the 7th or 8th best pitcher on the staff. And since they use so many relievers, they have to carry more pitchers and fewer position players. Remember when everybody had a 3rd catcher and a 5th outfielder? It’s become standard to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players, which has to hamstring a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.

  3. Jojo Fireball says:

    What kills me about this whole issue is that arm problems in starting pitchers has gotten so commonplace that it’s expected for your horse to have tendonitus or a strain at least sometime during the season and it’s because of LACK of use…

    Not only do pitch counts weigh heavily in this paradox but also the fact that most pithcers are throwing on 5 or even 6 days rest between starts. Bullpen sessions between starts (which are usually between 60-80 pitches) are thrown at “90″ percent effort and you’re lucky if your guy is even working that hard.

    Starts, innings and good mechanics are what leads to a strong but not too strong arm that can keep you in the running in August and Sep.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    In his recent SI article about Matsuzaka, Tom Verducci noted that in Japan, pitchers are actually trained to throw *more* pitches, throwing longer during games and throwing nearly every day between starts, while in the States, we are actually training our pitchers to throw *fewer* pitches by limiting them so much, as if each hurler has only so many tosses in his arm. It was really interesting. If I weren’t lazy, I’d throw up the link.

  5. Coley Ward says:

    I love Sheets. He’s like a young Curt Schilling, but w/o the annoying tendencies. But he’s just so fragile. I don’t understand how a guy built like he is can be so delicate.

  6. Coley, I like the comparison. The stats that Schilling put up in ’97 are basically what I thought Sheets could duplicate. Maybe not 11Ks per 9IP, but with fewer walks, which is obviously a credit to Sheets because Schilling also had/has impeccable control.

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