In advance of tonight’s start against the Dodgers, I wanted to look over Ben Sheets‘ first six starts to look at his stuff and tendencies. Overall, he has posted similar rates to his ’07-’08 seasons, striking out an average amount, walking few, and around 40% groundballs.
His stuff is not what it was a few years ago, especially on the velocity front. After sitting 92-94 a few years ago, he is now 89-92 on his four-seamer. Along with velocity, it has also lost about three inches of vertical “life”, limiting the number of whiffs on the pitch. It is still an effective pitch, but it’s hittable, even when he hits his spots. He’s also mixed in a two-seamer, though he throws it more to lefties, opposite of the platoon advantage.
His curve is probably his best pitch now, 76-79 with good vertical depth that he uses more against lefties. He has two lesser offspeed pitches, a cutter/slider and a changeup. His hard breaking ball is 84-86 with only a bit more depth than his two-seamer. He uses it more against righties, but the lack of horizontal movement makes it a neutral platoon pitch. The change has good fade at 80-83, his third pitch against lefties.
A concerning stat for Sheets is his below-average 56.4% first pitch strike percentage. There isn’t a strong correlation between first-pitch strikes and success, since balls in play also count as strikes, but more first-pitch strikes are generally better. Sheets doesn’t have stuff to beat hitters in the zone, so I would like to see a few more first-pitch strikes.
Another odd stat is the 30% line drive rate. His BABIP allowed is only .318, above average but not anywhere near expected with such a high percentage. It is likely that a lot of these are looping liners barely getting to infielders, though only those with HITf/x data can tell us that. 150-200 batted balls is the normal baseline for stabilization of batted ball rates, so these rates are not necessarily indicative of his future rates.
A 2.13/3.02/3.69 ERA/FIP/xFIP line shows some good luck so far for Sheets, but at this point of the year, it doesn’t matter if he’s lucky or not. Normally, I project pitchers at an ERA equal to the midpoint of FIP and xFIP, so 3.35 isn’t a shabby number either. He has basically been Brandon Beachy‘s replacement in the rotation, great results with decent peripherals. He’s not an ace anymore, but he is a solid pitcher, assuming he stays healthy.