From Robin To Rickie

February 22, 2006

Will Ben be ready?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 7:39 pm

Baseball Prospectus author and injury-guru Will Carroll posted his Brewers Team Health Report today, and unfortunately he didn’t have great things to say about Ben Sheets. Will uses a green/yellow/red light system to rank players’ injury risk for the coming season, and Sheets comes in at a solid red (that’s bad). Based on the note there, I think this is a result of cumulative things going wrong for him last year, rather than one major arm issue. We won’t know until the games begin whether he’s completely recovered from the torn muscle in his shoulder, and it seems that at this point the Brewers aren’t saying much. It’s difficult to tell whether Sheets was left off the USA World Baseball Classic roster because the Brewers specifically requested it, or because he’s just not ready to pitch full strength yet. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point this spring the team announces that Sheets won’t be ready to pitch until May. Usually the pitcher is the most optimistic about coming back from an injury, and Sheets isn’t yet proclaiming himself completely ready.

I personally don’t have a problem with the Brewers working him back in very very slowly. I’d much rather have him miss April than to be sub-par and have problems pop up throughout the season. On the bright side, a situation like that would also give the Brewers more time to evaluate the #5 spot in the rotation. I really like Dana Eveland as a future starter, and would rather he start in AAA than be regulated to the bullpen again. Ben not starting the year in the rotation would allow Eveland to pick up some major league starts and give us an idea of whether he can handle it right now (I think he can). Presently it seems like David Bush, Rick Helling and Eveland will be given ample opportunity this spring to claim the #5 rotation spot. Based on the Sheets questions, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of those three in Arizona in a few weeks.

The other concern we can’t forget about with Sheets is his vestibular neuritis, which popped up in 2005 again for the second year in a row, this time for a much longer stretch. Will Carroll notes that the Brewers took extra steps to confer with specialists in Los Angeles this offseason, which is promising, and that they’ve developed a plan to prevent it from recurring. We’ll see, but it looks like Brewers fans will have to get used to a lot of worrying when it comes to our staff ace.

Consider a few of our other starters compared to their median PECOTA projections for 2006 from Baseball Prospectus.

Doug Davis

2005: 222 IP, 93 BB, 208 SO, 3.84 ERA, 4.24 PERA, 5.7 WARP, .283 Batting average for balls in play (BABIP)

2006 (Proj.): 204 IP 78 BB, 161 SO, 3.90 ERA, 4.25 PERA, 5.6 WARP, .285 BABIP

Ok so far, right? Looks like Davis may be for real, which bodes well for the Brewers but also means they should hustle in getting him locked up long-term.

Chris Capuano

2005: 219 IP, 91 BB, 176 SO, 3.99 ERA, 4.92 PERA (!), 6.2 WARP, .292 BABIP

2006: 198 IP, 76 BB, 149 SO, 4.28 ERA, 4.68 PERA, 4.6 WARP, .284 BABIP

One of the big questions for 2006, I think, is whether Cappy is for real or not. I think it can be reasonably argued that his 18 wins in ’05 were the result of good run support and a little bit of luck, especially considered his 4.92 peripheral ERA (according to BP, “a better predictor of ERA going forward than ERA itself”). Will Capuano turn into a bona fide #2 for the Brewers, or will he fall into the 10-12 win, 4.50 ERA innings-eater range?

Tomo Ohka

2005 (Brewers only): 126 IP, 28 BB, 81 SO, 4.35 ERA, 4.45 PERA, 2.7 WARP, .313 BABIP

2006: 174 IP, 47 BB, 98 SO, 4.46 ERA, 4.82 PERA, 3.6 WARP, .289 BABIP

I loved the pickup of Ohka for Junior Spivey last year, but I think any thoughts of him being our #4 hands-down is a little premature. That strikeout rate worries me especially, and considering teams made very easy hard contact with his pitches at times, would it surprise anyone to see him get hammered on a regular basis in ’06?

For a change, there is actually competition waiting in the wings this year in case Ohka falters. Bush projects as no less than at least an innings-eater who won’t kill you, and I think he’s a more important part of the Overbay trade than a lot of people think. Helling will continue as a Dave Burba type, who can swing between respectable starts and steady bullpen work. If the Brewers have to go further than Eveland, Ben Hendrickson is still around. Maybe he can turn his career around- crazier things have happened.

Spring is a time of sorting through what you have, especially with the pitching staff. Considering that the Brewers have three days off in April and may need a fifth starter only once, losing Sheets in April would be a much better alternative to losing him in July and getting anything less than the real Ben early. It may also provide us with a bittersweet opportunity to see what these other arms can do.

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