Sheets and Expectations

The Brewers suck right now, and I'd rather not say anything about that.  Instead, I want to look at what we got from Ben Sheets in 2008.  Note that I'm already using past tense--I'd be surprised if he pitches again this year.  If he does, it will be a nice bonus.

As usual, Benny has had his nagging injuries, and that means he's been pulled early from a couple of starts, but let's look at the big picture.  He started 30 games and threw 196 innings--not far behind the league leaders, and nearly 20 innings more than any other starter on the team.  (Bush has thrown 177, Suppan 170.2.)

And, of course, he's been damn good in that time.  His ERA is below 3.00; his K/BB ratio is better than 3:1, and he's coughed up fewer homers per inning than any other starter except for CC.

All this for $11 million.

There's no question that Ben has been frustrating in recent years, especially in 2006 and '07.  But in '08, for whatever reason--I don't care to speculate whether he stepped it up for a contract, or whether the injuries stayed away due to something else--we got a legit ace at a bargain price.  It sucks that his season will probably end at 196 IP, and we may not have him for the playoffs (if we get that far), but let's keep the season so far in perspective.

Which leads me to my next point.  It's easy to conflate current performance with projected performance which, itself, is tied up with contract expectations.  All season, we've expected that Sheets would get a monster deal in New York or Texas.  Some think we're better off without him; others think we should go for the hometown discount.

It's important to understand that we can be thrilled about what we got from Sheets in 2008 without wanting him back.  (Or, I suppose, we could be disappointed with his '08 performance and want him back anyway, but that would be an odd position, at least in regard to Sheets.) 

Nothing that has happened this year has significantly altered my opinion on trying to keep Ben around.  Whether the current scare turns out to be nothing or he goes under the knife, somebody is going to pay him more than he's worth.  (In those two scenarios, of course, the dollar figures would be much different.)  We don't have a small-market payroll anymore, but until we have a large-market payroll, we shouldn't be making big investments in risky properties, and even if Sheets had made it through 34 starts without a hitch this year, he'd still be risky, and I'd still want the Rangers, or Yankees, or Ham Fighters, to take him.

But that doesn't mean I'm not thrilled with what we got this year.  Sheets proved that, when healthy, he's one of the best pitchers in baseball.  If he had given us a carbon copy of  '06, '07, or even '05, we may well be eliminated from the Wild Card right now.

He has long underperformed some massive expectations, but this year everything--well, *almost* everything--clicked.  He's very possibly been the most valuable player on the team over the course of the entire season, and I think it would be a shame to let our extremely high standard get in the way of recognizing that.

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