Posted by Steve
I’ve been out of town for the past week. There are some newsworthy things to talk about, but I’ll put that off another day. Pitchers and catchers reported this past week, and for the first time in almost a decade Ben Sheets is not at Brewers’ camp. That is, for severe lack of a better term, a huge bummer.
Though it’s debatable, the Brewers are probably losing the best pitcher in their history. He leaves the Brewers high on the list of several statistics: 5th in ERA (3.72), 5th in Innings Pitched (1,428), 1st in strikeouts (1,206), 3rd in games started (221), 1st in WHIP (1.201) and 2nd in strikeouts/9 innings (7.6).
This post gave me another excuse to look back at his absurd 2004 season, undoubtedly one of the most overlooked seasons for a starting pitcher in the last 30 years. You know how annoying it was to keep hearing about 1982 before the Brewers made the playoffs? That’s what it’s like with me and the 2004 season of Ben Sheets. This probably isn’t something to brag about, but I’ve had his 2004 numbers memorized for a long time: 2.70 ERA, 264 strikeouts, 32 walks, 0.98 WHIP. Looking through the Brewers’ franchise single-season leaders actually made me laugh.
#1 in strikeouts in a season: Ben Sheets, 2004
#1 in strikeouts/nine innings: Ben Sheets, 2004
#1 in walks/nine innings: Ben Sheets, 2004
#1 in WHIP: Ben Sheets, 2004
Sheets had an 8.25 K/BB rate in 2004. Number two in Brewers’ history? Dave Bush in 2006 with 4.37. LOL.
I can’t stress how incredible that is to have a k rate that high while having a bb rate that low. Comparing this to starting pitchers in the last century, you’ll find he’s in pretty good company.
#1 Bret Saberhagen, 1994: 11.00 K/BB ratio
#2 Curt Schilling, 2002: 9.58 K/BB ratio
#3 Pedro Martinez, 2000: 8.88 K/BB ratio
#4 Greg Maddux, 1997: 8.85 K/BB ratio
#5 Pedro Martinex, 1999: 8.46 K/BB ratio
#6 Ben Sheets, 2004: 8.25 K/BB ratio
Sheets had several great games, but two stand out for me. One was the 18-strikeout performance against the Braves in 2004. Dan and I were listening to that game on the radio, and I vividly remember Uke’s voice cracking as he was calling the ninth inning. His stuff has never been better than it was that day.
The other game is the one from the picture above: The 1-0 shutout last year on September 6 against Jake Peavy and the Padres. Side note: this was the game Rickie Weeks made his spectacular defensive play, so this was a great day to be a Steve mancrush.
Ben has certainly had better statistical games–he “only” had seven strikeouts that game–but the setting is what made it memorable. Most of Sheets’ great outings over his career were wasted on bad teams and terrible run support. Obviously, 2008 was different. The Brewers sorely needed a win to stay in the wildcard lead. Sheets had been battling a groin strain, and we now know he was also fighting elbow pain. So what did he do? Only gutted out a 120-pitch complete game shutout.
Everyone credits Sabathia with putting the team on his back (and rightfully so), but as usual, Sheets seems to have been overlooked. This game likely did him in–he didn’t pitch effectively the rest of the year–but they needed that game and he pitched through pain when he probably shouldn’t have even been out there.
I remember watching that game. I watched the entire thing by myself, and I remember wanting that win for Ben so badly. After being so great on bad teams for so long, I just wanted to see him perform down the stretch run in a playoff race.
Normally composed, Sheets was as fired up as I’ve ever seen him when he closed out that game. When he told the fans at the playoff rally last year that the high of making the playoffs was worth all the losing years, you really believed him if you had watched that Padres game.
Personally, there are things I’ll miss even more than the great numbers and killer curveball. Things like his hilarious at-bats and listening him talk about his hitting. When the Brewers acquired Carlos Lee, Sheets was excited that he’d be getting more protection in the lineup. He routinely walked around on the field with his glove on his head. He gives hilarious interviews, like this one here. He has just an awesome personality.
I realize I’ve done just about everything short of declare my undying love for Ben Sheets, but he’s been my absolute favorite player on the team I love. It’s fine if you still think that’s weird, but that’s the only justification I have for it. It bugs me to no end that he’s been so unappreciated in his time here; if I hear one more person say he was overpaid the last four years I’ll probably start yelling and lose control of my bodily functions (fangraphs shows he far over-performed his contract with the Brewers). It will make that Mike Cameron argument at the New Year’s party look like cool party banter in comparison.
In a way it seems fitting that I’m leaving Milwaukee this year and won’t be here for opening day. It just wouldn’t seem totally right without Ben Sheets on the mound.