Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Man of Glass

After Ben Sheets left yet another game early last night, I was left wondering just how much he costs himself every time this happens. Are we talking $4 million every time he exits? Is there a way to quantify the cost?

Over at Bugs and Cranks, the departure left them with questions, too. Namely, is Ben Sheets a mediocre ace or a spectacular middle-of-the-0rder guy?

September 18th, 2008 at 3:39 am ET

Though likely to be buried by a handful of posts about the Devil Rays in no time (just kidding, Post Master Chalk!), I thought I would raise yet another Brewers query, as Mr. Charles and I had in our previous posts.

With Ben Sheets’ departure from Wednesday’s game due to injury, he was unable to obtain his career high 14th win of the season, and – assuredly to the dismay of much of the Brewers’ fan base – might have thrown his final pitch in a Milwaukee uniform. But prior to his impending exit to whatever beautiful locale gracious enough to toss the most coin in his direction, I seek closure in the form of an answer to a question that has plagued me for a number of seasons.

Is Ben Sheets the worst great pitcher in contemporary baseball, or is he the best OK pitcher?

Through the early years of high school I was regaled in the extravagant draperies of pleasant tales that foretold the coming of a savior to my doomed franchise. A man who delivered our American underdogs to Olympic glory was promised to gloriously swoop in and, maybe not next year, or the year after, and probably the one after that… but eventually, again deliver the beermakers to the pantheons of their past playoff appearances glory. This angel was called Ben.

As the painful seasons wore on and glimmers of this golden god’s, uh… moderate proficiency proudly shone as the talent of the team around this master began to solidify, Ben’s numbers continually reached the same somewhere-between-not-bad-and-pretty-good level.

Often mentioned among the greats of pitching, I personally have a difficult time buying that this hurler is deserving to be an assumed member of such company. Yes, he has four All-Star appearances, a career ERA in the threes and over 1,200 strikeouts in eight seasons. He also struck out 18 in a game, should have won the NL Cy Young in 2004, and proved a solid ace and apt star to an often terrible, and otherwise near unmarketable, Brewers team in the early millennium. Plus he even leads Milwaukee in a plethora of pitching categories this season.

These are all very impressive accomplishments this love-handled suburban Badger Stater will never touch – but do these feats alone make him a great pitcher? To me, no.

When I think of a great pitcher I imagine a leader who goes above and beyond his limitations to seek rewards fitting of his status, I imagine a pitcher who any unbiased soul wouldn’t dare keep off the mound when it truly mattered. I see a pitcher who’s won more than 13 games in a season. I know that wins as a stat have about the relevance of Dane Cook at a convention for talented people, but I lay Sheets’ low win totals heavily on a combination of second half struggles and a laundry list of oddball injuries through much of his career.

Check out this list of ailments Sheets has missed time for in his career: tendinitis, inner ear infection, elbow tightness, bulging discs, blisters on throwing hand, strained hamstring, scurvy, hepatitis C, gout, severed head and hermaphrodite. I mean, I made up every thing after strained hamstring, but that’s still a long list! It makes one wonder how many starts Big Ben could’ve made if he’d actually considered training in the offseason instead of sitting around gorging himself on crawdad po’ boys and his own fingernails while imaging more ways to be goofy in the dugout of another team not fit for the playoffs.

If the season were to end today, Sheets and his media-granted greatness would again yield Milwaukee yet another fruitless annual on the outside of playoff contention. I would gladly have him on my roster for years to come and I appreciate all the great Sheets accomplishments I’ve mentioned, but I look at Ben Sheets as he leaves for a lager market knowing full well that he is not a great pitcher, merely the best decent pitcher in the game today.

No comments: