With only two starts under his belt, it appears that the Atlanta Braves have struck gold with their acquisition of the resurgent Ben Sheets. In those two starts, he has pitched 12 scoreless innings, walked four, scattered seven hits and struck out 11.
While we can't realistically expect that Sheets will perform at this level for the rest of the season, could we see him emerge as the the Braves' clear-cut ace going down the stretch?
With Brandon Beachy hurt, Jair Jurrjens imploding, Tommy Hanson struggling and Mike Minor battling to bring his ERA below five, the only reliable starter the Braves have is Tim Hudson. While I would consider Hudson reliable, a pitcher with a 3.70 ERA and 1.24 WHIP doesn't scream pitching ace.
Ben Sheets has been given a second chance at baseball life and has run with it. He has all the physical tools to be dominant—just ask the Braves hitters on May 16th, 2004, when he struck out 18. Thanks to his long departure from baseball after his surgery, he has a fresh arm.
While he doesn't throw as hard as he did prior to his injuries (average fastball was 92.8 in 2008 versus 90.8 in 2012, according to fangraphs.com), it is important to point out that having an overpowering fastball doesn't necessarily equate to being a dominant pitcher. Jered Weaver's fastball averages at only 88.3 mph this year, and he is one of the best pitchers in the game.
What will Ben Sheets' ERA be at the end of this season?
Outside of acquiring a new top-of-the-rotation starter, Ben Sheets looks to be the new ace for the beleaguered Braves rotation.
The Braves starting pitchers have an embarrassing 4.32 ERA for the season—third worst in the NL. If you remove the contributions by Ben Sheets and Brandon Beachy, the team's starters have an outrageous 4.83 ERA.
I would be confident in saying that the Braves will not win the World Series nor the division unless that number plummets. To put that 4.83 ERA in perspective, the Washington Nationals starters have an ERA of 3.17.
To build on his current success, Sheets will need to take his triumphant and inspiring return from just a feel-good story to the status quo.
Pounding the strike zone and mixing pitches to keep batters off-balance are crucial to any pitchers success. Keeping the ball in the yard and having efficient innings will also play a large part in his success.
In his final season with the Brewers, Sheets averaged 0.8 home runs per nine innings—compare that to Tim Hudson's 0.37 home runs per nine innings this season.
Ben Sheets has the opportunity to become a Braves legend if he can become this teams' anchor en route to reclaiming the NL East title.
Braves bias aside, I would love for Ben Sheets' return to baseball to end in a Game 7 World Series win. It would only be a matter of time until Disney would pick up the movie rights.
And who doesn't love the cinematic sports adventures of Disney? Think Herbie Fully Loaded, but with Braves players instead of a Volkswagen and Lindsay Lohan.