Last night, fellow Reviewing The Brew writer David Gasper and I happened to be talking about a Milwaukee Brewers ace from the past, Ben Sheets. One thing stood out for me, “What could have been had he stayed healthy?” Let’s take a peek under the Sheets, Ben Sheets that is.
Drafted tenth overall in the 1999 draft, Sheets made his Milwaukee Brewers debut in 2001. He made the All-Star team that summer. He also was an All-Star in 2004, 2007, and 2008.
If the Milwaukee Brewers had Ben Sheets circa 2004 at the top of the rotation in 2017, we wouldn’t be talking about Jose Quintana or Sonny Gray right now. We wouldn’t be worried about the Cubs getting hot. The Brewers would be solidifying the bullpen and it would be business as usual.
Unfortunately for Sheets, he was with the Brewers during the dark times. The ninety loss seasons. The double digit loss seasons with an ERA around 3.50. Or 2004, when Sheets had a 2.70 ERA with 264 strikeouts and only 32 walks. That team lost 94 games, while Sheets compiled a 12-14 record with five complete games.
Talk about bad luck. Sheets entire career felt snake-bitten. Whether it was a hangnail or a blister, a nagging injury always kept Sheets on the shelf for a few weeks every season. When he was healthy there were few better in the game.
Sheets combined an electric high 90’s fastball with a curve that broke sharp from top to bottom. As he proved while helping lead Team USA to a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, as well as an appearance in the 2000 MLB Futures game, when he was on his game no one was better.
He combined his electric stuff with a fast pace on the mound. He would receive the ball from the catcher, glance in for what seemed like milliseconds for a sign, then begin his windup. I did not want to look away at the television every time Sheets was pitching, in fear of missing something.
Injuries were the other main theme throughout Sheets career. From ’02 to ’04 he logged over 30 starts, however not coming close to that mark again until he posted 31 starts in 2008. That year he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA and the Brewers made the playoffs.
Unfortunately Sheets wasn’t able to stay healthy down the stretch. Had he been there for the series against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS in 2008, maybe the Brewers make a deep run, but as is the conundrum that is Ben Sheets, we will never know what could have been.