Player risk profile: Ben Sheets

For more background information and details on my methodology, read my first player risk profile article on Troy Tulowitzki here.

Background

Ben Sheets has been one of the more frustrating pitchers around. When he’s on, there are few pitchers who are better than him. However, Sheets has had trouble staying healthy. For example, take a look at his last five seasons worth of inning totals: 237, 156.7, 106, 141.3, and 198.3. When Sheets is healthy, he is one of the most valuable fantasy pitchers in the game. Will Sheets stay healthy? I think the more important question is, how do you want to value Sheets given the risk he brings? To answer this, let’s take a look at exactly what kind of risk he carries.

Qualitative Risk Assessment

Experience
Probability: Very Low
Impact: Very Low
Overall Risk: Very Low

While Sheets has not been completely healthy in the past, we still have a large sample size on him. Additionally, we’ve been able to see Sheets when he’s healthy and dominant and when he hasn’t been as healthy or dominant. Therefore, we have a pretty good idea of all Sheets can be.

Playing Time
Probability: Very Low
Impact: Very Low
Overall Risk: Very Low

Remember this risk factor is based on playing time risk not due to injury. Whoever signs Sheets in the offseason will likely view Sheets as their number one or two starter, meaning that Sheets would need to perform really, really poorly to see a major loss of playing time not due to an injury.

Age
Probability: Medium
Impact: High
Overall Risk: High

Research has shown that if pitchers survive to their late twenties, they will see improvements in their performance during that age until declining. Sheets will be 30 next year which means he is right near his peak right now. However, Sheets clearly had his best season in 2004 and hasn’t been able to pitch 200 innings since then. While he did make 31 starts last year, his peripherals were well below those of past seasons. I think we can say there’s a pretty good chance Sheets is past his peak.

Burnout
Probability: High
Impact: Very High
Overall Risk: High

I think we can all see that Sheets is very risky when it comes to his health. He is a guy who has a wide variance in his playing time projection. However, that small chance that Sheets could give over 200 innings of quality pitching might make him worth a gamble to some people.

Skill Risk
Probability: Low
Impact: Low
Overall Risk: Low

Sheets still has a very good skill set with the biggest risk being if he sees a moderate gain in his fly ball rate, which would elevate his home run rate into a dangerous territory. Still, Sheets is a very talented pitcher, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Overall Risk Level
High yellow. Sheets’ skill set and experience are the pluses, but they don’t quite make up for the big injury risk he presents. This might surprise some people as I can imagine many describing Sheets as a high-risk player or worthy of a red ranking. However, Sheets’ low performance risk makes it so he’s quite not in that territory, though pretty close.

Quantitative Risk Assessment

Breakout: 2 percent
Collapse: 35 percent
Beta: .89

PECOTA saw Sheets with a low volatility forecast. However, the volatility was in the wrong places as PECOTA did not see Sheets as having much upside but a lot of downside. While Sheets did throw his most innings since 2004, he also gained a year of age so I don’t think his forecast will be too different next year. Sheets should have a good reliability score next year.

Overall Risk Assessment

Sheets has a lot of risk to him but almost all that risk is health related. I will disagree with PECOTA and say that Sheets does have upside but this upside is playing time related rather than performance related. However, since a lot of people will focus on the 198 innings he threw this year and quickly glance over his past innings pitched totals, Sheets might not be worth chasing. If you lean towards a more risk-seeking strategy, Sheets would be a guy I would consider targeting. However, if you are more risk averse, I would advise to look at other pitchers first unless you can get Sheets at a big discount.

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