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3) Sheets To (The) Win

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In the latest piece by Ken Gurnick on Dodgers.com regarding the Dodgers interest in Bobby Abreu & Adam Dunn (I agree with Phil -- this is more for the Manny negotiations than anything else), there was this sentence near the end of the article:

The two free-agent starters the Dodgers have targeted are Jon Garland and Randy Wolf. Colletti has said he wants to add a veteran to a rotation that now consists of Chad Billingsley (recovering from a broken leg), Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw and a group that includes Jason Schmidt, Eric Stults and James McDonald.

Garland and Wolf are certainly viable veteran options to fill the rotation, and I could talk myself into liking either signing:

1) Jon Garland is rock of the group.  He has made 32 or 33 starts in each of the last seven years and somehow succeeds despite a strikeout rate less than that of a slow-pitch softball pitcher.

 

Year IP K/9 FIP ERA+
2005 221.0 4.68 4.24 128
2006 211.1 4.77 4.35 105
2007 208.1 4.23 4.36 112
2008 196.2 4.12 4.76 91

2) Randy Wolf is a familiar face to Dodger fans, who watched him start strong in 2007 before succumbing to shoulder pain, which shortened his season.  His resurgence in the final two months of 2008 with Houston is most fresh in everyone's mind, but his recent past is checkered at best.

Year IP K/9 FIP ERA+
2005 80.0 6.86 4.97 100
2006 56.2 6.99 6.43 84
2007 102.2 8.24 3.99 97
2008 190.1 7.66 4.17 93

It seems to me the choice is between the known quantity in Garland, the average to slightly below-average horse, and Wolf, the less durable and less effective but let's hope he magically becomes what he once was before Tommy John surgery.

My question is, why limit the choice to only two options?  Both Garland and Wolf are attractive in that they don't require draft pick compensation should the Dodgers sign them.  I submit the Dodgers best option for a veteran starter rests in the arm of a third option: Ben Sheets.

When healthy, Sheets is an elite pitcher.  He has the 9th best ERA+ in MLB over the last 4 seasons.

Year IP K/9 FIP ERA+
2005 156.2 8.10 3.31 128
2006 106.0 9.85 2.43 119
2007 141.1 6.75 4.11 117
2008 198.1 7.17 3.38 139

He is certainly injury prone, but Sheets has been more durable and more productive than Randy Wolf, to say the least.  Let's look at all three starters, with some 2009 projection help from the amazing Fan Graphs site:

Pitcher IP avg* Bill James FIP Marcel FIP
Sheets 150.2 3.46 3.61
Garland 209.1 4.67 4.43
Wolf 107.1 4.38 4.29

*IP is the average of the last 4 years

Let's assume that Sheets is only good for 100 innings in 2009, just to see what we're up against.  If Sheets puts up a 3.46 ERA in 100 IP, it would take a 5.32 ERA in 109 IP to match the expected production from Garland.  Don't you think James McDonald or Eric Stults can put up a 5.32 ERA?  I sure do.

Signing Sheets is certainly a gamble.  As a Type A free agent that was offered arbitration, the Dodgers would have to give up their #17 pick in the 2009 draft to the Brewers.  However, what we know is the Dodgers are going to sign a veteran starting pitcher anyway.  Why not go the extra mile and get the best one out there?  Because of his injury history, Sheets is sure to command less of a contract than the Burnetts or Lowes of the world.  Worst case scenario, the rotational depth picks up any slack.  Best case scenario is the Dodgers have a top of the line starter that helps them sit atop the league.