John Burkett in 2001. Jaret Wright in 2004. Jorge Sosa Kim Jong-Il in 2005. And now, just maybe, Ben Sheets in 2012. Back in the Leo Mazzone years, it was fairly common for the Braves to pick a guy up for a song and have him have a stunning year for us.
• We paid a 35-year old John Burkett $2.5 million from 2000-2001, and he made 56 starts and had a 3.74 ERA at the height of the steroid era; 2001 is easily the best season of his career. It led the Red Sox to give him a 2-year, $11 million contract in the offseason; he completed 59 starts with a 4.85 ERA.
• We paid Jaret Wright $850,000 in 2004, and he went 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA — easily the best year of his career. It led the Yankees to give him a 3-year, $21 million contract in the offseason; he completed 43 starts in three years, with a 5.08 ERA.
• We got Jorge Sosa in a trade for Nick Green, paid him $650,000 in 2005, and he went 13-3 with a 2.55 ERA, really the only good year of his career. Unfortunately, the Yankees didn’t sign him, and he had a 5.46 ERA in 87 1/3 innings with us in 2006, which is why we started calling him Kim Jong-Il around here.
That’s a big part of how Leo Mazzone got his reputation: supplementing our three aces with ace-caliber performances from some of the unlikeliest sources.
Including today’s game, Ben Sheets has pitched a grand total of 136 innings in the majors and minors since 2008 — the bulk of them came in 2010, when he signed a $10 million contract with the Oakland A’s and completed 20 starts before being shut down. It’s almost impossible to imagine him coming back and being amazing.
But this would not be the first time that the Braves coaxed an amazing performance from a guy who has been out of baseball for nearly two years. After all, Chris Hammond had been out of the majors for nearly four years between his last start in May 1998 and his first relief appearance in April 2002 — and he only had one of the greatest relief seasons of all time, 76 innings with an 0.95 ERA. Of course, that led to a two-year, $4.8 million contract with the Yankees in the offseason. The Braves paid him $450,000 for his efforts in 2002.
It’s too early to put Ben Sheets in that category. But it would be hard to imagine a more promising start than today’s game. He completed 6 scoreless innings, gave up just two hits, and got five strikeouts against just one walk, and it took him just 88 pitches to do so. The Braves couldn’t muster much against Johan Santana until the bottom of the 5th, but then they erupted for six runs, capped by a three-run Freddie Freeman home run. Other than a Met run in the 7th, that was pretty much the whole game right there.
Not only did the Braves just sweep the Mets, but they may have found the starting pitcher that they needed.