Sunday, March 18, 2007

Look for Gary Sheffield's Playing Time to Dwindle

Manager Joe Torre was more than aware that Gary Sheffield had been on the disabled list four times before being acquired by the Yankees in '03, but admired the veteran Atlanta Brave's ability to play through a multitude of nagging injuries while putting up big numbers.

Still, as Sheffield approached his 37th birthday last year, Torre openly acknowledged that he was going to have to frequently rest the hulking right fielder if Sheffield was to remain fresh through September. That was before Torre even dreamed that the Sheffield would go down for more than four months because of a wrist injury resulting from of a April 29 collision with Toronto's Shea Hildebrand.

Sheffield -- who returned over the weekend from taking a weekend off for personal reasons -- claims to have recovered. But he is another year older and even though he will be less taxed as designated hitter in Detroit, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has already recognized what Torre knew: Sheffield's advancing years will require that he be given time to rest.

Expect Leyland to split 30-year-old Marcus Thames' playing time with Sheffield from time to time in order to rest the elder and exploit the younger, who hit 26 homers in only 346 at-bats last year.

A PECOTA projection just released in the new edition of Baseball Prospectus -- published by Penguin Books "Plume" subsidiary -- shows Sheffield's plate appearances falling from 675 in his last fulltime season, 2005, to fewer than 400 this year. Edited by Christina Kahrl and Steven Goldman, the statistical computation formula has won high praise from Athletics General Manager Billy Beane and has been described by the publisher as "deadly accurate."

It foresees a 55 percent chance that Sheffield's game could collapse, and a 23 percent chance of decline through attrition. Sheffield is given a mere 12 percent chance of improving his annual statistical averages and virtually no chance of a breakout campaign.