Colby Lewis’ Run of Excellence
By R.J. Anderson //
Many looked on with apathy when the Texas Rangers signed Colby Lewis to a two-year deal with a club option this past off-season. This very same Lewis had pitched for the Rangers from 2002-2004 with a not-so-good 5.48 ERA in nearly 300 innings. Lewis didn’t find success in short stints as a Tiger or Athletic either and he bolted to the Hiroshima Carp for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Then it happened. The same pitcher that Baseball America ranked as the 32nd-best prospect in baseball entering the 2003 season emerged. In those two seasons in Japan, Lewis started 54 games, pitched more than 350 innings, held a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 8-to-1(!) and an ERA of 2.82. He struck out more batters than he allowed baserunners. Entering this season, it was hard to peg just how good Lewis could be. After all, Daisuke Matsuzaka had similar success in Japan, and he’s been a pretty average pitcher (ignoring the price tag) during his stint in Boston. Meanwhile, other decent Japanese league hurlers, like Kei Igawa and Kenshin Kawamaki, won’t be in the running for any Cy Young awards in the foreseeable future.
Yet Lewis has persevered and sustained that level of success stateside. In 19 starts for the Rangers, he’s recorded nearly a strikeout per inning. He’s walked only 41 batters too. Why is that impressive? Because in 2003 (the only other season he recorded more than five starts in the majors) Lewis walked 70 batters in about the same number of innings, while striking out 29 fewer batters. He looks nothing like the old Colby Lewis, which makes you wonder: Can he continue to have a 3.52 ERA? Will he continue to pitch this well?
Odds are, his ERA will escalate a bit. Lewis’ home run per flyball ratio is well below league average, despite pitching in a ballpark that makes home runs commonplace. Despite the Rangers’ defense, it’s hard to foresee any Ranger pitcher lasting too long without a bump in the ERA road. That’s not to say Lewis is valueless or should be sold high, just that expecting this exact level of domination heading forward isn’t a good idea.
There is no magic innings mark within a season that determines when it’s OK to assume the ERA will last. Still, unless your fellow league owners value Lewis as an elite or near-elite starting pitcher, he’s a solid hold for the rest of the season.
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