Feb 222012
 

A Closer Look at the CobraThere was some interesting banter earlier today on Twitter regarding Colby Lewis and his importance and value to this year’s rotation.  Lewis, barring injury, is more than likely going to be the Opening Day starter for the back-to-back defending American League champs, and the discussion was calling him out as possibly the most replaceable pitcher on the staff.  From time to time, the opening day honors don’t go to the most talented pitcher on the staff, but rather that honor can be granted to a pitcher with more tenure within the organization or one that has displayed some leadership.  Lewis is a perfect example of this. The fact that he was being brought up in the discussion has to do with the other options in the rotation than with Lewis himself, but it was enough to make me want to take closer look.

In 2011, Colby Lewis topped the 200 inning plateau for the second consecutive season, posting a 14-10 record with a 4.40 ERA.  For the most part, Colby’s numbers took a dip from 2010 across the board.

A Closer Look at the Cobra

Increased ERA and WHIP, with decreased strikeouts outweigh the benefits of decreased BB/9 and increased wins.  A helpful measurement to look at when comparing the two seasons is WAR (wins above replacement), which provides a measurement of value the player has to his team above a replacement level player (AAA).  In 2010, Lewis posted a 4.6 WAR, which dipped to 2.3 in 2011.  To put that into perspective, here is the 2011 WAR rating for a few of his peers:

  • C.J. Wilson – 5.9
  • Matt Harrison – 4.2
  • Derek Holland – 3.6
  • Colby Lewis – 2.3

While it’s always nice to see an increase in wins, the stat is too dependent upon the offense’s ability to provide run support.  When you take a closer look at Colby’s run support, it’s pretty clear he benefited greatly from the Rangers strong offensive performance.  In games started by Lewis where the Rangers scored 6 or more runs, Lewis had a 10-2 record with a 4.91 ERA.  In other words, he was still giving up too many runs in those games, but the Rangers bats had his back.

Another key stat to look at when reviewing Lewis’ performance in 2011 is FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a give time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.  FIP is a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level, by looking at things a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns. In looking at 2011 stats, Lewis once again falls short of his peers:

  • C.J. Wilson – 3.24
  • Matt Harrison – 3.52
  • Derek Holland – 3.94
  • Colby Lewis – 4.54 (3.55 in 2010)

While I think we can expect the Rangers offense to provide ample run support again in 2012 and I don’t expect a big change in facets of the game that are outside of the pitcher’s control, Lewis needs to improve on the mound and return to some semblance of his 2010 form.

Given the fact that this is his final year under contract with the Rangers and the plethora of young talented pitchers he is competing with, Lewis needs to prove that he is not only the big-game, reliable, work-horse veteran (deserving of the 2012 Opening Day nod), but that he is also one of the best pitchers on this staff from a talent perspective.  If not, 2012 could very likely be the last season we see the Cobra in a Rangers uniform.

Baseball Do Prediction: Colby bounces back and improves upon his 2011 numbers, while not quite performing at his 2010 level.  We think Colby will maintain a spot in the rotation throughout 2012 and, barring injury, will once again be a dependable option down the stretch and in the postseason.

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