Carson on Colby Lewis

Over the past couple weeks — and spanning multiple forms of media — Prospect Maven Marc Hulet and I have made clear our differences in re the imminent success (or lack thereof) of current Texas Ranger and citizen of the world Colby Lewis.

Put briefly, while Hulet regards Lewis as roughly the same sort of Quad-A player that he was before dominating the Japanese league these past two years, I’ve been seduced by the righty’s optimistic CHONE projection and have heralded him — on this site, to my mother, wherever — as a Person of Interest for this here season.

As such, this past Friday night’s contest between the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners was of interest to the both of us. Exactly one hour ago, Mr. Hulet gave his reading of Lewis’s performance. Here’s mine.

Results are where Lewis fared best. First and foremost, he got the win. If nothing else, that should allow for optimism, however unfounded. Moreover, Lewis allowed only nine baserunners in seven innings of work (a 1.29 WHIP for the game). If he’s on your fantasy team (as he is on mine), you’re probably pretty satisfied with his debut.

Win Probablity Added (WPA) liked Lewis’s performance, too. He led all players with a .298 WPA, barely edging out teammate Nelson Cruz, who posted a .271 on the strength of a 3-for-4 night (which included a well-struck donger). In this case, things could have gone much worse for Lewis. He loaded the bases with only one out in the seventh inning, creating the highest Leverage Index state of the night (a 2.63 mark) despite the fact that Texas held a 5-1 lead at the time.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, the batter for said base-out state was Jack Wilson, whom Lewis quickly dispatched on three pitches (called strike, foul, called strike). Ichiro followed, grounded out to second baseman Joaquin Arias (and his well-groomed moustache), and the threat was over.

It’s always an interesting exercise to assess even a single pitching performance by means of at-bat results and their corresponding run values. If nothing else, it can give us a sense as to whether the pitcher in question was lucky or unlucky with regard to his batted balls, etc.

The following table includes all the possible at-bat outcomes with the corresponding Run Expectancy (RE) of each outcome. Additionally, I’ve added the number of such events conceded by Lewis and the corresponding runs allowed (or prevented, as the case my be). (Run Expectancies courtesy of StatCorner.)

Type	RE	Lewis	Lewis RE
K	-0.105	3	(0.32)
BB	0.329	4	1.32
HBP	0.345	0	0.00
LD	0.384	3	1.15
GB	0.053	7	0.37
OFB	0.046	6	0.28
IFB	-0.096	4	(0.38)
HR	1.394	0	0.00
TOTAL			2.42

What we see plainly here is something that I, unfortunately, intuited during the game — namely, that Lewis got somewhat lucky. Given a normal distribution of the above outcomes, we could expect Lewis to surrender somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three runs. And if we were being truly diligent, we might even consider accounting for “partial” home runs by removing the home run RE and adding one-ninth of a home run (so, approximately .15 runs) to each outfield fly ball, as homers occur on roughly 11% of fly balls. To do so would further push Lewis’s RE for his seven innings toward the three-run mark.

Lewis’s greatest weakness is made clear by this table: the walk-to-strikeout ratio. Last year in Japan, Lewis recorded 186 strikeouts against only 19 walks in 176.1 innings. His 2008 season was pretty similar. Lewis is now already 20% of the way to his 2009 walk total after just seven innings.

Unfortunately for me — and for everyone else who’s hopped aboard the Colby Lewis bandwagon — Lewis’s K:BB from this first game much more resembles the 1.25 mark he posted through his first 217.1 Major League innings.

I’m far from what you’d call an expert of the ol’ Pitch/f/x, but I also recognize the importance of the information it can provide to us. Anyway, so long as the Pitchf/x Tool over at Brooks Baseball isn’t lying, Lewis only recorded a grand total of nine whiffs in his seven innings of work. That total includes only two whiffs from a total of 33 sliders/curves, at least one of which will have to serve as a reliable out-pitch if Lewis hopes to stay in the rotation.

All in all, while Lewis showed things like pluck and want-to in his seven-inning return to American baseball, he showed less in the way of groundball- and/or strikeout-inducing stuff. Yes, it’s one start, and, yes, the infield flies are nice, but Hulet could be righter than I’d care to admit if Lewis’s next couple of starts resemble this one.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Frank Kim
12 years ago

I’m hoping it was just jitters for pitching his first game in the majors in a few years. The walks just seemed uncharacteristic. Hopefully he’ll prove you are right. 🙂