Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why is Colby Lewis a Rotation Lock?

Almost forgotten in the "Rangers didn't get Fielder," story line which has eclipsed all other news this week, is that, yes, the Rangers signed Yu Darvish. Without thinking about it deeply, Darvish simply rolls into C.J. Wilson's vacated slot since Wilson signed with the Angels. But it's far more complicated than, "Darvish equals Wilson." The Rangers are also intent on trying Neftali Feliz in the starting rotation which gives the Rangers a bit of a nice problem with too many starting pitchers. That brings us to this post over at ESPN.com's Dallas affiliate which presented a debate by two writers there about what the Rangers should do about it. Their conclusions were a bit astounding.

One of the writers said that Alexi Ogando should go to the bullpen where he was such a force in the playoffs. The other writer posited that Ogando should be given a full chance at starting and Matt Harrison should be traded for needed parts (center field and first base). Both writers based their calls on Darvish followed by Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz (and this is the kicker) and Colby Lewis being a lock for the rotation. The swing spot was either Harrison or Ogando depending on the writer. The big question this Fan has is: Why is Colby Lewis a lock?

According to Fangraphs.com, this was the following fWAR scores by starting pitcher: Wilson (5.9), Harrison (4.2), Holland (3.6), Ogando (3.6) and Lewis (2.3). Aren't you seeing what this Fan is seeing? Baseball-reference.com has them in the same exact order though the numbers differ a little bit. Baseball Prospectus agrees with the same order. Is there any basis to bump Colby Lewis above both Ogando and Harrison?

The answer to that question depends on which statistic you believe to be the fluke number for Colby Lewis. He was wonderful in 2010 after coming back from Japan. He put up a 4.6 fWAR season. His FIP that season at 3.55 was better than his final ERA of 3.72. He struck out a healthy 8.78 batters per nine innings while only walking 2.91. Last year wasn't as good for Lewis. His FIP rose up to 4.54 and his homers per nine really spiked to 1.57 per nine after limiting them to under one in 2010. So was 2010 the fluke or the homers in 2011?

This writer doesn't believe the homers were a fluke. Why? Colby Lewis is a fly ball pitcher. His ground ball to fly ball ratios the past two seasons have been 0.84 and 0.70 respectively. Fly balls fly far in Texas. Matt Harrison, on the other hand, doesn't strike out as many batters as Lewis (6.11 to Lewis' 7.59 in 2011). But Harrison is a ground ball pitcher pitching to the best fielding infield in baseball. Harrison's ground ball to fly ball ratio the past two seasons have been 1.42 and 1.47. Doesn't that work better in Texas with that infield?

Ogando is pretty neutral in the ground ball category. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was 0.91. Everyone falls on Ogando because he collapsed a bit in the second half. But the Rangers stretched him out to 169 innings which was uncharted territory. It's only natural that he might have run out of gas. And Ogando simply has better stuff than either Harrison or Lewis and should be allowed to develop as a starter.

The left-handed angle with Matt Harrison is not a good argument. Unlikely as it seems, Harrison had more trouble with left-handed batters in 2011 than he did with right-handed batters. You would think it would be the other way around. But Lewis is even worse against left-handed batters and such batters had an .829 OPS against Lewis last season. To be fair, Colby Lewis is death to right-handed batters.

This post is no knock on Colby Lewis. The guy has been a terrific story for the Rangers since he got back from Japan. His post-season heroics are noted. And Lewis is a good guy to have around with his Japanese connection as Darvish makes the transition. But in this humble writer's opinion, the Rangers' future revolves around Darvish, Ogando, Harrison and Holland. The Rangers should be building these guys for the long run.

The wild card in all this is Feliz. Can he make the transition? Is he worth the risk? Certainly, Wilson and Ogando have paved the way and make it hard to say that Feliz can't make the transition. You have to think that if any team can pull it off, the team would be the Rangers. It simply grieves the inner geek in this writer to have the experiment happen at the expense of either Harrison or Ogando. When Wilson and Ogando were converted, there were no other options available. There are now.

One of the writers in the article linked above threw off the comment that the Rangers could use Ogando in the bullpen in 2012 and still convert him to a starter in 2013. As soon as that comment was read, the mind immediately raced to Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Oh man, don't go down that road if you can help it.

The Rangers have a nice problem on their hands with too much starting pitching. We will all be interested in how that works itself out. Feliz will get his chance. Colby Lewis is even being talked about as the Opening Day starter. This Fan just can't get away from the feeling that Lewis is the sixth best option of this rotation (giving Feliz the benefit of the doubt). And don't forget, a now healthy Scott Feldman could probably start on most teams. Look at the post season he had. This writer isn't sold on Colby Lewis and the Texas Rangers shouldn't be either. These things have a way of working themselves out so we'll just have to wait and see.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why are you writing in the third person?

We're rich in talent and potential. I say aquire Oswalt and trade Colby for prospects.

Rotation: Oswalt, Holland, Darvish, Harrison, Feliz?

They're dead set on using Feliz but Feldman is an animal and I bet he gets a starting job again. I'd let Feliz develop gradually by using him in long relief. I'd prefer he do it in the minors again but thats an insult. However, he needs more pitches and he needs to learn to trust them b/c that fastball isn't enough. Darvish is high $$ but he's not salty enough for the ACE spot and Holland has earned #2.

Then, at the deadline, flip Oswalt for more prospects or a position player. Then let Feliz join the rotation or use Ogando if that experiment fails.

Kirkman has shown he can be untouchable so hopefully this is his breakout year coming out of the bullpen. Lowe is a lot like Feldman. He has ace material but that injury really set him back and Ron won't bring him out of the Pen. If he Nathan is a bust I'd see if we can make Lowe stick around by offering him a closing spot. Adams is good where he is. Tateyama is a good situational guy against middle of the road teams. Eppley showed he could be the future. The question is who goes to the minors? As always, April and May will give us that answer.

For once we have a lot of room to work with from the pitching POV and I think we'll be better than last year for years to come.

Offensively we're still great but depth could be an issue. We need someone for right field b/c Nelly will get hurt at somepoint. First? I like Mitch but surgery is always an iffy thing to come back from. Gentry is great defensively but I'd like him a lot more if he could hit. My trades would revolve around those issues. I guess we got the first base/outfielder from Colorado but I don't know anything about him.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Well thought out comments, Anon. Thank you.