Colby Lewis: Rotation Workhorse

There are probably very few areas of life where it’s a compliment to be called a workhorse. I wouldn’t recommend calling your significant other a workhorse, and most companies probably do not have a “workhorse of the year” award. I can’t be certain about that though. I am certain that in baseball, having a workhorse on your pitching staff is an asset of great value. Colby Lewis is the Texas Rangers’ workhorse.

A workhorse is not an Ace. He is not the kind of guy who will likely be in contention for the Cy Young every year. Aces are a level above a workhorse. If we want to continue the horse metaphor, an Ace would be a thoroughbred, built for both high performance and stamina. A workhorse is also more than just an innings-eater, however. An  innings-eater is valuable as well, but to a lesser degree because although an innings-eater is saving your bullpen, he isn’t really giving you quality innings every time out. An innings-eater may be like a donkey in the equestrian world (if donkeys even fit in the realm of the equestrian), they can get the job done but not always the way you want. A workhorse provides a team with quality innings, pitches deep into games, stays healthy, and although he isn’t outstanding every night, most nights he’ll put the team in a position to be able to win.

Colby Lewis turned in his finest start of the year on Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He threw his second straight complete game, posting a 9-4-1-1-1-7 line (innings-hits-runs-earned runs-walks-strikeouts) on an economical 105 pitches (72 for strikes). He leads the Rangers pitching staff in innings pitched, and innings pitched per start. His ERA for the season is down to 3.13 on the year, also best among Rangers starters. As a 32-year old on a staff with a 26-year old, two 25-year olds, and a 24-year old, Lewis is standing out as the veteran leader of the group.

Lewis is not a flashy pitcher, yet he consistently delivers for the Rangers. He made 32 starts in both 2010 and 2011. He pitched 201 and 200.1 innings, respectively, in those years with a 3.72 and 4.40 ERA. His average fastball velocity was 90.7 MPH in 2010, 89.7 MPH in 2011, and in 2012 it has dipped to 88.8 MPH. Lewis rarely tops 91 MPH anymore, and yet so far in 2012 he has had his most productive year since returning from Japan to pitch for the Rangers.

He has accomplished his success by pounding the strike zone and forcing his opponents to get a hit against a stout Rangers defense. In 2010 and 2011, Lewis’s walk rate was 2.9 and 2.5 per 9 innings. In 2012, he has chopped that all the way down to 1.1 per 9 innings. Yes, this means that sometimes he will have a start where the BABIP (batting average against balls in play) monster will eat him up (or stated otherwise, bad luck). Also, Lewis is still giving up 1.6 home runs per 9 innings, the same as his blistering 2011 rate. In general, though, his methodology of attacking and not nibbling, even without a commanding fastball is paying off.

Signing Lewis has been one of the most underrated transactions made by the Rangers very successful front office in the last several years. He has been the workhorse of the rotation, giving quality innings to the Rangers in bunches. Beyond that, Lewis has been nails in the postseason, raising his game to a higher level, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in the past two Octobers. In the hot Texas summers where a pitching staff can tire easily, and with an offense as potent as the Rangers is, sometimes all a team needs is a good workhorse every 5th day. Lewis has been that cog in this Rangers staff, and he continues to find a way to deliver.

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