by Eddie Middlebrook
You’re not going to find this guy on many career leaderboards for your Texas Rangers. Heck, you didn’t find him in the playoff rotation for the AL Division Series in 2015. But next to Adrian Beltre, there is no other Rangers player that is as endearing as Colby Lewis.
It’s rare to see a guy who has a career 4.81 ERA as a fan favorite, but Lewis secured his status by becoming the best postseason pitcher in Rangers history. In some ways, he’s the anti C.J. Wilson. Combine that with his improbable comeback from hip surgery, and you have a guy destined for the (Rangers) Hall of Fame despite being the 36th best pitcher (according to bWAR) in franchise history.
Durable as They Come
While the numbers don’t reflect it, Lewis’ 2015 season was his most valuable. Consider that the pitching staff was a wreck with three-fifths of the rotation either out for the season or missing significant time. Lewis pitched a career-high 204 innings and has now pitched more than 200 innings for three of the last six seasons. While his numbers were below average (91 ERA+), Lewis’ ability to save the bullpen every fifth day paid off as the team made their epic second half postseason run.
Colby’s best month was June where he went 4-0 with a 3.29 ERA and pitched at least seven innings in four of the six starts. His best game of the season was on Sept. 11 against Oakland when he just missed a no-hitter (2 hits in 9 IP).
Odd Man Out
Heading into the 2015 postseason, many believed that Yovani Gallardo would be the odd man out of the playoff rotation, but the Rangers decided he would start Game 1. Hamels pitched Game 2 and Perez Game 3 which meant either Derek Holland or Lewis would start Game 4.
The Rangers’ brain trust decided to go with youth and talent over wisdom and experience as they chose Holland. That decision proved to be fatal as Holland only lasted two innings and gave up six runs (3 home runs).
Lewis would turn out to be Holland’s relief in that game and he performed in typical Lewis playoff fashion. He went three innings and allowed only one run, but the damaged was done as the team lost 8-4.
When the Lights Shine Brightest
Lewis’ career ERA as a Ranger is 4.76, but in the postseason it dips to 2.38. He’s played in four postseasons overall and is 4-1 in 53 innings. In the regular season, he allows well over a hit per inning (9.4 per 9), but in the postseason Lewis has only allowed 35 hits in 53 IP (5.9 per 9). His walk rate goes up, but his strikeout rate does as well.
While Cliff Lee received a lot of praise for his 2010 playoff run, Lewis was the better pitcher overall as he went 3-0 and allowed only five runs in 25.2 innings of work. His one World Series start was the only game the Rangers won that series and also was the first World Series win in franchise history. Lewis shutdown a Giants offense that had scored 20 runs in the previous two games against Lee and C.J. Wilson. Colby finished the night with 7.2 innings, allowed two runs and struck out six as the Rangers won 4-2.
A Little Gas Left in the Tank
Lewis once again had offseason surgery, this time on his left knee. Many times when he pitched in 2015, he did so with a noticeable gimp. At this point, he’s the rotation’s Iron Man as he has pitched 375 innings over the last two seasons. With that in mind, he went into the offseason wanting a two-year deal from the Rangers, but settled on a one-year, $6 million contract. The $6 million is easily the most he’s earned in a season and it is fair value for a 35-year-old veteran.
There’s a likelihood that Colby makes his final first start of the season for Texas today. He’s defied the odds so many times over the course of his career as he went from washed up MLB pitcher to Japan reclamation project to World Series hero.
ZIPS projects Lewis to pitch 128 innings with a 4.90 ERA and 1.1 WAR. The ERA and value will most likely turn out to be right, but ZIPS has one thing wrong. If you think Colby is only going to pitch 128 innings, well you don’t know the Colbyashi, Cobra or old guy like Rangers fans know him.
Much like the sun rises from the east and sets in the west, Colby will be on the mound every fifth day in 2016. We can’t ask for more than that.
Eddie Middlebrook is a husband, father of three and saved by grace. Senior Writer for @ballparkbanter9. Formerly with @wfaasports, @shutdowninning and @FoxSportsSW. @IBWAA member. Eddie can be found on Twitter @emiddlebrook.