Sunday, January 3, 2010

Colby Lewis: A hidden pitching gem for Texas?

The Rangers aren't just chasing free agent pitchers like Rich Harden. They're also mining Japan for under-the-radar options like Colby Lewis, who has spent the last two seasons with the Hiroshima Carp.

Lewis, drafted in the 38th round of the 1999 draft by the Rangers, came up through the Rangers system and struggled badly after a 2002 callup (34.1 IP, 4 HR, 26 walks, 28 K, 6.29 ERA), as well as in 2003 (127 IP, 23 HR, 70 walks, 88 K, 7.30 ERA) before his shoulder gave out in 2004 and required surgery.

The Tigers picked Lewis up in 2005 and he looked good upon returning in 2006 with AAA Toledo (147.2 IP, 13 HR, 36 walks, 104 K) but he only pitched in two games for the Tigers before being released. The A's picked him up in 2007 and after a solid run in AAA Sacramento (95.2 IP, 8 HR, 23 BB, 97 K) he gave them 26 mostly ugly games (37.2 IP, 7 HR, 14 BB, 23 K, 6.45 ERA) before he said 'screw it' and went to Japan, where he has excelled. In 2008 he threw 178 innings for Hiroshima, allowing only 12 HR and 27 walks while striking out 183. His 2009 was just as good (176.1 IP, 13 HR, 19 BB, 186 K) before health problems with his family compelled him to return stateside.

Given his history of being a AAAA-quality ballplayer that thrives in AAA but flounders in MLB (also note that Sacramento and Oklahoma boast two of the PCL's pitching friendlier home parks), and given that while NPB has improved in quality, the level of play there is still around AAA level (which is in part why guys like Lewis and Seth Gresinger can go over there and dominate)... it's not likely Lewis has gotten all that much better. He certainly rediscovered his ability to throw strikes and avoid walks (the NPB strike zone, BTW, is narrower than the MLB strike zone), which was his single biggest problem as an MLB hurler. If he's a little wiser and a little better, can make the Rangers rotation and hold down a spot, then Mariners and Angels fans may have a bit more to be concerned about.

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