Managers rarely have an easy decision on their hands when it comes to choosing their postseason rotation, and Ron Washington would seem to have a more difficult decision than most. This season, his five starters — C.J. Wilson, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis — have started all but five games. It’s the kind of durability that we rarely see in today’s game, and telling one of them that they will just be a highly paid spectator can’t be easy.
Fortunately, Washington has a bit of an out in Ogando’s workload. Last season, Ogando threw 72 1/3 innings across three levels. This season, his innings total of 169 2/3 is more than double that figure, and while that isn’t necessarily a problem, it’s clear that Ogando has worn down as the season has progressed. In the first half, Ogando posted a 2.92 ERA and 3.39 K/BB. In the second half, those numbers have regressed sharply to 4.55 and 2.35, respectively, and as a result Ogando looks to be slated for bullpen duty.
Wilson is going to start Game 1 for sure, and the way it lines up after that, both Holland and Lewis would be set to start Game 2 on normal or extended rest, and Harrison set to start Game 3 on normal rest, or Game 4 on extended rest. This gives Washington some flexibility, but for now we’ll tackle this in the order in which the pitchers should be available.
C.J. Wilson: 2.94 ERA, 3.41 xFIP, 84 xFIP-, 2.78 K/BB, 0.64 HR/9, 5.7 WAR
Wilson has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season, and will probably get some down-ballot Cy Young votes. His xFIP is eighth-best in the Junior Circuit this season, and is more than a half-run better than last year. In fact, outside of seeing a few more balls fall in the cheap seats, Wilson has been better in just about every way this season. Of particular note is the jump in his O-swing%, up a full six percent over last year to a career-high 29.9%. He has upped his K rate while dropping his walk rate. What makes Wilson devastating is that he doesn’t lean on any one pitch with two strikes — he throws his fastball less with two strikes, spreading the wealth to all his pitches, much like he does in general, making it harder for batters to anticipate what’s coming.
Derek Holland: 3.95 ERA, 3.77 xFIP, 93 xFIP-, 2.42 K/BB, 1.00 HR/9, 3.4 WAR
If there is one image of Holland burned into the public consciousness, it’s of last year’s World Series, when pitching as a reliever in Game 2, Holland turned a close game into a laugher when he entered in the eighth inning and walked all three batters he faced, the last of which brought home a run. Mark Lowe would relieve him, and the Giants immediately tagged him for six runs, two of which were charged to Holland. Fast forward to now, and Holland is poised for a rebound. He has traded some K’s for a drop in his walk rate, though his K rate has rebounded in the second half as his fastball has gained steam. One interesting thing to note when examining matchups is that while Holland has been a better pitcher against lefties, he’s not useless against righties, as he is able to bury his slider inside to them. He has struck out righties at a much better clip for his career.
Colby Lewis: 4.40 ERA, 4.10 xFIP, 101 xFIP-, 3.02 K/BB, 1.57 HR/9, 2.1 WAR
Carson Cistulli’s former man crush was not able to duplicate the success of his breakout 2010 campaign, but he hasn’t been awful either. April was a disaster, and he has sprinkled in some rotten performances since — a two start stretch in June where he gave up 15 runs in 4 2/3 innings being the most obvious example — but he went at least seven innings while allowing three runs or less in more than half of his starts. Lewis is also the most efficient pitcher on the staff, ranking second among Texas starters in both K% and BB%. Matchups could be a factor with Lewis. He has been much better on the road — he has had a severe case of the common ailment known as Arlington Gopheritis this year — and he has similarly been much better against righties than lefties. If the Rangers end up as the three seed, it would not be at all surprising to see Lewis pitch Game 2, so that the Rangers can leverage his strengths a little better, and they deserve credit for having the foresight to plan for such an eventuality.
Matt Harrison: 3.50 ERA, 3.88 xFIP, 96 xFIP-, 2.18 K/BB, 0.66 HR/9, 3.8 WAR
Talk about turnarounds. Last year, Harrison was, uh, not good, as either a starter or a reliever, but the Rangers gave him a shot at being a starter this season, and even when he struggled at the beginning of the year, the Rangers stuck by him. They have been rewarded for that. Using the quick and dirty FIP calculator, Harrison posted a 4.70 FIP in April and May, compared to a 3.22 mark since. For reference, that would be a top 10 figure. Split-wise, he’s been the opposite of Lewis — better at home and better against lefties, but with the exception of his K/BB, his splits are not as dramatic as Lewis’. But in essence, Harrison, like Holland, is C.J. Wilson-lite. And that’s not a bad thing.
The Rangers definitely have a good enough rotation to compete with the other two teams I have examined so far. They don’t have the best one-two punch — that belongs to Detroit — and their ace isn’t as good as the Yankees’ ace, but the Rangers’ trio of Wilson, Holland and Harrison is the best trio of the three, and if Lewis is leveraged properly, the Rangers arguably have the deepest rotation of the three as well. What’s more, they have had the luxury of resting the staff — Lewis only threw 76 pitches in his last outing, and Holland (74) and Wilson (38) threw even less. It’s a fair bet that Harrison has a similar tune up tonight. With both good planning and good pitching, Texas has given themselves the best possible chance to succeed this October.
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