Beating Colby Lewis

There’s no need for panic in the Motor City just yet. Although the Detroit Tigers trail the Texas Rangers 2-0, there’s still a chance to salvage the series. In order to do that, the Tigers will have to go through Colby Lewis. While Lewis may have been the biggest surprise of the 2010 season, he fell to Earth this season. Lewis still managed to post 2.3 WAR in 2011, but he also displayed some pretty significant weaknesses. If the Tigers want to get back in the series, they are going to have to exploit those deficiencies.

After posting a career-best HR/9 rate in 2010, Lewis’ old bugaboo came back to haunt him this season. Among all qualified pitchers, Lewis posted the second worst HR/9 rate this season — just behind Bronson Arroyo. That’s a particularly troubling problem considering the Tigers have one of the best home run hitters in baseball in Miguel Cabrera. Still, the Tigers might not be able to take advantage of Lewis’ propensity for the long ball.

The Tigers ranked 11th in MLB with 169 home runs this season. While that ranking doesn’t seem to give the advantage to either side, it’s a bit misleading. Due to injuries, the Tigers will be without Brennan Boesch — who was fourth on the team with 16 home runs this season. It’s also unclear whether Delmon Young — who hit eight home runs after joining the team in July — is completely healthy. After hitting three home runs in the ALDS, the Tigers would love to see Young continue his power-hitting ways against Lewis. Despite those loses, however, the Tigers still have a formidable power-hitting trio in Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila.

While much has been made about Jim Leyland’s lineups this post-season, this could be the game where Leyland’s tinkering pays off. Lewis was significantly worse against left-handed batters this season. Lefties hit .274/.343/.486 against Lewis in 2011. On top of that, Lewis’ walk rate and home run rates are much higher versus lefties. Due to his struggles, Lewis posted a terrible 5.25 FIP against left-handed hitters this season.

Leyland could really take advantage of Lewis’ struggles by stacking the lineup with lefties. If Leyland is aware of the trends, expect Wilson Betemit and Andy Dirks to be in the starting lineup tonight. Hell, maybe Don Kelly will get another opportunity to make Leyland look good.

While playing the lefties seems like a good idea, there’s no guarantee it will lead to success. The Tampa Bay Rays tried a similar strategy against Lewis in the ALDS to no avail. In his one start against the Rays, Lewis gave up only one hit over six innings. While that hit was a home run, it came from Desmond Jennings — a right-handed batter. Still, taking advantage of the splits seems like the best strategy against Lewis.

The Tigers may face an uphill battle, but they can get themselves back into the series with a win tonight. While Lewis was still a useful pitcher in 2011, he displayed some significant weaknesses. By taking advantage of those weaknesses, the Tigers could give themselves an edge before the game even begins. Lewis may have avoided struggles in the ALDS, but the Rays’ strategy was sound. The Tigers would be wise to replicate that strategy tonight.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

14 Responses to “Beating Colby Lewis”

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  1. kash says:

    looks like the rangers are going to need bullpen for gm 3. lewis hasnt won against the tigers in while.

    could help that lewis has seen the tigers for two games the prev 3 days and knows each hitters strengths.

    i think the rangers take this game!!!!!!!!!! even if they didnt sleep that well!

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  2. kash says:

    could be a Yoshinori Tateyama sighting.

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  3. t ball says:

    You really can’t discuss Colby Lewis without emphasizing what a huge role his home ballpark played in those stats. His home/away splits were extreme, and his HR/9 rate is nearly double in Arlington compared to away games (like Arroyo, who also pitches in a HR-friendly park). In away games, Lewis’ FIP was just 3.47, with a HR/9 rate in the middle of the pack.

    Lewis’ high fly ball rate means more HRs, but in Comerica that shouldn’t be nearly the problem it is in Arlington.

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  4. Tigs fan says:

    Colby’s era by ballpark this year

    Rangers Ballpark in Arlington — 5.54 era

    Comerica Park — 9.00 era

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  5. The Nicker says:

    If there’s one thing Leyland loves to do — bless his heart — it’s platoon the bejeesus out of his lineup.

    He’s lost a lot of faith in Betemit recently, but I still think he goes Betemit-3B, Kelly-RF, Raburn-LF, Santiago-2B tonight. (no Dirks)

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  6. Taylor says:

    Good thing that Comerica depresses home runs to lefties by like 12%

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  7. Bill says:

    My hunch is Colby Lewis shuts DET down in similar fashion to as he’s shut every post-season opponent, he has ever faced, down.

    Hope I’m wrong.

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  8. Colin says:

    I would be less worried if not for the fact that Avila is 2/who the heck knows these playoffs with tons of K’s. He basically looks completely lost, not good for a guy who was basically the Tigers 2nd or 3rd best hitter this year.

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  9. J Walter Weatherman says:

    “The Tigers still have a formidable power-hitting trio in Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila.”

    Loiterer’s Row. Only the Mariners consider that formidable. And it’s terribly rude to lump Miggy in with those so vastly inferior.

    Cobra refuses to respect any adult that still goes by Johnny, much less one with such a gross misspelling.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    There’s no need for panic in the Motor City just yet.

    As soon as FG tells you there’s no need to panic … you know it’s time to panic.

    The track record of not needing to panic is not good.

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  11. Tre says:

    Colby can be bad or very good, its pretty astounding really.

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