The game of baseball is full of statistical oddities. In Thursday’s start against the Baltimore Orioles, Colby Lewis added to that list, allowing six runs despite striking out 12 batters and allowing five hits thanks to all five flying over the Camden Yards fences for home runs. Only two other times has a team homered in each one of at least five hits, and never before has a pitcher struck out 10 or more batters while still allowing five home runs.
As unusual as the game was, Lewis’s role as its pitcher is a perfect fit. Although he is a good pitcher overall — he owns an above average ERA- and FIP- since returning to the United States in 2010 — Lewis has been prone to the homer-fueled blowup. Lewis has now allowed multiple home runs in 15 of his 71 starts since 2010, including a four-homer game June 6th, 2011 against the Tigers. Only Bronson Arroyo, James Shields, Ervin Santana, Ted Lilly and A.J. Burnett have exceeded that total.
Lewis also has excellent strikeout stuff for a starter, with an 8.2 K/9 since 2010. He owns eight starts of at least 10 strikeouts over the past three years as well — only 11 pitchers have exceeded that total.
All of which is to say when he’s on, he can be nearly unhittable, but when he loses command inside the strike zone, things get ugly in a hurry. We saw both versions of Colby Lewis over seven-plus innings of work Thursday. When Lewis was away from the heart of the strike zone, he was golden. When he gave batters something to hit, they didn’t miss. Observe:
After allowing home runs the first three batters of the game, Lewis threw six perfect innings before Adam Jones led off the seventh with the fourth homer of the game. When he was on, Lewis was able to get whiffs on pitches out of the zone and spot the corners with near-perfect precision. And it’s not as if every pitch Lewis missed with was right over the heart of the plate — the upper-most one (hit by J.J. Hardy) certainly was, but the others were relatively near a corner and lower in the zone.
This is just how talented major league hitters are — many of them have the power to hit any pitch in the strike zone out of the ballpark at any given moment. Usually, a pitcher isn’t punished so horribly for every single mistake he makes over the course of a seven-inning start. Usually he gets a few line drive outs or a warning track fly ball at least. Not for Colby Lewis on Thursday — if the Orioles had a chance to hit it, they blasted it out, and the result is what could have been one of the best starts of Lewis’s turned into a 6-5 loss for the Rangers and just the latest in baseball’s long list of statistical weirdness.
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