Lewis to Texas

Assuming he passes his physical, Colby Lewis is returning from Japan to his Texas Rangers roots.

Nothing has been written about Lewis this year without mentioning his two outstanding seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, most notably his other-worldly walk rate. But was it Lewis or Japan? We won’t really know until we see Lewis take to the hill in Arlington, but I can pass along a little insight from this NPB Sabermetric guide I picked up on my recent trip to Japan

Let’s start with that K:BB ratio. Lewis posted 9.79 K’s for every BB in 2009. The next best control pitcher in all of Japan was Chiba Lotte’s Yoshihisa Naruse at 5.57, and Yu Darvish, for comparison, posted a 3.71 rate. Lewis pitched in the DH-free Central League, where hitters accordingly struck out more than in the Pacific League, but the gulf between him and anyone else was so wide I’m going to say that this one was more Colby than Japan. Somewhat weirdly though, Lewis plunked 14 batters in ’09, nearly as many as the 19 he walked.

Thanks to his mastery of the strike zone, Lewis managed a .99 WHIP and a league-leading 2.53 DIPS figure, despite a .317 BABIP which was a bit below the Central League average of .298. And 2009 wasn’t exactly a fluke, as Lewis put up similar numbers in 2008.

Lewis’s success over the last two years recalls Koji Uehara‘s excellent 2002-3 seasons, when he posted K/BB figures of 182/23 and 194/23 respectively. Uehara finally got his wish of playing in MLB last year, and despite being injury-prone and past his prime, still put respectable numbers in his limited number of starts. Lewis is doesn’t have Uehara’s injury history and is coming of the best seasons of his career. So there are reasons to be optimistic, and Lewis is definitely an interesting, low-risk alternative to guys like Jon Garland and Carl Pavano.

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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at npbtracker.com, and on Twitter @npbtracker.

21 Responses to “Lewis to Texas”

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  1. Tony Gwynn says:

    “So you’re saying … there’s a chance!”

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  2. 200tang says:

    is he a FB or GB pitcher?

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  3. joser says:

    If you ever actually watched the giants this year and saw Fred Lewis play, you wouldn’t make such an ignorant… oh, wait. There’s another Lewis?

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  4. Rut says:

    Interesting. Pat, is there plate discipline data available? I’m just curious if he was getting a lot of guys to chase, and also about the comparison between swing % in the MLB and NPB.

    Also, this is sort of a silly question, but I read somewhere that the Japanese strike zone differs a little from the American, in that it is not an imaginary square area so much as an isosceles trapezoid with the longer base nearer to the batter (if that makes any sense). Is this just an old wives tale? If it’s true, is there any reason to think it would help his pitching performance significantly (and thus be a reason to expect further regression upon moving back to the US)?

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    • Some more numbers:

      League BB/K = 0.394
      League IsoD = 0.60

      And yes, the strike zone is a little wider in NPB than MLB, officially by the width of one baseball on each side of the plate. And there are differences with the ball as well. But Lewis was so far ahead of his peers the last two seasons that I don’t think the strike zone is the explanation.

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  5. Patrick says:

    I think it might be the “effective” (IE, called as opposed to rule book) strike zone is different over there, but remember then here that it’s actually an oval with a different shape for right handers and left handers (the batters).

    I wish Lewis the best of luck in his return… and I’m sad my team didn’t pick him up.

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  6. Eric says:

    I’d like to point out that Daisuke had great K:BB ratios in Japan and in Boston he seems to have no control whatsoever…I’m not saying this will be the same, but it’s worth noting

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  7. EnglishNightingale says:

    Having watched Colby pitch a few times in Japan I can tell you he was seriously overpowering and was consistently dominant and on a weak team. The central league does play a lot of small ball though and you should factor in that in addition to there being no dh, a lot of the catchers, ss, 2b and some cf are defensive wizards with low batting stats. It’s not unusual to see starting ss with lines like 220/240/310

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  8. Brian Cartwright says:

    Lewis was looking like a good prospect in 2000-2002, with Oliver MLE wOBA’s of .344, .329 & .319. Average control, slightly better than average K’s. Then he had a bad 2003 (.369 wOBA, 5.67 wERA), made only 3 starts in 2004 and missed all of 2005 with injury. His first year back in 2006 was also below average (.348/4.95) but he dropped his walks (.090 to .066) as wll as strikeouts (.184 to .132). 2007, his last in the states, was a bounce back year as the walks stayed at .066 while k’s climbed back up to .188, with a .303 wOBA and 3.59 wERA. In Japan, the walks dropped and strikeouts climbed, translated MLEs of .040-.246 and .032-.242 the last two years.

    Even if he drops back to his 2007 PCL level, he should have better than average walk and strikeout rates.

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  9. Brian Cartwright says:

    And Daisuke only had a good BB record in his last two years in Japan, his BB% 2000-2006 being .154, .137, .057 (half season), .091, .083, .068, .057 – then .091, .131 & .107 three years in Boston.

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  10. Tom Dubberke says:

    With 14 hit batters and 19 walks, it’s safe to say that Colby likes to pitch inside. This might make him more an NL pitcher. I remember hearing reports that Vicente Padilla’s Ranger teammates didn’t like the fact that he plunked a lot of opposing hitters, which drew retaliation down on them.

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  11. gnomez says:

    Here’s an impressive line – 7.30 ERA, 10-9 in 26 starts. How in the world do you post a winning record with a 7.30 ERA and 1.2 K/BB? Oh – that’s right, 2003 Texas offense!

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      There’s a few reasons why Lewis’s ERA could be 7.30 and still have a 10-9 record. Most likely it’s a combination of things.

      [1] Some very BAD losses (i.e., 8 ER in 4 IP)
      [2] Some high scoring wins (i.e., 4 ER in 6 IP)
      [3] Some very good wins (i.e. 2 ER in 7 IP)

      The thing with ERA is that BAD losses skew the total quite significantly. If there was a start where he gave up something like 7-8 runs in 1 IP or less, that would be an ERA killer for a guy that doesn;t get 34 starts (or 180+ IP)

      Wheras we attribute “he pitched well enough to win” to a guy that loses a 4-3 games, Lewis likely “pitched well enough not to lose” in some 7-5 games or something of that sort.

      One could look at his individual game performances that year and get the answer.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Every pitcher has to pitch inside at some point.

    The 19 HBP’s could mean “he doesn;t pitch inside effectively”, as much as it could mean “he owns the inner half” or something else. It could be that every time he triesd to establish the inner half, he ends up beaning batters. Pitchers with lots of movement on their FB’s or sinkers tend to do this, particularly forma 3/4 arm slot. The HBPs could represent a variety of things.

    As for Padilla … his mates complained of intentional HBPs, that led to retaliation to key batters. In other words, they didn;t complain about Padilla trying to establish the inside corner, they complained about him drilling someone in the back after giving up a 3-run HR … meaning that Teixeira or anoither batter was going to pay the price, not Padilla. That tends to piss batters off.

    IMO, this case is going to reveal to us more about Japanese baseball than it will Lewis. Japan has been viewed as another 3A league or even a 4A league in the past. Suppossedly tyhe gap is narrowed, but I suppose we’ll continue to gather evidence on this. A horrific pitcher in MLB going to Japan and being head and shoulders above everyone lse doesn’t bode too well for Japan.

    I would guess it is a combination of having good stuff, a big strike zone, slappy hitters, etc. Only a small part of that translates to success in MLB. It could be that we should not view Japanese baseball as being somewhere between 3A and MLB, but rather being a different “type of league” with different practices, resulting in different types of succes, all while being under the umbrella of high level professional baseball. In toher words, success in one league may not always translate into success in the other league.

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  13. Brian Cartwright says:

    2000-2002 Lewis pitched well. 2003 was a bad year, then he made only 3 starts in 2004 before being disabled, not returning until 2006, another poor year. It’s possible 2003 could have been bad because of the injury that would knock him out a year later, and 2006 was a recovery year. I am willing to ignore 2003-2006. In 2007, he had a 1.88 ERA at Sacramento, but got knocked around in a few appearances for Texas. His 2007 overall performance was not that far off the MLEs of what he did in Japan in 2008-09.

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