While it’s true that, not unlike snowflakes, all baseball players are unique, it’s also the case that most of them (i.e. most of those baseball players) follow somewhat predictable career paths. First, they are young and merely promising. Then, they are less young but something more than just promising — at which point they’re perhaps capable of playing in the major leagues. Then they are progressively worse until they retire, take work as a scout or manager or broadcaster, and then die.
It’s entirely possible that Texas right-hander Colby Lewis will take work as a scout someday — and is a certainty that, barring considerable advancements in medical technology, that he’ll also die — however, his career path to date has been unusual in most other regards.
In Lewis’s case, first he was young and merely promising. Then, he was less young, but also not really capable of playing in the major leagues. Then, next, he recorded two fantastic seasons in Japan. Then, he returned to the majors and pitched quite well for two and a half seasons. Then, he missed a year-plus with (first) a procedure to repair his flexor tendon and (second) a somewhat experimental procedure known as “hip resurfacing.” And now, as of last week, he is once again pitching in the majors.
The question regarding Lewis — for now and as the season progresses — will be to what degree he resembles the most recently effective version of himself. What follows is an examination of the earliest data from Lewis’s return to the majors, and how it compares to the 2012 edition of Colby Lewis — which edition of Colby Lewis recorded a 94 xFIP- and 2.2 WAR in just 105.0 innings.
Velocity: Largely the Same
The graph below (which it’s possible to embiggen by means simply of clicking) suggests that, by and large, Lewis’s fastball velocity has been quite similar in 2014 to 2012, oscillating between 85 and 90 mph and sitting at about 88.
Repertoire: Similar, With Exceptions
Relative to his 2012 season, Lewis has utilized almost precisely the same repertoire in 2014, featuring a combination of a fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball.
A brief inspection of his PITCHf/x charts below, however, reveals that:
1. His changeup hasn’t descended into the low end of the velocity range that it did in 2012; and
2. His curveball also hasn’t descended into a slightly lower-end velocity; and
3. His fastball hasn’t occasionally produced positive or near-positive horizontal-movement figures like it did in 2012.
Here’s a comparison between Lewis’s velocity/horizontal movement charts from 2014 and 2012. Each red ring represents the basic range of Lewis’s four pitches from 2014 thus far.
Results: Similar, But Also with Exceptions
Two starts and merely 10.2 innings are both too few to make any conclusive statements so far as results, proper, are concerned. In terms of defense-independent outcomes, Lewis’s 2014 production already resembles 2012’s, insofar as he’s (a) striking out many more batters than he’s walking and also (b) demonstrating decidedly fly-ball tendencies.
Of some concern this early is the lack of swinging strikes Lewis has recorded — swinging-strike rate serving as a a helpful shorthand for overall effectiveness, on account of it (a) becomes reliable pretty quickly and also (b) correlates pretty highly with strikeouts, which correlate pretty highly with overall run prevention. Lewis has posted a swinging-strike rate of 5.2% this far — a figure that would rank 260th among 263 qualified player-seasons between 2011 and -13.
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