Sad news for the Rangers and for Colby Lewis today: he is out for the rest of the season, possibly into 2013. Lewis will very shortly undergo surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. First and foremost, this is hard news for Colby. He’s been the veteran at the top of this rotation for two seasons now, struggling with home runs at times but very good otherwise. In the playoffs Colby had been even better, maintaining a 2.34 ERA through 50 playoff innings. Not only will he be unable to contribute to the Ranger’s fight to secure a playoff spot, he won’t transform into the “Cobra”, a hero who relentlessly pounds the strikes zone and humiliates opposing batters. To make matters worse, this is a contract year, where Lewis would have a chance to secure the payday that his excellent performance with the Rangers over the past couple seasons has undoubtedly warranted, whether with this team or with another. Instead, Colby will have to go through the exhausting process of calling teams up and asking for a chance to show off his stuff, fighting through a recovery process complicated by his degenerative hip condition. He deserves better, and I’m sorry it had to happen this way.
His injury also is going to cause the Rangers some headaches. Although Neftali Feliz is scheduled to return to the rotation shortly, Oswalt has been showing signs of strain recently and was in fact examined by a doctor in Houston instead of starting for the Rangers today. Suddenly, the rotation spot that I thought was unavailable for acquisitions such as Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke is in fact probably open for business, if Neftali gets parked in the bullpen as a late-inning reliever. I don’t know enough about the situation to be certain, but it is my impression that Neftali might simply have the type of arm and physical makeup that is better suited to bullpen work that workmanlike starts, as he got seriously injured fairly quickly into his starting pitching career. Moreover, his pitching peripherals give every indication that he has been exceedingly fortunate as far as inducing weak contact is concerned and there is a hefty differential between his 3.16 ERA and his 4.61 FIP. However, Feliz has, in his brief career so far, managed to exert excellent control over inducing weak contact, as well as continuing to maintain his Left on Base numbers despite issuing nearly five walks per nine innings. We know that there are pitchers that are exceptions, and at this point it may simply be that Feliz is a supremely skilled pitcher who is going to consistently beat the odds until the odds need to be changed to accommodate him.
In the event the Rangers do decide to go out there and snag a new starter though, there are some complications that have tightened the trade market since I last wrote about it. For one, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, two pitchers who did not represent significant upgrades to the rotation, who I figured would not be part of the Ranger’s plans, are on the verge of being traded, with the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. Even though the Rangers did not express any interest in them, the teams that did will now be forced to look elsewhere, potentially at Greinke and Hamels. Meanwhile, it was also recently revealed that the Marlins are having something of a fire sale, after their not-so-good start to the season has forced their baseball operations staff to look to the future rather than the present for on-field success. To that effect, they traded Anibal Sanchez, an excellent pitcher having an excellent season, and Omar Infante, a capable second baseman who is also having a terrific season. The Marlins receive Jacob Turner, a pitching prospect regularly ranked in the top-30 in the country who has been holding his own in Triple-A so far this season, and has a few major league starts under his belt, although he has not performed as well there. A variety of other Marlins players are available for trade, including Josh Johnson.
Josh Johnson is something of an enigma. Talent-wise, he is a terrific player, probably near the top of the league. Performance-wise, the last two seasons have been difficult, first due to an injury-shortened 2011, and then absolutely disastrous luck in 2012. The disparity between his 2012 performance and his 2010 and 2011 breakout years is staggering, especially in those categories where pitchers have less control over the outcome. His home run rate has increased, he is allowing a .345 BABIP compared to a .239 BABIP in 2011, and he is allowing 15% more batters to score once they have reached base. Whether Johnson’s ERA regression from 1.64 in 2011 and 2.30 in 2010 to 4.35 in 2012 is due entirely to luck is something others will have a better grasp on than myself, but I suspect there is either a mechanical change in his delivery, or a mental issue, that is causing him to be a significantly less effective pitcher overall.
I’ll close this out by reiterating how much Colby Lewis meant to me, and to this team. While its fun to speculate about how we might replace his numbers, his other qualities like mound demeanor and leadership aren’t available on the trade market, especially from character problems like Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke. He will be sorely missed.