Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
I like Colby Lewis. I really do. However, I have grown tired of Dallas media and the Rangers Insider show talking about how good our rotation was going to be when he came back. Let’s be clear on who Colby Lewis is. Colby Lewis owns a 4.76 career ERA and a 4.68 ERA as a Ranger. (Baseball-Reference) Colby had below average stuff before he got hurt. He threw high 80s at best and did not have a plus breaking ball or offspeed pitch. His slider was decent but nothing special and he added in an assortment of curveballs and changeups to keep hitters off balance. I have never been a big Colby Lewis fan. As one of the better baseball minds I know personally has said the last few years, “You know what you are going to get with Colby, 15 wins and 4.50 ERA.” Naturally the 15 wins was largely a function of an offense that lead the league in most categories, but the point remains.
I understand why the media was hyped about Colby, he had a strong year last year, but did anyone really think a guy who at best is going to give us a 4.50 ERA belongs in this rotation? Remember Colby is coming back from both elbow and hip injuries. The rehab results were not promising. I do not believe he ever cracked 86 mph with his fastball. This is the same Colby Lewis who led the American League in homeruns allowed in 2011. The Rangers would have been lucky to get a 4.76 ERA from Colby this year.
Additionally, which starter should the team put in the pen to clear a rotation spot for Colby? Martin Perez is sporting a 3.81 ERA. (Fangraphs) I for one do not believe Colby could best this number. It could be Martin Perez will fade but that sounds like a better gamble than to betting on Colby Lewis’s defective body making a comeback and then some. Alexi Ogando is rocking a 3.28 ERA. (Fangraphs) It seems doubtful Colby could touch that kind of production either. Alexi has had trouble getting deep into games but I would take his solid five innings over what Colby could do any day.
Now that I have hopefully dispensed with the Colby Lewis infatuation we can turn to the Ranger starter on the path back from injury that should actually be valuable to the rotation going forward. Matt Harrison has produced a 3.29 and 3.39 ERA the previous two years. (Baseball-Reference) While his career ERA is 4.15 his trend and career trajectory are much more favorable than Colby’s. Lewis is in the twilight of his career. Even had he not faced substantial setback this week and had come back this season it is likely he would have shown significant regression.
Harrison no longer needs to be the best or second best pitcher on the staff. Last year Harrison was the best starter most of the year. Now he can comfortably fit in behind Matt Garza, or Derek Holland if you prefer, in the four spot. Harrison should take Ogando’s spot in the rotation. Ogando has been mostly effective this year but has struggled since his return from the DL. Ogando has been effective enough to keep the team in ball games but has failed to get deep into games. Alexi’s stuff has been down and his durability has become a question. This pitching staff will improve if Harrison takes Ogando’s spot rather than Martin Perez’s. Ogando has proven himself in the bullpen and he will be able to crank his fastball back up around 98 in shorter appearances.
Unless the Rangers pull off the Alex Rios deal, which seems unlikely, based on reports that the Rangers and White Sox are far apart on the deal, this team is going to live and die with its pitching and defense; games against the Angels notwithstanding. Having Ogando back in the pen could be a tremendous benefit as Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross seem to have been overused in the first half. This is classic case of comparative advantage. Perhaps Ogando is better in the rotation than Perez, but Ogando is going to be significantly better than Perez in the bullpen. The tradeoff is an easy one. Matt Harrison should take Alexi Ogando’s place in the starting rotation.