Game 12, Mariners at Rangers
Roenis Elias vs. Colby Lewis, 5:05pm
If you were asked to come up with a list of starters with huge platoon splits, there are a few obvious names – guys who’ve garnered some attention (really, really nerdy attention) for their issues with LHBs or RHBs. Justin Masterson was essentially the face of this phenomenon (a really, really nerdy phenomenon), Joe Saunders is another, less talented example, and Bronson Arroyo may qualify. Then, of course, you’ve got tons of relief specialists whose platoon splits essentially define their role. To make this work – to carve out a career while ~half of the opponents you face see the ball really well – you really have to dominate same-handed hitters. Masterson, with his low arm angle and tough slider, clearly does this. Joe Saunders does this, though how remains somewhat cryptic to those of us who watched him last year. Bronson Arroyo wasn’t as hurt by his splits thanks to his division, which shelters quite a few pitchers with large splits (Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Charlie Morton).
Tonight’s starter, Colby Lewis, is another pitcher with deceptively high splits. I say “deceptively” because his career numbers are skewed a bit from his very early years with Texas – 2003 in particular – in which he pitched a lot and was terrible against everyone. Since returning from Japan, so 2010 through mid-2012, he was a very different pitcher. A much better one, to be clear, but also a guy with noticeable platoon splits. These two things are related, of course. He stuck around and made something of an impact in the AL in his second tour of duty because he suddenly got very tough on right-handed batters. He wasn’t doing it with fastball velocity, or with an odd angle, and his slider isn’t the kind of pitch that you think of when you think of a wipeout pitch. It’s not its movement or velocity that’s made the difference for Lewis – when he’s on, the key’s been his location. When he came over, many talked about the cutter he added, but it’s not clear if that’s what’s now called his slider or some other pitch he decided he didn’t need. His change never quite developed, so Lewis ends up throwing a lot of sliders to lefties, especially ahead in the count.
But this isn’t a Brandon Maurer situation where lefties have just teed off on a pitch breaking in to them. Instead, they’ve nuked his fastball. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive given his delivery (traditional, not at all sidearmy like Masterson’s) and his very high vertical movement (it’s the high horizontal movement pitches like sinkers that tend to have more platoon splits). That “rise” means that most hitters can elevate his fastball, and obviously contact in the air can be injurious to a pitchers’ FIP – especially if they pitch in Arlington a lot. The more I think about it though, it’s not that lefties have fared fairly well and hit plenty of home runs. It’s that Lewis is so sneakily good against right-handers. From 2010-2012, his wOBA-allowed to righties went .277, .268, .276. For reference, Masterson from 2010-2012 went .307, .259, .277, before annihilating righties last year to the tune of a .238 wOBA. And this highlights one of the reasons Lewis struggled to get back to a 4-5 WAR pitcher like he was in his first year back: now teams know how to build their line-up. No one would leave righties in their line-up against Masterson if they had a choice. Now, people stack lefties against Lewis too. In 2010, he faced essentially identical numbers of righties and lefties. In the 1.5 years before his arm exploded, he faced about 1.38 lefties for every righty.
His arm strength/velocity are back, but the Rangers didn’t take Lewis north, er, east with the team out of spring training. Whether that was to let him build up strength or because they really wanted to see what Nick Martinez could do, I’m not sure. The Rangers’ rotation has been decimated, but they’re on the mend. Matt Harrison returns soon, Yu Darvish is back, and eventually they should see Derek Holland again. That means Lewis has a limited window to show he can add value. The M’s aren’t a good match-up, thanks to lefty-swinging SS, 2B, CFs. Let’s see if they take advantage.
Roenis Elias is still fascinating to me. Part of it is just the teams he’s faced, but Elias has seen only 8 left-handed bats this season. That should change tonight, as he’s got Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder – two lefties who have platoon issues of their own – in the line-up for Texas. It’s not a cakewalk by any stretch, particularly in Arlington, but at least some of the Rangers’ bigger offensive threats are lefties.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Hart, DH
5: Morrison, RF
6: Seager, 3B
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C
Not quite as LH-heavy as it possibly could be, but the decision basically comes down to Hart vs. Saunders, and Saunders is not helping his cause at the moment.
Jordan Pries faces off against ex-Rangers, now Cubs prospect CJ Edwards in AA tonight. Matt Anderson opposes even-bigger-prospect Mark Appel in the Cal League, while Brandon Maurer starts for Tacoma in Albuquerque. Tommy Burns pitches for the Lumberkings in the MWL.