Pitcher Colby Lewis of the Texas Rangers pitches in the third inning while taking on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
At the end of the 2004 season, the Texas Rangers waived Colby Lewis, who they had drafted with the 38th pick in the 1999 amateur draft. They likely thought they'd seen the last of an injury-plagued draftee who had posted a 6.83 ERA and a 1.851 WHIP in 44 appearances (33 starts) in parts of three seasons with the major-league club. He was -- coincidentally, as things turned out, some years later -- signed at that time by the Detroit Tigers.
If the Tigers had been prescient, they'd have figured out what Marc Normandin did in his profile of Lewis last year -- that he had begun to come back from all the surgeries. Instead, they unceremoniously dumped him at the end of the 2006 season, and within a year he had bounced through three more organizations before being released in December 2007.
At 28 and with his MLB career apparently over, Lewis signed with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, the Japanese major leagues. There, he resurrected his baseball life with two good years with the Carp, including leading his league in strikeouts in both 2008 and 2009. This got the attention of the Rangers, who signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract with a $3.25 million option for 201.
The Rangers have gotten far more than their money's worth; Lewis posted a 121 ERA+ in 2010, then regressed a bit this season, with a league-average ERA+ (101).
It is in the postseason where Lewis has, almost inexplicably, been worth every penny the Rangers have invested in him. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lewis has the largest differential between his regular-season ERA and postseason ERA of any pitcher in major league history. From the article:
The biggest improvements from regular-season ERA to postseason:
PITCHER REG POST DIFF.
Colby Lewis 4.99 1.67 -3.32
Pete Schourek 4.59 1.35 -3.24
St. Hitchcock 4.80 1.76 -3.04
Monte Pearson 4.00 1.01 -2.99
Geo. Earnshaw 4.38 1.58 -2.80
Dave Dravecky 3.13 0.35 -2.78
Bill Hallahan 4.03 1.36 -2.67
Norm Charlton 3.71 1.08 -2.63
B. Moon Odom 3.70 1.13 -2.57
Source: Stats LLC; Note: Minimum 300 innings in regular season, 25 in playoffs
That is, as you might imagine, a rather motley collection of pitchers. Granted, ERA isn't necessarily the best way to measure pitching success. But somehow, these pitchers stepped up when October arrived. Lewis has made five postseason starts and in addition to the stellar ERA, has posted a 0.99 WHIP in those games. In Game 3 of this year's Division Series against the Rays, Lewis gave up just one hit -- a home run to Desmond Jennings -- and held the Rays in check until his team could put some runs on the board.
The Tigers, who not so long ago laid claim to Lewis's talents, might see him be one of the final nails in their postseason coffin if they can't hit him tonight. And given his postseason history, that might be a very tough task.