And so down goes the good U.S.S. Mariner (in the form of a three-game sweep) at the hands of the now-first-place Texas Rangers for the first time in Seattle since April 13-15th, 1999 -- a series in which Texas ran through three different lead-off hitters (Tom Goodwin, Mark McLemore and Luis Alicea), received three consecutive multi-hit performances from a still-relevant Lee Stevens (thanks to his final arbitration showdown with Texas, which is cited every off-season) and scored Jeff Zimmerman his first career relief victory:
● Is it really and truly possible for a highly lauded pitching prospect to reach the majors, succumb to injuries/underperformance, depart for an international -- and less talented -- professional baseball league in Japan, dominate there, return to the majors and then dominate at an even higher level than ever before? Well, yeah, anything's possible (for instance, the Mavericks could sign me tomorrow as J.J. Barea's replacement), but the point is that it's improbable, far-fetched and all of those other doubt-inducing adjectives ... and yet one month into the season, Colby Lewis is making a very serious run at posting one of the franchise's top 10 strikeout seasons on a per-inning basis:
[Data courtesy of Baseball Reference's Play Index -- click here to see the full 194-player list -- and FanGraphs. Qualifying pitchers must have (a) pitched at least 100 innings in a given season and (b) started no fewer than 60 percent of their total games in a given season.]
Upon further review, perhaps this top-10 group isn't quite the rarefied collection of elite pitching talent that "top 10" implies -- for example, would it shock you to learn that only nine of these 194 qualifying pitchers logged strikeouts per nine innings ratios above the 8.0 mark? Or, for that matter, that the '94-and-later Rangers only boast a smattering of pitchers among the top 25? I daresay Lewis won't maintain this strikeout rate for another five months, and it's imperative that he becomes -- and remains -- comfortable with his curveball and change-up (two-pitch starters who rely almost exclusively on the fastball and slider generally aren't destined for long-term success), but this isn't just a complete fluke. There's some legitimacy to what Colby Lewis v. 2.0 is doing right now.
● Wrote Kevin Goldstein of Tanner Scheppers on April 27th (three days before his promotion from Double-A Frisco to Triple-A Oklahoma City: "The scouting reports match the stats (38 BF, 19 K, 0 BB, 3 H) as well, as Scheppers mid-to-upper-90s fastball features movement and pinpoint location, while his plus-plus curveball isn't just a hammer, it's a sledgehammer. He can get big league hitters out right now, and should get his chance soon, as because of his injury history and violent mechanics, every pitch he throws is a risk; so why not have him throw those pitches in the big leagues?"
The whole "he's going to break, so why not use him in the majors?" argument is very much akin to that which I employed with Brandon McCarthy, although the most likely scenario on a per-inning basis for the latter is league-average pitching with a slightly above-average ceiling. With Scheppers, you're probably looking at above-average performance with, what, an Andrew Bailey-esque absolute ceiling? I don't think there's a pressing need for bullpen reinforcements, nor do I think it does Scheppers or the Rangers a disservice for him to patiently bide his time with the RedHawks, but the first serious bullpen injury or individual spate of sudden poor performance should give Scheppers the requisite window of opportunity to begin torching Junior Circuit hitters.
● I don't know if the English language comprises enough hyperbole to sufficiently describe Elvis Andrus's brilliant 10-pitch walk -- and subsequent steal of second base -- against the Mariners' David Aardsma yesterday (a lead-off walk to begin yesterday's ninth inning, at which point Texas trailed by a 1-0 margin), but hyperbole is cheap anyway, and Andrus is really good. Good in several quantifable ways that just might fly under the typical baseball observer's radar.
Aside from all of those aforementioned strides he has made in improving his walk rate, Elvis now rates as the sixth-best defensive shortstop in baseball according to the plus/minus defensive rating system (+5 runs above average), as well as the second-best baserunner in baseball according to Bill James Online's baserunning statistics (+12 runs above average), with the bulk of this value being derived not from exemplary basestealing, but rather opportunistic baserunning advancements on ground balls and base hits (e.g. double play avoidance, advancing from first to third on singles and so on). Notwithstanding a painful lesson or two learned from being picked off first base, Andrus has been a serious asset in every regard this season, and that's something worth getting seriously excited about.