Coming into the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, the Texas Rangers were undersold. They were undersold because of their starting pitching. Their second- and third-best starting pitchers (C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis) are almost as good as the Yankees’ best starting pitcher (C.C. Sabathia), or at least they are in 2010. This should have been obvious to every avid baseball fan, at least, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the Rangers hold a 3-games-to-1 lead as I write this.
Let’s look at some numbers that tell us about underlying performance, shall we.
Here are the 2010 FIP’s (Fielding Independent Pitching on an ERA scale, from FanGraphs.com) for Cliff Lee, Sabathia, Lewis and Wilson:
Lee’s FIP was the second-best in all of baseball. Clearly he’s the best starting pitcher we’ll see in this series. But it may come as a surprise that Sabathis, Lewis and Wilson were essentially equal at least in terms of FIP.
Here are their 2010 WAR’s (Wins Above Replacement, again from FanGraphs):
Sabathia has a bigger edge in WAR than in FIP but it’s still closer than most fans probably realize. The gap between Lee and Sabathia is greater than the gap between Sabathia, Wilson and Lee. Lee let major league pitchers in WAR, Sabathia was 13th and Wilson and Lewis were tied at 18th with Dan Haren. No other Yankees pitcher was in the top 35 while the Rangers had three pitchers in the top 18.
Here are their ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and parks, this from BaseballReference.com):
Things are a little more bunched up here. Sabathia looks better here than he does in the other statistics we’ve looked at, actually out-shining Lee. But this stat is based on ERA, and ERA is influenced by defense and luck. While ERA+ takes into account league and parks, it does not account for defense and luck. So it is not a great measure of the fundamental, underlying performance level of a pitcher; it’s much more results-based than performance-based.
Cliff Lee is obviously head-and-shoulders above any pitcher we’ve seen or will see in the ALCS and quite possibly in the playoffs. But the Rangers have two other starters that are almost as good as any starter their ALCS opponent has or will throw at them. Many probably overrated the bigger names of Sabathia and Pettite and overlooked the 2010 performances of CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis. But name recognition doesn’t always mean more talent, at least not current talent level.