Bartolo Colon Returns To Prominence

Stage hypnotists make a living calling people up on stage and making them believe that they’re something they’re not, be it a lion, a pirate or even Kanye West. Someone may want to look at the Yankees payroll to see if they have a hypnotist on payroll this season, because all of a sudden Bartolo Colon — after allowing just three runs in his first 14 2/3 innings as a starter this year — has been transformed into a quality Major League starter once again.


In his piece on Colon a couple of weeks ago, Tommy Rancel noted that all parties involved would likely be thrilled if Colon could go six innings, 90 pitches and keep the Blue Jays to around three or four runs in his first start. Tommy was right on track — Colon went 6 2/3 in 89 pitches and held the Jays to two runs. Last night, Colon upped the ante, going eight innings over an economical 99 pitches, allowed just one run and struck out six White Sox. He even managed to inspire the first ejection of the season for Ozzie Guillen, which is always a nice feather in your cap. By WPA, it was the best Yankees start of the young season.

One thing that jumps out immediately is the velocity differences in his offerings. From 2004-2009, Colon’s average fastball was 91.5 MPH, with his slider clocking in at 84.3 and his changeup at 83.0. His fastball has been more or less the same thus far, but his slider and changeup have been slower — both are just a hair over 82 MPH right now. As a result, instead of a 7 MPH difference between his fastball, his slider and changeup are nearly 9 MPH different. The difference may be making his fastball that much more effective. Heading into today, Colon’s fastball, by wFB/C, has been the 24th best in the game (non R.A. Dickey division).

The other thing that sticks out so far has been his aforementioned efficiency. Perhaps realizing that he only has so many bullets to fire, he has only gone to seven pitches on one batter in his first two starts, and 68% of his plate appearances were concluded in four pitches or less. Against the Blue Jays, he had a one-pitch AB in five of his first six innings. In that first start, he did labor, compiling a six- and seven-pitch sequence in his final inning. But last night, he stayed efficient throughout, needing just 16 pitches to get through the seventh and eighth innings. By staying efficient with his pitches, he is keeping his walk rate down, and thus allowing himself to stay out of the big inning. His WHIP, as it currently stands, is hovering right where it did during his Cy Young season in 2005. And it’s not as if this has been fueled by an unsustainable BABIP like some early-season surprises (see Tomlin, Josh). His .300 BABIP is not only right around league average, but it is also very close to his .292 career mark as well.

Before we go ahead and crown him though, let’s look at some caution signs. First, it’s two starts. The list of pitchers who have made two effective starts before tailing off, be they 21 years old or 38, is extensive. Second, let’s remember that the White Sox haven’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball this season. While they are a team chock full of talented hitters, they are currently last in the Majors in hitter WAR, 21st in wOBA and 24th in wRC+. Third, Colon only managed five swinging strikes last night. In fact, his abnormally (for him) high K/9 mark is betrayed by an O-Swing% and SwStr% that are both below average. Something will have to give there, but given how good he has been, a little regression will still leave him comfortably in the above average range.

Colon skipped last season, and from 2006-2009 spent at least part of each season in the Minors. If you told me that this same guy — at age 38 — would have the 14th best FIP- and the ninth best xFIP- in the Majors near the end of April, I promptly would have asked where you got whatever you had been smoking, but that’s where we are right now. He has been a life preserver for a team that has had to deal with Phil Hughes and his arm issues, and has in general been searching for back-end rotation help for quite some time. There are some warning signs on the horizon, but if he can keep this up, the Yankees could once again have a devastating rotation if and when Hughes returns to form.



Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Anthony
Guest
Anthony
5 years 4 months ago

I’m glad Colon is having a revival of sorts but I question whether it can last. I see him making it to maybe the summer time before Cashman bites the bullet and calls up someone or makes that dreaded trade.

WSO
Guest
WSO
5 years 4 months ago

He threw fastballs on 90 of 99 pitches Wednesday night, and threw his last slider in the 4th inning. I don’t how much a change in velocity on his offspeed stuff factored into his effectiveness. The White Sox lineup couldn’t do anything with four-seamers in the zone, so he didn’t bother messing around.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 4 months ago

That’s unbelievable! I was quite skeptical when I read your comment, but I went back through Gameday’s pitch-by-pitch account, and you’re absolutely right. He certainly did mix in some two-seamers with the four-seamers, but it’s staggering how much success he had throwing fastball after fastball. The velocity he has is truly extraordinary, having been out of baseball for a year and now being 38 years old. He was right around 94 on his four-seamer, at least taking the Yankee Stadium Pitch f/x numbers at face value.

DT
Guest
DT
5 years 4 months ago

it’s his 2 seamer. It has incredible movement…might as well be a 92 mph reverse cutter.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 4 months ago

Yep, I watched the video of his start and was very impressed with the movement on the pitch. Batters won’t be likely to whiff on it, but it will get a lot of called strikes.

28 this year
Guest
28 this year
5 years 4 months ago

Also, he’s getting a lot of called strikes on pitches, especially that two seamer in to lefties and backdoor to righties. That one against Dunn was just unfair.

The Typical Idiot Fan
Guest
5 years 4 months ago

Might have just been the Yankee Stadium gun, but I saw him popping the ball in at 95-96mph on his fastball regularly. I was about to call for a PED check. Looking at these numbers, though, now I’m convinced it’s just the stadium gun.

Yeah! Oh, Yeah!
Guest
Yeah! Oh, Yeah!
5 years 4 months ago

two pathetic articles on colon in less than two weeks.

MonteroSmash
Member
MonteroSmash
5 years 4 months ago

U mad?

Yeah! Oh, Yeah!
Guest
Yeah! Oh, Yeah!
5 years 4 months ago

mad is writing an article about colon without mentioning his dancing two-seam.

MonteroSmash
Member
MonteroSmash
5 years 4 months ago

ahh lol gotcha. sorry for misunderstanding

donnie baseball
Guest
donnie baseball
5 years 4 months ago

Unbelievable, though I see an oblique injury just around the corner.

Steve
Guest
Steve
5 years 4 months ago

Wait, don’t you have to HAVE obliques before you can injure them??

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 4 months ago

How much does this have to do with Russell Martin’s influence?

Lisso
Guest
Lisso
5 years 4 months ago

LOL How is it the gun? Gameday had the same values. Colon was 93-96 with his 4 seamer, his 2 seamer is 90-92, which brings down his total velocity to 91.7. If we’re talking only 4 seamer, he’s atleast at 93 this year.

matt
Guest
matt
5 years 4 months ago

This Year’s Carlos Silva™?

sirvlciv
Member
sirvlciv
5 years 4 months ago

sirvlciv
Member
sirvlciv
5 years 4 months ago

Sorry – that’s an animated gif of Bartolo’s 2-seamer K of Dunn.

csawce
Guest
csawce
5 years 4 months ago

Hey you forgot the frame that shows where the ball travels over the plate … oh wait;)

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
5 years 4 months ago

This is maybe the second third article about a pitcher’s “renaissance” that pops up the day after he shuts down the White Sox. So you have to ask yourself, are these pitchers doing somehing right? Or should the south siders hitters just leave the bats at home so they can cut down on baggage fees?

To be fair, you touch on this quite nicely.

Joltin' Joe
Guest
5 years 4 months ago

He’s been quite a surprise, and as a Yankee fan, let me say that if he fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, I would be thankful for his contributions thus far. Ditto Freddy Garcia

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
5 years 4 months ago

he is only 23 career WAR from 60. It is unlikely, but I would laugh if he reaches the hall!

pft
Guest
pft
5 years 4 months ago

People need to chill out over great performances against bad hitting teams or teams that have bats of ice like the White Sox. They make even bad pitchers look good.

The thing is when the mean population of starting pitchers in the AL have a sub 3.5 ERA, there obviously are not that many good hitting teams around. The AL even w/ a DH has a lower OPS than the NL and are scoring fewer RPG.

No wonder fans are staying away from the parks. Who wants to sit 3 hrs in April weather to watch nothing much, and see nothing much. Pitchers duels are ok on TV, but brutal for the fans who go to the games. Bring back the juiced ball.

Cos
Guest
Cos
5 years 4 months ago

Bartolo Colon is our very own Kenny Powers.

Steve
Guest
Steve
5 years 4 months ago

Also, don’t forget that Colon came out of the bullpen in Fenway and threw 4.1 IP allowing 1 ER and striking out 5 Red Sox, so it’s not ALL about the offensive ineptitude of his opponents.

It goes without saying that Colon can’t keep this up, if he did, he’d prob win the Cy Young. But if he can stay healthy, which is a huge if, I don’t see any reason why he can’t remain an effective starter. His stuff looks great.

Guy
Member
Guy
5 years 4 months ago

For those who believe that a large jump in innings from season to season takes a toll on a pitcher’s arm, does that apply equally to an older pitcher late in his career, or does it apply less because his arm is already stretched out or what have you, or does it apply more because he’s older and more fragile?

AntonioBananas
Guest
AntonioBananas
5 years 4 months ago

Maybe this is true and maybe it’s not, but I wonder if there was ever a similar stretch during Colon’s decline similar to this that wasn’t as obvious due to being in the middle of the season when he ERA dropped from like 5.00 to like 4.75 due to a few good starts.

Not buying any of this honestly, it might not matter though. Some team with a decent starter will be in the crapper and be an all star. In Phoenix you’ll have Cashman talking to said pitcher and the GM of that team, maybe Mo Rivera teaches him a cutter, Derek Jeter takes the GM out to a steak. Soon we hear the Yanks have traded 3 top prospects for said pitcher and it doesn’t matter if Colon can sustain pitching well.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
5 years 4 months ago

That would suck to be Kayne West.

Remus
Guest
Remus
5 years 4 months ago

The 2-seam has an incredibly late break, almost as if it breaks while crossing the plate.

brindes
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Some truly interesting details you have written.Assisted me a lot, just what I was looking for :D.

wpDiscuz