After a successful comeback season with the New York Yankees in 2011, Bartolo Colon is headed west. Reports surfaced last week that the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics were interested in the 38-year-old right-hander. On Sunday, the A’s were announced as the mystery team that secured his services for the 2012 season.
Colon experienced a career-renaissance with the Yankees after signing a minor-league contract in the winter. Despite scoffs from most of the baseball world when the signing was announced, he was largely (no pun intended) effective in New York, posting a 3.83 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, and 3.60 SIERA. He shouldered his highest workload since 2005 by tossing 164.1 innings in 29 appearances. Paid just under a million dollar in Salary, he fell just shy of the 3 WAR mark, making him one of the more valuable signings of the year.
The successful comeback was not without controversy. In May, it was reported that Colon was treated by doctors in the Dominican Republic in a procedure involving stem cells which were injected in to his elbow and shoulder. Major League Baseball opened an investigation into the treatment, but he was allowed to pitch without incident. His arm stayed healthy all season; however, he did miss 20 days in June with a hamstring strain.
Early in the season, Colon was lighting up radar guns with fastballs hitting at or near 95 mph. That said, his velocity dropped – as did his effectiveness – later on in the season. He struck out nearly one-fourth of the batters he faced in April, but saw his strikeout rate drop to 15.3% over the final two months of the season. His walk rate remained solid all season, but he struggled with the long ball – especially late in the season. Overally, he allowed 1.15 home runs per nine innings . Meanwhile, 10 of the 21 home runs he surrendered came in August and September which coincided with his decreasing velocity.
Moving from the hitter’s haven in the Bronx to the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum could help in aiding some of the home-run itis that plagued Colon. This could especially be true against left-handed batters. In 2011, lefties accounted for 16 of the 21 home runs hit off Colon. Statcorner.com rated Yankee Stadium as one of the most home-run friendly parks for left-handers (+43) while the Coliseum depressed their home-run rates below the league’s average (-11).
There is real chance Colon’s late-season decline was more than just workload induced, and that his tank may be nearing empty. On the other hand, for a reported $2 million investment, the A’s are not taking a huge risk in finding out. It may seem like an unnecessary move for a team that is not expected to contend, but the A’s have rotation spots to fill after trading away Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez this offseason, and while they wait for Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson to return from injury.
If Colon comes remotely close to the 2.9 WAR he posted in 2011, he will be a worthwhile stopgap for Oakland. His value could even increase if he is provided with an artificial boost in production due to a park-factor decline in his home-run rate. Should Colon post first-half numbers as he did last season (3.20 ERA, 3.59 K/BB rate), Billy Beane might even be able flip him in July or August to a contender in need of an additional arm for a mid-level lotto ticket with the potential to provide the A’s with something beyond the 2012 season.
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