Mets Sign Unreliable Workhorse Bartolo Colon

It’s an oxymoron, the unreliable workhorse. Maybe it doesn’t make sense. But Bartolo Colon has thrown over 340 innings over the past two years, and that’s 62nd in the league. Seen in total, the results have been great — his ERA was sixth-best among qualified starters over the last two years. Using available research on the cost of a win, the deal — two years and $20 million — looks like a good one for the Mets.

And yet the risk markers are large.

Some risk comes from the change in park. Over the last two years, Colon has given up fewer home runs per fly ball than the league average. In terms of homer-suppression, the Coliseum was fifth-friendliest in baseball to pitchers. Citi Field was 11th-friendliest to hitters, as it slightly augmented home runs in general. Over his 16-year, career, Colon has given up more than a homer per nine innings in 12 seasons. Over his last two seasons in Oakland, he didn’t hit that benchmark. There’s a chance he gives up more long balls in New York.

One piece of risk comes just from his age. At 41 this year, Colon is off the far end of the aging curve map, in uncharted territory when it comes to starting pitching. Since 1974, only 24 pitchers have qualified for the ERA title over the age of 40. Three threw the knuckler primarily and one threw the spitball.

The age goes hand in hand with the injury risk. Bartolo Colon is the starting pitcher most likely to head to the disabled list next year in Jeff Zimmerman‘s starting pitcher DL projections. Those are based on age and past trips to the DL. Since Colon has gone on the DL for thigh, abdomen and groin issues over the last three years, he hits the disabled list in two-thirds of this year’s simulated seasons. Maybe it won’t be an arm issue, maybe it will.

Durability is obviously a component of this injury risk. Colon’s velocity and effectiveness dwindled as the season went on in 2013, to the point where he was passed up for playoff starts when the games mattered most. Sometimes his velocity perks up again when after he hits the DL for a refresher, sometimes it doesn’t:

colonvelo

The erratic nature of his fastball velocity is a little scary, especially when wrapped up with the injury risk. Consider the four starts that led into his disabled list stint last season. As he lost more than a mile per hour off his average fastball velocity in successive starts, his effectiveness plummeted. He struck out eight, walked nine, and gave up 13 runs and two homers in the 18.2 innings leading into his two-week vacation.

There are a few risk factors that skew positive for Colon. He throws strikes, for one, and pitchers with good command have traditionally aged well. Perhaps it’s merely a proxy for good mechanics, but it seems to be working for Colon recently. He throws mostly fastballs, for two. He leads the league in fastball percentage, actually. Staying away from heavy breaking ball usage is good for your health.

And you have to look at this deal in the context of the league as it stands now. Dan Haren is only 33 and has thrown about as many innings as Colon over the last two years, and he only got one year and $10 million. Perhaps the hip and back problems that made Anaheim so nervous are obvious to any signing team. Scott Feldman got three and thirty, but he’s only just now turning 31 and was injured two years ago. He got the extra year because he’s younger. Tim Hudson has a lot of things in common with Colon, at 39 and coming off an injury, and he got $3 million more than the new Met. Scott Kazmir has a lengthier injury history, but is younger, so he got $2 million more.

Each of Bartolo Colon‘s risk factors comes with an asterisk. Yes, he’s moving to a park that gives up more homers. He’s also going to the easier league for a pitcher. Yes, old pitchers get injured more often. He’s a strike-thrower that doesn’t rely on elbow-stressing breaking pitches. And among the old-pitcher co-hort, his stats and arsenal look a little bit like Greg Maddux‘s at the same age. Yes, his fastball is rapidly losing gas. He’s been effective around 90 mph before.

So the Mets got an older pitcher for fewer dollars or fewer years than comparable pitchers on the free agent market. And he’s a reliable risk. Or a firm flyer. Or a predictable plunge. Or a steadfast speculation.

Or maybe a cheap, old pitcher.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


58 Responses to “Mets Sign Unreliable Workhorse Bartolo Colon”

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  1. psualum says:

    Personally i love this move. I think its a worthy risk, and I’m saying that based on the fact that if he could come close to reproducing last years numbers, that is worth close to $20mill on its own. I think there is also the very real chance that he ends up in the bullpen at the end of this deal if the Mets young arms are ready and he starts showing decline. All-in-all the Mets needed to replace Harvey this year and they took a shot at the guy with the best chance to put up ace-like numbers at his AAV, and since the Mets will need alot of things to break right for them to compete for the WC this move is the kind of high upside gamble that really makes sense.. seriously at this point the Mets are probably 80-82 win team and they still have trade chips to upgrade at SS so a few things go their way and they are in the mix for the playoffs! In Sandy we Trust!

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    • Nicholas says:

      If you recall, when asked to go to the bullpen in Boston, he walked out on the team. So don’t hope for that.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      That was six years ago. People generally get a better perspective on things as they age. Since he’s got to know he’s coming up on the twilight of his career, he may think differently about it if it comes down to that.

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  2. Pat G says:

    maybe i’m missing it, but what are the terms of the contract?

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  3. pft says:

    Colon missed 10 starts to suspension, right?

    Among AL SP’ers with 500 IP over the last 3 years Colon ranks 7th, 3.32 ERA, right behind Fister with a 3.30 ERA.

    Getting Colon for Phil Hughes money is a steal. Where were the Yankees on this?

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  4. Franco says:

    He’s pretty old, but don’t hard throwers slowly decline anyways? I mean, righties who throw 89-90 can go from mid rotation to replacement level real quick because a loss of a couple MPH on the fastball.

    Wishful thinking as a Mets fan?

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  5. Future Hall of Famer Bartolo Colon*

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    • Deelron says:

      So you’re predicting a complete changing of the voting process and those involved in the next 10 years. Interesting.

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      • Ian R. says:

        If he makes it to 200 wins (he’s sitting on 189 now, and he did just sign a two-year contract), he has something vaguely resembling a shot. He certainly wouldn’t be the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame.

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        • Jason B says:

          “He certainly wouldn’t be the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame.”

          A ringing endorsement if ever there was one!

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        • Careless says:

          I do not think the person you were responding to was thinking of any stat but “1: steroids suspensions”

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  6. Larry says:

    It’s painfully obvious he’ll usually need at least a couple of trips on the DL to rest or else his effectiveness will skid off the track.

    If his innings can be managed, the ability is still there, but if the Mets expect him to be a workhorse from Opening Day through the end of the year, good luck.

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    • dovif says:

      If he was a work horse from opening day to the end of the year and have a mid 3 era, he would have been signing for $15 mil

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  7. dovif says:

    This is probably 1 year too many, with the Mets SP for 2015 likely to be Niese, Gee, Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Colon and Montero

    But this is a tradable contract and other SP are also tradable so I like this deal

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    • Wobatus says:

      Mejia?

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    • Catoblepas says:

      you say it’s one year too many, but that implies that signing him for one year was actually an option, and I imagine there are plenty of teams that would take Colon for, say, 2/$16 with incentives, or 2/$18, and then any team asking for just one year is out. you can’t just say “I don’t like this contract, they should’ve signed him for less”. usually the options are a) sign him for the contract they signed him for or b) let someone else sign him.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      The idea that a team needs only 5 SPs is not usually the case. In 2012, the Mets used 13 starters (8 with 5 or more starts) and in 2013 they used 12 starters (9 with at least 5 starts). Since they won’t want to overwork their young starters Syndergaard, Montero and Mejia (who is also injury prone), there will be plenty of room for Colon over the life of this contract, should he stay healthy himself.

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  8. Spencer Manners says:

    I would rather have seen them go after Roberto Hernandez on a cheaper contract

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  9. diehardmets says:

    Something worth noting: the Mets don’t need a 200 inning work horse. One could argue that having a pitcher miss some time will be a good thing. Colon will push back the arbitration clock for Montero and Syndergaard, yet still likely provide an open spot in the rotation at some point in the season.

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  10. Pedro says:

    Eno, a belated thanks for asking the question that prompted Granderson to say “Real New Yorkers are Mets fans”. Fun moment.

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  11. chris says:

    It will be interesting over the next two years to see if Beane chose the right pitcher to sign for 2 years this off-season.

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  12. Noah says:

    Why Colon instead of Roberto Hernandez? I don’t think this is a bad signing, but based on the Mets past free agent starting pitching signings it appears that they are unfamiliar with fielding independent ERA measures, which is a bit disappointing considering how forward thinking they are when it comes to position player evaluation.

    But who am I too complain. Sandy Alderson is good, but he is no Billy Beane.

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    • Lola says:

      Or maybe they thought Hernandez didn’t really improve as a 33 year old pitcher with declining velocity?

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    • Fausto Carmona says:

      Who is this Roberto Hernandez you speak of???

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Well, for one thing, Colon’s FIP was about 1.40 less than Roberto Hernandez…

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      • Nick says:

        Why are you looking at FIP instead of xFIP? FIP gives Colon credit for his below average HR/FB rate and punishes Hernandez for his astronomically high 21% rate.

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        • Ozzie says:

          I think you have to put a little merit into FIP when Colon has been steady in that area for a few years now. Roberto Hernandez, on the other hand, is a complete wild card. I understand his peripherals have improved of late but that 20% HR rate over the past two years might not be as fluky as you’d think. Dude gets hit hard when he misses his location. The Rays have a knack for suppressing BABIPs and they couldn’t do it for Roberto, Mets defense and ballpark suggest those peripherals can’t keep up with the Mets’ shoddy defense and more homer friendly park.

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  13. Tboyer says:

    And we get to see him hit! Well, get to see 100 or so plate appearances anyway. Should be entertaining.

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  14. Noah says:

    Maybe the Mets plan on flipping him for a position player at the deadine when they have a surplus of starting pitchers. Certainly a tradeable contract. I would be satisfied with Wheeler, Niese, Gee, Montero, and Syndergaard after the all star break.

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  15. John says:

    Eno, you forgot to mention that colon has outperformed his peripheral stats the last few seasons. Now I would think an over 40, reinvented, PED using pitcher that recently outperformed his peripherals is not a good bet. Given a guy like Hughes was actually cheaper, misses bats, underperformed his peripherals and would have been making a ballpark move in the right direction AND is 15 years younger than colon, that should have been Sandy’s choice.

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  16. Keegs says:

    Guys. Bartolo Colon hitting and running the bases. Who cares about the rest.

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  17. John C. says:

    Pretty impressive – an article that runs through risk factors on Bartolo Colon, and ignores the possibility of another PED suspension.

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  18. james wilson says:

    I love watching the fat old guy pitch. Two years ago in the nastiest cold weather game of the year he put on a clinic for pitch efficiency at Fenway. Too bad the Sox starters didn’t notice.

    But two years?

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  19. Dave g. says:

    Well done article. Will be interesting to see how he plays. I wonder if an interesting comp is Clemens. Late career resurgence with some assistance.

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  20. YourHighSchoolEnglishTeacher says:

    Unreliable workhorse is an oxymoron…not a paradox.

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  21. db says:

    I like this signing. A control/flyball pitcher going to a team with a great defensive outfield, a park that suppresses home runs (even if not as much as the coliseum) and a catcher with good pitch framing skills. He doesn’t need to replicate what he did last year to be worth the contract. 180 innings at 3.8 era would do it.

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  22. Kenz says:

    He and Chris Young will be flipped at the deadline. Hopefully for a legit shortstop prospect, or for Stephen Drew if he re-signs with the Red Sox.

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  23. Matt says:

    For whatever it’s worth – I would never read an article with this title. It screams bias and FG is becoming way too bias and has stopped analyzing and started building arguments for their point of view.

    Then I saw it was by Eno, succombed to my man crush and gave in.

    For whatever it’s worth.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Tell me more. I picked the title because my first response to the deal was yuck — not because I hate what the Mets FO does, but because it was two years to a guy that has more risk than almost any other FA in baseball. But once I went through the pieces and compared it, it was reasonable. Thought the title reflected that process to some degree. I’d like to know why it sounds biased, though.

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