The Other Extreme Thing About Bartolo Colon

Starting opposite Max Scherzer in Oakland tonight is going to be Bartolo Colon. That sentence doesn’t sound as crazy as it might’ve before — by this point, we’ve grown re-accustomed to Colon being a starter and pitching effectively. One of the best ERAs in baseball, he had. It’s not that the Colon story isn’t amazing anymore. It is amazing, that he’s back and healthy and pitching like he is in the way that he is. But we appreciate change better than we appreciate stability, and Colon isn’t changing. He pitches like he’s 40, going on 29.

Beyond his size and story, there’s something extreme about Colon: he throws almost exclusively fastballs. Susan Slusser just wrote it up well, and though Colon does have other pitches, and though Colon does have different fastballs, it’s still extraordinarily rare to see a starter with so little speed and break variation. Given his repertoire and ability to locate, Colon is our closest approximation to a starter version of Mariano Rivera. There’s something else too, though, if you dig a little deeper. Another statistical extremity, that’s a result of his approach, as I suppose is always the case.

Colon makes it easy to find a starting point. He didn’t pitch at all in 2010, so we can look at his numbers going back to 2011. And since 2011, covering three full seasons, Colon has shown a rather pronounced split:

Righties: .271 wOBA allowed
Lefties: .334

If you’re the sort who worries about such things, let’s balance out some balls in play:

Righties: 2.81 FIP
Lefties: 4.37

So, actually, the balls in play don’t make a difference. At issue are the balls not in play. Colon’s strikeout rates are the same. He’s walked more lefties, but he hasn’t walked many lefties. Here’s the problem: 12 of 1,000 righties have hit dingers. Meanwhile, 40 of 1,099 lefties have hit dingers. You can look at this in two different ways: either Colon is awesome against righties, or he’s problematic against lefties. In reality, it’s both, and Colon’s split goes beyond the average.

And the root of it? Against righties, Colon is a grounder machine. Against lefties, he’s got more in common with the big Chris Young. Since 2011, again, 124 different pitchers have allowed at least 1,000 balls in play. Here’s a table, showing ten of those pitchers:

Pitcher rhbGB% lhbGB% Diff BIP
Bartolo Colon 53.2% 34.8% 18.4% 1635
Doug Fister 58.4% 45.0% 13.4% 1805
Ubaldo Jimenez 48.8% 37.2% 11.6% 1589
Kyle Kendrick 52.5% 41.4% 11.1% 1474
Scott Diamond 52.7% 42.0% 10.7% 1209
Ian Kennedy 43.2% 32.6% 10.6% 1768
Rick Porcello 58.8% 48.7% 10.1% 1768
Ricky Romero 57.2% 47.2% 10.0% 1235
Tommy Milone 38.6% 28.7% 9.9% 1183
Edinson Volquez 54.4% 44.6% 9.8% 1347

These are the ten pitchers out of that group with the biggest positive differences between righty grounder rate and lefty grounder rate. Ubaldo Jimenez around 12 percentage points. Doug Fister around 13. Bartolo Colon north of 18. He doesn’t just have the biggest difference — he has the biggest difference by a big giant enormous margin. Colon’s fastball-heavy against everyone, but the right-handed everyones hit the ball down, while the left-handed everyones hit the ball up. Up means dingers, and there have been dingers.

Going off Brooks Baseball, we can observe a difference in approach. Righties have seen a lot more sinkers, while lefties have seen a lot more four-seamers. Sinkers tend to mean grounders, while four-seamers don’t. However, that doesn’t explain everything. Against righties, Colon’s sinker has gotten three grounders per five balls in play. Against lefties, it’s gotten two. The sinker hasn’t done its usual job, and though Colon’s fastball assortment is probably more complicated than Brooks is capturing, the details aren’t going to change the general message. Colon throws types of fastballs. Lefties put them in the air.

Hastily-selected examples of fastballs leading to different things:

ColonRHB.gif.opt

ColonLHB.gif.opt

See, I told you Colon has gotten a grounder from a righty, once. I told you he’s allowed a liner to a lefty, once. I don’t know what more proof you need.

So what does this mean for the Tigers in particular? So much of the attention has been given to Miguel Cabrera, and whether or not he’s healthy, and whether or not he’s healthy enough to produce. He hasn’t produced like himself for a month. It is a legitimate concern, for the series and for the overall playoffs, because Cabrera is the Tigers’ best player, and he gets involved in a lot of their runs. But Friday, even a healthy Cabrera would be facing a challenge, and though Cabrera probably holds the trump card over almost anyone, the Tigers could need to rely on the Prince Fielders and Alex Avilas and Victor Martinezes. Against Colon, there’s going to be contact, but the likelihood is that there will be different sorts of contact, with lefties in better position to drive the ball. One never knows how things are going to work out over a single game, but we can at least have a sense of the probabilities.

Bartolo Colon is a good pitcher, but like any good pitcher, he’s a guy with his own strengths and weaknesses. He’s confident in his approach, and he’s not going to put many batters on base on his own. His command ranks among the league’s best. But he allows lefties to take better swing paths, and the Tigers’ roster has some good-hitting lefties on it. Key to the game? I don’t know if this is a key to the game. I hate the idea of keys to the game. But this is a part of the game. I’m content to say that much.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Steve
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Steve
2 years 10 months ago

Roids. Come on, it has to have something to do with this. We’re all thinking it.

Either that or the A’s defense is suddenly a bunch of Andrelton Simmonds. Which it kind of is. Ok, combination of the two ^

dunx
Guest
dunx
2 years 10 months ago

You really think a guy who was suspended for testosterone last year wouldn’t be tested for everything every week?

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 10 months ago

Isn’t the drug testing random…?

Jim Bouldin
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Ah, the Lance Armstrong defense!

He’s a 40 year old fat guy. Steroids, pure and simple.

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
2 years 10 months ago

Never fails how ignorant people are of PED usage .

Armstrong is a good comp. guy used for years and passed every test. You have to be bottom of the barrel dumb to believe that guys passing a test means they’re clean.

We KNOW about Braun. The process is, by design, secretive. How many other Brauns are out there?

Stop pretending results is indicative of process. Especially on a sabre site.

MrKnowNothing, Indeed
Guest
MrKnowNothing, Indeed
2 years 10 months ago

Stop pretending like you know exactly who is using, and when, and how much, and how you know exactly how it affects everyone. Please enlighten us all.

Brandon
Guest
Brandon
2 years 10 months ago

Guys with elevated ground ball rates have a strong tendency to have lower than average BABIP on those ground balls. This is because ground ball pitchers typically induce weak contact on the ground balls they do get. Bartolo’s pretty ridiculous at inducing ground balls to righties, as noted above, so that’s most of it.

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 10 months ago

No, we aren’t all thinking it. I can’t even make sense of the idea that ‘roids helps him against righties but not against lefties.

Bab
Guest
Bab
2 years 10 months ago

Not even close. A’s defenders collectively grade out slightly above average. Competent and effective, but not “Andrelton Simmons.”

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 10 months ago

Expected this to be about his weight.

joser
Guest
joser
2 years 10 months ago

If so, you don’t know Jeff Sullivan.

AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC
2 years 10 months ago

Sir, the plural you seek is “Martíneces.”

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
2 years 10 months ago

He’s fat

dose17
Member
dose17
2 years 10 months ago

Surprised to see Scott Diamond on that list. He’s the only lefty at first glance.

exxrox
Member
exxrox
2 years 10 months ago

Rickles is on there too but that’s a completely different story..

Free Bryan LaHair
Member
Free Bryan LaHair
2 years 10 months ago

milone is a lefty

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