Even LL Cool J would allow you to call it a comeback. Bartolo Colon defied Father Time last season, returning to the majors with a vengeance. Along the way, he posted a 2.9 WAR, his best performance since the 2005 season. In order to build on his comeback season, Colon signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics. Out of the AL East and in a more forgiving park, will Colon actually be more valuable this season?
While it would be easy to write off Colon’s 2011 as a fluke, it would be foolish. He may have defied the odds last season, but his peripherals were in line with his performance. Colon’s fastball velocity returned this past season after he struggled to hit 90 mph in 2009. His fastball was not only more effective, but it also was probably one of the main reasons his strikeout rate returned to acceptable levels. Colon’s 19.5 K% marked his best performance in the category since 2001. He was also stingy with walks, posting his best BB/9 since 2007.
Perhaps more impressively, that performance came in a hitter’s park in baseball’s most brutal division. Colon has always struggled with the long ball over his career — as evidenced by his 1.11 HR/9 rate — but he’s moving to a park that suppresses home runs.
|Park Factors (LHB/RHB)||K||1B||2B||3B||HR|
*Values courtesy of StatCorner
After pitching in the unforgiving Yankee Stadium, Colon will benefit from the spacious O.co Coliseum. Overall, his new park suppresses hits more than Yankee Stadium — with the exception of triples — and drastically suppresses home runs. As Jeff Zimmerman recently pointed out, O.co Coliseum is one of only three parks that suppress home runs for both lefties and righties. Yankee Stadium, on the other hand, was one of the eight parks that allowed home runs at an elevated rate to both lefties and righties. Lefties tattooed Colon last season to the tune of a 1.70 HR/9, so moving away from that atrocious 143 park effect is going to be a big relief. Colon is definitely going to enjoy pitching in his new home.
Colon does come with some considerable risks, however. While Colon was valuable last season, he only threw 164.1 innings. After a season away from the majors in 2010, fatigue seemed to set in as the season wore on. A look at his velocity charts reveals that Colon’s fastball petered out as the season came to a close. His August and September FIPs were 4.95 and 4.39 as a result. The last time Colon pitched a significant amount of innings was back in 2005, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever approach 200+ innings again.
While his age and recent history make him a risky pick, Colon can succeed if his velocity rebounds after an off-season of rest. He’s no longer a workhorse — and he may be susceptible to wearing down as the season progresses — but he’s moving to a friendlier park and a friendlier division. Based on his performance from last season, Colon is worth a late-round flier in most leagues. If he regains his 2011 velocity, he’ll be an interesting trade chip in June. If he falls back to Earth, you can cut your loses without feeling guilty.