Bartolo’s Big Test

Fan Confidence Poll: May 23rd, 2011
The RAB Radio Show: May 23, 2011
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Through six starts and three long relief appearances, the Bartolo Colon experiment has been a rousing success for the Yankees. The big guy has a 3.16 ERA to go along with a 3.52 FIP, and a 2.88 xFIP suggests that he’s been a little unlucky when it comes to the long ball. Of the six homers he’s allowed, two qualify as “Just Enough” shots according to Hit Tracker, which means they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet. That’s nothing. Colon has been throwing legit mid-90’s heat and is striking out nearly one man per inning while walking fewer than two per nine (8.42 K/9, 1.93 BB/9). We really can’t say enough about how good or surprising he’s been.

Tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays is going to be perhaps the most telling start of Colon’s brief Yankees’ career, at least to date. Why? Because for the first time this year, a team will get a second look at him as a starter. Yes, Bartolo has already pitched twice against the Red Sox, but the first appearance was in relief while the second was a starter. That’s not quite the same thing. The Jays will be the first team to get a second look at Colon the starter, so now adjustments come into the play.

In his first start against Toronto (April 20th), Colon powered through 6.2 innings by throwing fastball after fastball. Just 14 of his 85 pitches were offspeed while the other 75 pitches were broken into 39 four-seamers and 36 two-seamers (PitchFX data). He only left the game because he’d reached his pitch count in just his first start. That fastball-heavy approach is the norm for Bartolo as we now know, and the Jays are surely aware of it as well.  Toronto has been one of the league’s better teams against the ol’ number one, so do the Yankees and Colon change up the game plan and mix in more sliders and changeups?

I don’t get a vote nor should I, but I’m in the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” camp. Let the Blue Jays first show that they’ve adjusted to the fastball-heavy plan before deviating from it. Why switch to Plan B when you aren’t even sure that Plan A is outdated yet? I definitely wouldn’t recommend going after Jose Bautista with the high heat again, but the other eight guys in the lineup? Go for it. Adam Lind is out with a back problem, so the only lefty power source they have is the recently called up Eric Thames (no relation to Marcus). Colon has shredded right-handed batters all year long, so stick with the heat and then adjust if necessary.

The Yankees have already gotten more out of Colon than I think they ever imagined, but in the back of our minds we all know that the next pitch could be the last. Yeah, that’s true for everyone, but Bartolo’s at greater risk given all his recent (and major) arm trouble. Tonight we’ll get our first real look at how he handles a lineup after they’ve seen him and had some time to refine the game plan a little bit.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 23rd, 2011
The RAB Radio Show: May 23, 2011
  • Matt :: Sec110

    Yeah, I’m interested to see what kind of adjustments the Jays make, and if looks to make a few himself…

    How would everyone rank the SPs this year?

    I’d go: Colon, CC, AJ, Garcia, Nova.

    •!/billreichmann breich315

      I would go CC, Colon, AJ, Garcia/Nova (tie)

      I think everyone expects CC to throw a shut out every time out and thus the perception is that he doesn’t always meet the lofty expectations. However the big fellas has been awesome!! Bartolo’s a close 2nd and even AJ has been pretty damn good.

      • Matt :: Sec110

        Yeah, I just think it speaks to the solid starting pitching we’ve gotten this year.

        Still think they’ll aquire an arm at the deadline though.

    • Bills

      I got CC/Colon (tie), AJ, Garcia, Nova

      Garcia could be third if he pitched more innings with his slow, slower, slowest routine. I am still OK with Nova as a fifth starter although his lack of a K pitch frustrates me. Wonder what MLB averages are for 5th starters.

    • Mike HC

      I would CC over Colon just because he has pitched about 16 more innings. Other than that, it would be tough to pick between the two at this point.

  • Don Juan

    Bartolo’s been around forever so this 2nd time around stuff is nonsense. For a rook like Nova it would make a difference but not a guy who has been around for 15 years. Just accept the fact that he’s back and teams cannot adjust to his movement. If he doesn’t have the location then he’ll suck like in Texas but if he has it he’s nearly unhittable and nothing the Jays do can stop him.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Bartolo’s been around forever so this 2nd time around stuff is nonsense. For a rook like Nova it would make a difference but not a guy who has been around for 15 years.

      Current members of the Toronto Blue Jays have a sum total of 46 career plate appearances against Bartolo Colon. 22 of those 46 (or about half) are from part-time players Corey Patterson and John McDonald.

      Bartolo Colon is a virtual rookie to the Blue Jays. Yes, he’s been aroudn forever and has faced the Blue Jays countless times in his career. Most of those appearances against Toronto came against the likes of Vernon Wells, Shannon Stewart, Jose Cruz, and countless other older players who aren’t with the organization anymore.

      Bartolo hasn’t pitched much in the past 5 years. A lot of teams don’t have players on their roster who were on their roster 5 years ago. Bartolo Colon is very much a novelty to many teams in the league

      • Mike HC

        He is a novelty to everyone. He is one big experiment on that new surgery he got. It is cool to be able to watch it and follow him.

      • radnom

        I’m going to agree with Don’s overall premise (that the second time around stuff isn’t a concern to Colon) but with a completely different reasoning.

        Bartolo is working with more or less a complete arsenal right now. This is a guy who has, in the past, put up complete seasons demonstrating the ability to make the needed in-season adjustments to be the caliber pitcher that Bartolo was at one point.

        It would be one thing if he had greatly diminished stuff an was working with a whole new approach but in this case, I agree that the ‘second time around’ stuff really isn’t a concern for Colon.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    Just for fun, each SP’s WAR value (via baseball ref)

    CC – 1.3
    Colon – 1.2
    Garcia – 1.1
    AJ – 0.8
    Nova – 0.3

    and for Ss and Gs
    Hughes – 0.9

    The team piching staff is also 4th in the AL (7.1), and 7th overall in the bigs.

    • Matt :: Sec110

      hughes is (-0.9) obvs, left out the extra ‘dash’.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Look how much different their WAR from FanGraphs looks…

      CC – 1.9
      Colon – 0.8
      Nova – 0.5
      AJ – 0.4
      Garcia – 0.2

      • Matt :: Sec110

        whoa….crazy stuff.

        • AndrewYF

          FanGraphs uses FIP, so it’s not a very good indicator of what a pitcher has done, but more of an indicator of how they should have done.

          It’s rather unfortunate that FanGraphs uses their version of WAR in their (nearly-useless) monetary player valuation. I wish they were able to get over themselves and admit that using FIP over real-world results is not a good way to determine exactly what kind of value a pitcher provided to a team.

          • Clay Bellinger

            I see your point, but I’ve always liked to have the two different perspectives anyway.

          • Jerome S.

            FIP is actually better IMO. It defers a lot of the value to the defense, where it belongs. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not perfect, but defense is way, way more valuable than we could have possibly imagined.

  • Girardi Must Go

    The Yanks have gotten more out of Colon then ever imagined.


  • Mike HC

    I don’t think there is an adjustment in this world that can help people hit that 95 mph two seamer that nips the inside corner. I don’t care how many times you face him. Just keep pumping those stem cells in there and all will be good.

    • Monteroisdinero

      or the outside corner if you are Bautista and he is the guy I worry about the most of course. Start the pitch a foot outside and catch the outside corner=unhittable.

      • Mike HC

        I have given up on thinking there is a way to get Bautista out. Just hope he barely misses it, is about the best you can do. Or just walk him.

        But maybe a stem cell infused super arm could be his equal.

  • MikeD

    I mostly agree with Don Juan’s comments above. I’m less concerned about Colon’s second turn through the league than I would be with a rookie who is unknown. Colon’s pitching pattern hasn’t changed. This is how he pitched his last full, healthy season in 2005 when he won 21 games. He pounds the strike zone with fastballs, issues few walks. He has been relying on the fastball to a slightly higher degree so far, yet that’s also the norm for him, since he doesn’t start mixing in other pitches until needed.

    Now I say I “mostly” agreed because for many MLB hitters they really haven’t seen Colon. He was out all of last year, and the prior four seasons he was continually injured, pitching on average about 50 innings. Considering the high turnover of MLB players, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if more than half of MLB hitters haven’t face Colon, and that percentage is no doubt higher with the current Blue Jays roster. Yet getting back to the original point. If Colon is healthy (as he has been), he has shown he can be a very successful MLB pitcher throwing just as he’s been throwing.

    • Don Juan

      Yes, and Mike HC made a good point above. It’s hard to adjust to a 95 mph 2 seamer that darts back over the corner at the last moment. That’s why I said if Bartolo has it like he did his last start it’s nearly impossible to hit him. If he doesn’t have that location and the 2 seamer is getting the heart of the plate like in Texas then he’ll get knocked around.

  • Andrew

    Bartolo can throw a nice slider when he needs to, and if the Jays’ righties are sitting on and hacking at any and all fastballs, I think that pitch will help him. He threw more sliders in the Boston start than he has in many of his games this year and his results were positive. And the one he threw to Andino to end his night in Baltimore was nasty, so I think he can survive if he has to reduce his fastball percentage due to either command or predictability.

  • Guest

    Given just how hard Bartolo is throwing, is it conceivable that is stem-cell surgery did more than simply repair injured tissue?

    Is it possible that it provided Bartolo’s arm with a “fountain of youth” effect?

    In other word’s did the surgery take some of the miles of Bartolo’s shoulder?

    If so, (1) that surgery is going to be really popular, and (2) hard to see how it could be morally superior to taking greenies and other amphetamines (both diminish the effects of things players need to deal with (age and fatigue respectively)).

    • Mike HC

      MLB is currently investigating it … Based on past MLB investigations, I’m not holding my breath on their findings.

    • Steve H

      It’s really tough to say since there are several variables. Maybe just essentially taking a few years off helped the velocity return. It’s not as if he’s throwing harder now than he ever did, but more that he’s returning to his prior velocity. Then again, returning to your prior velocity at 37 years old certainly isn’t the norm.

      • Mike HC

        At this point. Even the doctors are probably not 100% sure of exactly what is going on. They have a better idea than me though, ha.

    • Clay Bellinger

      “If so, (1) that surgery is going to be really popular”

      You’re not kidding, apparently 10 un-named pitchers have now requested the same surgery from that doc.

      • Mike HC

        That one is not hard to predict. I wonder where else they can inject those stem cells, ha.

  • Ryan

    It seems like there have been a lot of players getting hit in the head this season.

    Aim for Bautista’s eye Bartolo!

  • Ryan

    It seems like there have been a lot of players getting hit in the head this season.

    Aim for Bautista’s eye Bartolo!

  • Kered Retej

    In addition to his surprising on-field performance, one of the pleasant surprises for me has been his off-field modesty and attitude. I didn’t know much about his personality before he joined the team, but from what I can tell, he seems like a real good dude. From his post-games, you might think he was a rookie, and not a veteran former Cy Young, the way he is humble and appreciative.

    • Monteroisdinero

      In this way, he is like his long lost and now deceased cousin Andre the Giant. Take away the 2 foot/300lb difference and well… can see the resemblance.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Yeah, he does seem like a chill dude. Last week in Baltimore was funny, seeing him walking around talking to everyone in between his innings…just didn’t seem like a guy who was starting or still in the game.

    • FIPster Doofus

      I start laughing every time YES shows Colon acting like a goof in the dugout during his starts. He’s hilarious.

  • Yank The Frank

    I don’t see Bartolo getting guys out with trickery. His stuff has just been exceptionally good. Hopefully, this continues throughout the year and beyond. We are already playing with house money.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Bartolo is the real Killer B.

  • paul

    Bautista is the biggest challenge-DUH! Colon cannot just sit fastballs in or away all night…Go after the other 8, but Baustista-mix and match.
    Colon goes 6 plus-I am happy…Joker has been doin well all season…
    SP-hasnt been the problem much lately. Any SP can go 6 and give up 3 er or less-I will take it….

  • nsalem

    Hats off to Cashman for assembling (up to now) a very competent back end of the rotation in the wake of the Cliff Lee fiasco. Our 3 through 5 starters are exceeding most expectations all for under a total of 3 million dollars.

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