Is Bartolo Colon throwing too many fastballs?

A trip through Baseball-Reference.com
He's back! Yankees sign Brad Halsey

One thing has been clear since Spring Training: Bartolo Colon is going to live and die with his fastball. Luckily for him it’s come back to life at age-38 and after some major shoulder troubles, sitting comfortably in the low-90’s and topping out as high as 96 against the Blue Jays a week ago. It’s actually two fastballs, the straight four-seamer that’s more pure velocity and the darting two-seamer that’s all about movement. To say Colon uses those two pitches heavily would be an understatement. He’s thrown the four-seamer more than 45% of the time and the two-seamer more than 41% of the time in his 33 innings of work. That means he’s throwing one or two non-fastballs per inning, give or take.

The table above, courtesy of Texas Leaguers, shows the full breakdown of his pitches, including strike rates and swing-and-miss rates, the whole nine. I guess what really caught my attention are the whiff rates of his change and slider. He’s thrown 24 changeups (all but five to lefties, so almost four out of every five) and batters have swung and missed at six of them. When you’re that fastball heavy, taking a little something off will definitely result in some funny hacks. The slider, meanwhile, has been thrown primarily to righties (25 of 38, almost exactly two-thirds), and they’ve come up empty on one out of every ten swings. Those are some gaudy percentages.

Unlike Ivan Nova, who’s still young and developing, the Yankees shouldn’t screw around with Colon. He is what he is and it’s working, so don’t change it unnecessarily. Could he stand to mix in a few more changeups against lefties and sliders against righties? Sure, but it’s not broke right now, so don’t fix it. He is leading the American League in strikeout-to-walk ratio after all. Perhaps that’s stage two of the Bartolo revival. Once the league adjusts to the heat, he’ll break out the offspeed stuff in earnest. That would be sweet.

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He's back! Yankees sign Brad Halsey
  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    Agree with the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. It’s certainly working, and as a veteran, I’m less concerned about him losing his feel for his secondary stuff when it comes into play more. We always here about a guy making it thru the league a second time, and if Colon is having this much success with just his fastball(s) he might as well keep throwing it. If the league figures it out a little more (but 94+ with movement isn’t easy to just figure out) he can work in some other stuff. Also, as noted in Olney’s column today, of the 90 fastballs he threw last night, no more than 11 went to any spot of the 9 quadrants of the strike zone. He’s throwing his fastball for strikes, with plus velocity, movement and command.

  • jsbrendog

    Comeback player of the year.

    • UncleArgyle

      Funk that. If he keeps pitching like this he’ll be the Cy Young.

      • Frigidevil

        I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.

        • http://twitter.com/urbainshockcor Urban

          True, but a Cy Young would pretty much guarantee he’d also win Comeback Player, but not so the other way around. Cy Young probably means he had a better year.

  • Klemy

    Is Bartolo Colon throwing too many fastballs?

    Are the Yankees hitting too many homeruns?

    Go until the league can adjust IMHO. Until then, keep throwing that thing.

  • MikeD

    I was curious how that data compares to Colon’s last healthy season (2005), and I was surprised to see that he really hasn’t changed that much in his pitching style. While his fastball percentage is slightly higher this year than 2005 (84.1% vs. 81.7%), and the percentage of sliders slightly lower (9.4% vs. 10.5%), it’s not far off. His percentage of sliders did increase up into the 15% range in the years between 2005 and 2011 when he was injured and less effective. So basically this may be who Colon is when he’s healthy and his fastball is working.

  • jaremy

    Last paragraph says it all. Hopefully when the league catches up, Colon will adapt. He’s a vet, so it is definitely more likely.

    Also, his 4 and 2 seamers are DRASTICALLY different at this point, so it’s not like he’s sitting pumping in 85 four-seamers a game.

  • Greg

    “The Yankees have signed LHP Brad Halsey to a minor league contract. He is working out at extended spring training”

    How’d we miss that one

    • Klemy

      How’d we notice?!?

  • vin

    It kind of reminds me of Phil Hughes dominating opposing batters last April with his fastball/cutter combo. The league adjusted and Phil’s effectiveness waned.

    • Chip

      True but Colon has legit other pitches he can use for strikeouts. Once guys start sitting on his 2 seamer, that change-up is going to be a nasty pitch

      • vin

        Yeah, I thought the same thing last year about Phil’s curveball. Hopefully Bart can fare better.

    • bakekrukow412

      But it seems like Phil didn’t have the nasty off-speed stuff waiting in reserve. At this point I have more faith in Colon’s ability to stay good throughout the season than I did last year with Hughes.

      • vin

        Honestly, I had more faith in Phil last year, just because he wasn’t coming back from shoulder surgery like Bartolo. As I mentioned above, I really thought Phil would use his curveball more as the season wore on to keep hitters honest. Didn’t really happen though.

        Since he’s a vet, I’d expect Bartolo to do a better job of making adjustments, but I’m not sure his body will hold up. Remember, the only reason he’s in the big leagues was because he was pitching winter ball in the DR. I’ll expect him to wear down even faster than most 38 year olds.

        • bakekrukow412

          I think he’ll hold up OK. He only threw 37 innings in the DR league. If we skip him over a few starts I think he should be fine.

  • jon

    CC and Colon? the best and fattest 1 2 in baseball?

    • Midland TX

      They’re definitely anchoring the rotation.

      • toad

        Great comment!!

        Let’s hear it for fat pitchers.

  • Andrew

    Bartolo has been making so many batters look foolish this year that he might not ever have to adjust his approach.

    Has anyone noticed has filthy that two-seamer is coming back in on lefties? There is really nothing that any of them can do. What starts out looking like a pitch that might hit you runs back over the plate, catches the corner, strike 3 looking. WOAH.

    “Jabba Colon” as Mike referred to him in the Preemptive Airing of Grievances is the boss this year. Last night he was just two ill-placed pitches to Alex Avila away from a totally dominating performance and his third W on the season

    • Andrew

      sorry that “jabba colon” came from one of the comments…still appropriate though lol

      • Monteroisdinero

        Jabba Colon beats Verlanverde!

    • Chip

      Really I didn’t think the change-up was a bad pitch, just straight up good hitting. The 2 seamer was at least down so again it could have just been some good hitting. He was on

  • Bpdelia

    I like to think of each game as a microvosm of the season
    Ideally, you make it through the lineup once using only your fastball, second time through you mix in your breaking stuff, and hopefully you still have something they haven’t seen the third time through.

    If colon can get through the league once without really using what used to be his k pitch (slider) that bodes very well for his continued success.

    Right now his two seamer is looking maddux halladay esque.

    Not smoke and mirrors, he’s just had fantastic stuff.

  • Bpdelia

    Yeah, imo, both those hrs were pretty good pitches, at least decent, and certainly not “mistakes”. Sometimes the pitcher makes a good pitch and the hitter wins. Avila was just on

  • dkidd

    the only thing bartolo is doing too much of:

    exceeding expectations

    • tpulice

      Hopefully for our sake he keeps blowing away expectations, and that two seam is nasty-nasty

  • Monteroisdinero

    Geritolo Colon is like real estate.

    Location location location.

  • bakekrukow412

    Imagine if we had signed Lee. We’d have a rotation of ex-Indian’s aces.

    • It’sATarp

      Then we sign lebron to be the batboy just to break their hearts further

    • jon

      if they had signed lee there is no way colon would be pitching for the yankees right now

      • CS Yankee

        …because if they had signed Lee, Colon wouldn’t of impressed Pena, Hughes would have been healthy…wait, what?

        Colon in ST was 92-93 with a better change than anybody had remembered. He is 96 now with a beyond wicked two-seamer & has been real solid. This would have likely still have played out well. He was a victim in not being a starter breaking camp, but has prooved himself to them since

      • Louis

        +1 for the “where better off having not signed Lee” club

        • Louis

          Were* sorry autocorrect is stupid.

  • Cy Pettitte

    that junk ball change up thing looked pretty good when he was using it earlier in the year. I’m sure if hitters start picking up his fastball (which I kind of doubt because of that nasty movement) I’m sure he’ll start mixing that in a lot more.

    I’m not gonna worry about what he’s throwing, just stay healthy please.

  • JPB

    Eventually, the scouting will catch up with him and they’ll hit the fastballs more than they do now. And that’s probably when he’ll start mixing in his junk pitches more.

    I’m not concerned about his judgement on pitch selection as much as I am that he’s really pushing himself to get that velocity, and that he’ll re-injure at some point this summer.

    Maybe not, though.

    Long live Brian Cashman.

    • http://twitter.com/urbainshockcor Urban

      I don’t expect him to continue at this pace, yet the scouting reports catching up on him may not be accurate. He’s basically pitching as he did previously so hitters should not be surprised by his pitching style. The one difference seems to be a more effective two-seamer. Scouting reports won’t help the hitters. Bartolo will need to stop being as effective by losing velocity, command and movement.

  • pete

    my guess is he will have to throw fewer in the future, when the league starts hitting his FB more. Hopefully he will be able to adjust too, but I’m not going to bother getting my hopes up. Right now, though, he’s doing the right thing; I’m sure part of the reason his other pitches have been so successful is because of the high percentage of fastballs he’s thrown. Also, a hard, well-located fastball with movement is far and away the best pitch in baseball.

  • Tom

    Its been said but its a fact. Colon is a pleasant suprise and the best bargin in baseball this year. Ride him as he is as long as you can. Its May 1st and the Yankees are in First place with a pitching rotation of Colon, Garcia, Nova, Burnett, and CC. Who would of thought?

    Its a great story for Colon and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

  • Simon

    Ok so, say Colon continues to pitch well and miraculously stays healthy the whole year (need miracles), do you bring him back again on a 1 year deal next year to see what he can give you or, say goodbye? I would give him a 1 year deal just to see if he can hold up. Thoughts?

    • Louis

      Well if he has a season like this, he’ll want money. I’m not sure if he’d take a one year deal, although clubs may not be willing to go over a year anyway. I’d offer him 1 year $5 mill and see where that goes. When that doesn’t net him, I say cut the ties and go after someone younger with a better track record.