Any time a team loses its number two starter, it’s going to hurt. Most teams simply don’t have the depth to replace a pitcher of that caliber, and the same is true of the Yankees. They lost Bartolo Colon for at least two weeks when he strained his hamstring covering first base on Sunday, though it could easily be more given the nature of his injury and his less than ideal physical condition. My hope is that he can start one of the first five games after the All-Star break, though I tend to set expectations low. Now, excuse me as I put on my blind optimism hat for a second, but is it possible that Colon’s stint on the disabled list could actually be a good thing?
Of course it’s going to completely stink in the short term because Bartolo was legitimately pitching like an ace. His 3.34 FIP and 1.6 fWAR puts him in the company of guys like Jamie Shields (3.50 FIP, 1.7 fWAR), Tim Hudson (3.41 FIP, 1.4 fWAR), Chad Billingsley (3.40 FIP, 1.4 fWAR), and Ricky Nolasco (3.55 FIP, 1.4 fWAR), four guys any of us would happily take in the Yankees’ rotation. However, Colon has also thrown 78.1 IP this year, and the only reason it’s that low is because he started the year in the bullpen. Since officially moving into the rotation on April 15th, his 67 IP are right up there with noted workhorses like Mark Buehrle (67.2 IP), Ted Lilly (66.1 IP), and Dan Haren 68.2 IP). Point being, Colon’s thrown a ton of innings lately.
All that work is why this DL stint could be a blessing in disguise for the Yankees. Those 78.1 IP this season are already more than Colon threw in 2010 (0 IP), 2009 (62.1 IP), 2008 (39.1 IP), and 2006 (56.1 IP), and he’s just 21 IP shy of his 2007 total. It’s been a while since Bartolo has endured this kind of workload, and who really knows how that stem cell treated shoulder will hold up. Simply put, a few weeks of rest at this point of the season could be just what this 38-year-old needs to remain healthy and effective down the stretch, when the Yankees are really going to need him.
This isn’t just about Colon either. His absence will afford the Yankees the opportunity to give some of their younger arms a taste of the big leagues, even if it’s just Hector Noesi experiencing life as a Major League starter for the first time. It’s better to let him start that learning process now than in August and September, when the margin for error is smaller just based on the number of games left on schedule. Heck, if Noesi pitches well, it could also boost his trade value and make him that much more desirable to other teams in a midseason trade should the Yankees decide to go that way. The same holds true for David Phelps or Adam Warren.
There’s always a chance that Bartolo comes back from the injury and simply doesn’t pitch as well as he had been. If fact, there’s probably a better chance of that happening than him coming back and dominating again. This level of performance is just so improbable, but he’s been defying the odds all season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he continued to do so after this little vacation. It’s hard to spin injuries into a positive, and if Colon’s bum hamstring has any benefit to the team, keeping him fresh for the stretch drive is it.