Bartolo’s Indian Summer

Jeter steals the show in win over Rays
Game 88: Before the break

“None of us can predict what’s gonna happen” – Joe Girardi, March 22, 2011 on the decision to begin the season with Bartolo Colon in the bullpen

As weird as it seems now, Bartolo Colon began the season in the bullpen after losing the 5th starter battle to Freddy Garcia back in March. While Colon had out-pitched Garcia in Spring Training, and while his stuff looked fantastic, there were serious questions about his durability. This wasn’t exactly an unfounded concern – Colon is 38 years old, didn’t pitch at all in the majors last season, and last topped 100 innings back in 2005. “Eater” is a word that comes to mind when one thinks of Bartolo, but it’s in connection with food, not innings.

So thank goodness, in a sense, for Phil Hughes‘ dead arm. As it turned out, Hughes’ injury opened the door for Colon and allowed the Yankees to see what they really had in him. Despite a rough outing last time out, he has really come up in spades for the team. Aided by a shoulder rejuvenated by a controversial stem-cell procedure, Colon has been the second-best starter on the 2011 Yankees. As comeback stories go, this one is almost a bit too good to be true. Indeed, this veteran and two-time All Star is having the best season of his length career, even better than when he beat out Johan Santana for the Cy Young in 2005.

In 2005 Colon pitched 222.2 innings of 3.48 ERA ball for the Angels. His W-L record was sterling, 21-8, and was no doubt the driving force behind him winning the Cy Young. Colon’s K rate was 6.35/9, not exactly the highest strikeout rate of Cy Young winners, but he only handed out 1.74 walks per nine innings. His FIP on the year was 3.75, and his xFIP was 3.91. This year he’s doing even better. He’s struck out 7.90 batters per nine innings so far in 2011 while maintaining his typically low walk rate of 2.20/9. His BABIP is a touch lower than his career norm (and his last outing certainly helped bring it closer to average), but other than that there’s there’s no indication that Colon has benefited from anything unsustainable or odd. By all measures, this is a career year for Bartolo Colon, and he looks fantastic. His two-seam fastball is a jaw-dropper when it’s on. You can see it here at 0:54.

A lot of analysts have been expecting the Yankees to be in the market for front-line pitching. By all indications, they are. But a lot of the preseason speculation on the topic was predicated on the notion that either A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes represented the Yankees #2 starter, and that Garcia/Colon/Nova were simply back-end guys designed to soak up innings to be moved out when the reinforcements arrived. No one expected Colon to become that #2 starter for the team. But that’s what he is, and it’s not a mirage. He has the 11th lowest SIERA of any AL pitcher, better than Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett, albeit in fewer innings.

It’s hard to imagine that a story on the New York Yankees would go relatively underreported, but it seems as if that’s what’s happened with Bartolo. A fair amount of attention has been given to his surgery, but not enough has been given to the fact that he’s having a career season at the ripe old age of 38. There is concern about his durability – the last time he cracked even 100 innings was 2005 – and perhaps the Yankees would be wise to monitor his workload down the stretch. But the fact remains that as of today he represents a viable #2 starter behind CC Sabathia, giving the Yankees flexibility as they head into the trade deadline. These 90 innings from Bartolo and ~1.6 fWAR are no small reason the Yankees are tied with Boston in the loss column for first place in July.

The chapter on this season’s New York Yankees isn’t written yet. It’s barely halfway through. No matter what happens with this club – whether they miss the playoffs, get knocked out, or cruise down the Canyon of Heroes in November through a shower of praise and confetti – there’s no doubt that Bartolo Colon has contributed in a large way to the success of this team. Something Girardi said back in Spring Training now rings true, not only for Spring Training but also as an epitapth for the season at its midpoint: “Bartolo was the wild card in all of this”.

Jeter steals the show in win over Rays
Game 88: Before the break
  • Mike HC

    “Eater” is a word that comes to mind when one thinks of Bartolo, but it’s in connection with food, not innings.


    I listened to the Tony Bruno Show, only because Nick Dipaolo, and more specifically, Artie Lange, filled in (great show by the way, you can get it on the internet). And Dipaolo made a similar joke about CC and said something like, “Everyone is always saying that CC is an innings eater. What, do they spread butter on them or something.” It was much funnier when he said it. I found it hilarious.

  • Steve S.

    The early stint in the bullpen served two purposes. First, it gave the job to a deserving candidate in Garcia, who would have served no purpose in the bullpen and would likely have been lost if he wasn’t starting.

    But maybe more importantly, it held Bartolo’s innings down. He’s only at 90 IP for the season, and if he stays on turn the rest of the year he should finish around 165-175IP. That’s more reasonable than asking him for 200IP at his age, and once again while we were all complaining about Girardi in April he was two steps ahead.

  • CMP

    They have to pray Colon can last the season but if he collapses, I don’t think they have enough starting pitching behind CC to make a legit run in the playoffs.

    • CP

      They certainly have enough offense, and all you need is a couple of pitchers to get hot – just look at Jeff Weaver in 2006.

      Besides, look at Boston. Right now John Lackey is their ace.

      • CMP

        You can never count on offense in the postseason. Every year, it’s all about pitching.

  • CP

    Assuming he keeps this up, what kind of deal do you think he’ll be able to get this offseason?

    • Rookie

      Assuming his arm is still attached to his shoulder?

    • Rookie

      Bigger question:

      How much do you think the doctors who did the operation on his shoulder will make?

  • SodaPopinski

    I love Bart.

  • infernoscurse

    good thing hughes got hurt and jeter and arod also so we can have Nuñez Mania, the next best thing since robinson cano

    • CS Yankee

      weird & off-topic

  • Rookie

    “There is concern about his durability – the last time he cracked even 100 innings was 2005 – and perhaps the Yankees would be wise to monitor his workload down the stretch.”

    Amen, Stephen. Amen.

    If I’m the Yankees, I do everything I possibly can to maximize the odds that Colon is healthy, available, at at his best at playoff time. I don’t ride him (as the saying goes) “like a rented mule” — which seems to be exactly what they’ve been doing so far.

    • CMP

      Maybe the can implement the Colon rules.

      Eat lots of fiber, drink plenty of water and no more than 90 pitches or 6 innings per outing.

    • CS Yankee

      I wonder how the stack them come Thursday after the break. I would go;

      1) AJ (5 days between)
      2) CC (again 5 days)
      3) Hughes (needs innings)
      4) Garcia (solid, good mix after a heater)
      5) Colon (little extra)

      This would have the reliable inning eaters (CC & Garcia) between the concerns to help the pen out.

    • bexarama

      I don’t ride him (as the saying goes) “like a rented mule” — which seems to be exactly what they’ve been doing so far.

      How? It’s not like they’re rushing him out there on short rest or having him pitch ten thousand innings. People got bitchy when they pulled him out for Mariano Rivera in a game.

      I think it would be wise to monitor his workload down the stretch too, but I just don’t see how they are riding him like a rented mule.

      • Rookie

        You’re absolutely right, bexarama. Poor choice of words on my part. (I’ll try to blame it on being in too much of a hurry to get back to work.)

        What I was thinking about and should have said is that I don’t think he he’s pitched very many innings in a single year since 2005 and that he only pitched about 81 innings in 2010 including minor league innings.

        And I don’t know if the same issues about jumping too many innings in a single year apply to veteran pitchers the same way they do to young pitchers. I also know that Colon’s contributions have been/are much needed this year.

        But I thought the Yankees were being really smart at the beginning of the season when, despite the fact that Colon clearly outpitched Garcia (and Nova, I believe) for a spot in the starting rotation that they had him pitching in the bullpen. I thought that was, if done properly, a very smart way to minimize wear and tear on his arm and maximize the odds hthat he would be available, healthy, and at his best in the post season.

        And recently, of course, they had the option of keeping Nova up and moving Colon to the bullpen and chose not to do so. I think that was unquestionably the right move to win the most games in the regular season and to allow Nova to further refine his skills in the minors — not to mention the best way to avoid looking desperate to potential trading partners. And it’s impossible to know how many starts/innings Colon has in his shoulder, etc. And that may even have been the smartest move — all things considered.

        But even if all of those benefits wind up being achieved and Colon is ineffective or injured come the post season, I’ll wonder whether the Yankees might have been better off compromising their success a little more in the regular season in order to have a better chance of having a more effective Colon in the post season.

        However, I stand corrected, bexarama. They’re not riding him like a rented mule.

  • Steve S.

    I didn’t want a single weekend article to go by without someone saying that something sucks, so here it is.

    I haven’t decided which part sucked yet, but I’ll get back to you on that.

    • nsalem

      maybe it’s some of the comments

      • Steve S.

        Speak for yourself.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    it’s really unbelievable what Colon and also Garcia have done so far this season. They did everything (and even more) than we all could have hoped for and we all would’ve said that a person has no idea about baseball if anybody predicted Colon’s and Garcia’s season they had so far. Just unbelievable. Colon’s my Yankee MVP of the first half (sry CC and Grandyman), just because I thought he would be DFAed before the end of April. The Colon and Garcia experiment is already a success and Brian Cashman and his staff have done a great job here. I know a lot of people often criticize Cashman but I sometimes wonder if anybody can do much better than he does.

    • Stephen Rhoads

      Good stuff, agreed.

    • Rookie

      The most interesting thing of all to me (aside from Colon’s miraculous resurgence) is how up until this year every pitching decision Cashman made seemed to be a disaster. (I won’t bother listing some of them — because we all know them.) But up until this year, he seemed to have a reverse Midas touch. Everything he touched turned to *#!&.

      In contrast, this year, he’s seemingly turned to King Midas — with starters and relievers. Besides Colon and Garcia, there’s Wade and Ayala — and all of the pitchers he could have signed, but didn’t (with the glaring exception of Feliciano). And the jury’s still out on the two-year contract for Mo. However, I think even the toughest grader would have to give Cashman an A-, if not better.

      The interesting question to me is why the sudden success? Is it just a coincidence — a result of the outcome of a small sample size — or something more? Could it be that Cashman has learned from his mistakes? Could it be Larry Rothschild? Could it be something else?

      While I won’t pretend to know the answer, I will say that it appears to me (with the exception of Feliciano and possible understandable exception of Mo) that Cashman is making good moves and avoiding bad moves for the right reasons. So my guess is that it hasn’t been small sample size/luck. IF I’m right, I suspect that we’ll see many more smart moves than dumb ones in the future from Cashman and whoever’s advising him.

  • CapitalT

    It will be interesting to see what MLB and other sports decide to do with regards to adult stem cell usage.