What Went Right: Bartolo Colon

Mailbag: Montero, Oppenheimer, Sabathia, Bay
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Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The panic set in as soon as Cliff Lee agreed to rejoin the Phillies in early-December, and then it multiplied when Andy Pettitte officially announced his retirement a few weeks later. The free agent pitching well dried up almost instantaneously, leaving the Yankees to scramble as they tried to fill out their rotation. They finally made a move in late-January, signing the long forgotten Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract.

“It’s nice to see the Yankees going after reclamation projects as back of the rotation possibilities,” wrote Joe at the time of the signing, “but I find it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I felt the same way, and I’m sure many of you did as well. But hey, it was a minor league contract with no risk, and the Yankees had the benefit of Tony Pena‘s input after he managed Colon during winter ball. The Yankees had nothing to lose but time.

Colon started the first game of the Grapefruit League schedule in February, and something weird happened. He came out throwing bullets. I mean 93-94 mph with the four-seamer, plus a two-seamer that ran all over the place. Bart looked healthy and strong, and he continued to not just pitch well in camp, but show stuff that could get big league hitters out. When time came to trim down the roster, the Yankees decided to go with Freddy Garcia as their fifth starter, but Colon had made the team as a reliever.

The bullpen role was short lived. After three impressive long-relief outings in April, Colon moved into the rotation as Phil Hughes went down with what was then a mystery shoulder ailment. His first start came on April 20th in Toronto, when he gave the Yankees 6.2 innings of two-run ball. Colon struck out seven and walked just two, raising his season K/BB to 20/5 in just 18 IP. Seven days later he dominated the White Sox (8 IP, 1 R), and five days after that he held down the Tigers (7 IP, 3 R).

A few days after that start, we all learned Bart’s secret, how a 38-year-old pitcher that had missed the vast majority of the last five seasons due to major arm problems was able to come back throwing so hard and with so much movement. Stem cells. Colon underwent an experimental procedure in 2009 that used stem cells in addition to platelet-rich plasma treatment, a non-surgical procedure that took less than 40 minutes. MLB investigated the procedure because of HGH concerns, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, Colon just kept dominating.

After throwing a complete game shutout against the Athletics, Bartolo ended the month of May with a 3.26 ERA and a 62/15 K/BB in 66.1 IP. Colon was a full blown revelation, pitching at a near ace-like level five seasons after last being an effective starter. On June 11th, however, the comeback hit a speed bump when Bart pulled up lame covering first base on a rainy afternoon against the Indians. He’d suffered a strained left hamstring, an injury expected to keep him out somewhere between two or three weeks.

Colon was never really the same after the injury, and at first it was blamed on being apprehensive about the hammy. He had his moments after returning in early-July, specifically a five-start stretch from July 19th through August 11th in which he allowed no more than two earned runs any time out. Bart hit the wall in his final eight starts, showing reduced velocity and less command than he had a few weeks prior. Ultimately, he pitched poor enough in the season’s final month to be left off the team’s playoff roster, a damn shame if you ask me.

Despite the slow finish, Bart pitched better than anyone could have possibly expected. He held up long enough to make 26 starts (and the three relief appearances in April) and throw 164.1 IP, nearly as many as he’d thrown from 2007-2010 combined (200.2 IP). Colon’s 3.82 FIP was built on the strength of 7.4 K/9 and just 2.0 BB/9, a 3.38 K/BB ratio that was ninth best in the AL. Although his ERA finished at 4.00 on the nose, it was closer to 3.50 pretty much all season before the poor finish. At 2.4 bWAR and 2.9 fWAR, Colon exceeded every possible expectation, hitting on the best case scenario as a shot in the dark minor league signing. I don’t know what 2012 holds for him, but I do know that for the first four months of the season, Bartday was my favorite day of the week.

Mailbag: Montero, Oppenheimer, Sabathia, Bay
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  • Not That Guy

    You know, I think that upon reflection, this really was a year that went against all expectation. If you’d told me that Bart would pitch like an ace for a fair portion of the year, I would have expected you to also tell me that the Red Sox wouldn’t make the playoffs.

    You just can’t predict baseball.

  • nsalem

    The bring back Bart and/or Freddy debate should be one of the more interesting decisions the Yankees will have to make this off-season. It will be fun watching this unfold and reading about the different opinions from our posters.

    • Brian in NH

      hopefully they can bring back CC and a legit 2, and the whole debate would be moot. Sweaty Freddy would be a fine 5, not sure if we can catch lightening in a bottle twice with Bart

      • nsalem

        The only way to obtain a legit #2 may very well entail overpaying Wilson, trading Montero or a Killer B or a forking over big bucks for Darvish to find out what he has. All risky propositions.
        It should be an interesting off season.

  • TomG

    That two-seamer was just sick early in the season, watching him throw it made me giggle like a schoolgirl. He was easily the most entertaining part of this season for me.

    • vin


  • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

    Bartday was always fun.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    Thanks for the mammaries, Bartolo.

    • MannyGeee

      oh, I see what you did there…

  • Rich in NJ

    Cliff Lee choosing the Phillies may turn out to be a net positive given his age, contract, and the existing age and contracts on the Yankees.

    So yeah, Colon was a great Moneyball signing that paid big dividends.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      It’s more of a case of getting extremely lucky rather than uncovering a market inefficiency.

      • Rich in NJ

        Unless they did their homework on the potential benefits of Colon’s most recent surgical procedure.

    • vin

      RE: Lee

      I’m not sure I would say that. On the surface, it’s hard to say that a 32 year old making 25 mill per year is a good investment; however, if the front office AND ownership were 100% behind his signing, then that tells me the financial cost probably wouldn’t have severly impacted the Yankees going forward.

      • Rich in NJ

        Without making a direct comparison of their respective talent and performance going forward, and while acknowledging that Lee could still turn out to be a very good pitcher for the life of his contract, as we have seen with AJ, a large AAV long-term contract keeps a pitcher in the rotation even if he puts up two consecutive seasons of historically bad ERAs.

        • vin

          Definitely true. The team/roster/rotation becomes less flexible when you’ve got highly-paid players. But one 5 win pitcher is more valuable than two 2.5 win pitchers. You’ve got to pay a premium for high-end performance in the free agent market, and Cliff Lee was the embodiment of that. Think how much Halladay would’ve gotten if he was willing to hit the market.

          Back to your point of not signing Lee being a net positive… it’s possible, but the Yankees know a guy of his caliber will not only increase their odds of getting to the playoffs, but of going deep into the postseason. And that means lots of extra revenue.

          The Yankees business model is to spend money to make money, and not trying to be smarter than everyone else with a roster full of bargains and undervalued players.

    • nsalem

      Agreed Rich Cashman did a fabulous job this year. He found us 5 or 6 key role players who contributed who we had little to nothing from. I think this was the best year of his career. It was also great to see Cliff Lee get bombed in the one game that the Phil’s shelled out all that money for. Seeing Lee go play out his whole career ringless would bring great joy to Yankee fans everywhere.

  • vin

    Good for Bart. Good for Cashman. Good for Tony Pena.

    Colon was spectacular this season, and it’s a damn shame he didn’t win the Comeback Player of the Year (he deserves the credit).

    If Justin Upton or Matt Kemp missed most of last season due to an injury, should they have won Comeback Player of the Year in the NL? The Ellsbury pick made no sense. He is a talented, pretty young player who finally had his big breakout. There’s probably a guy like him every single year.

    • vin

      BTW, if you type “taco” into B-R, you get Ellsbury’s page. Just thought I’d share that.

      • MannyGeee

        ironically, I am not sure which gives me the explosive shits more, Tacos or Ellsbury winning Comeback Player of the Year.

  • Darren

    Stupid Girardi picking Ayala over Colon. I still don’t get it.
    I know Bart looked bad at the end, but (a) it seems reasonable to think he could bring the good heat for one inning out of the bullpen, and (b) when it comes to an extremely marginal coin toss kind of choice for the last post season roster spot, dont you have to give at least a little consideration to rewarding the guy who helped get you there as was with you all there? i mean, this wasn’t doc gooden absolutely falling apart at the end of 96, was it?

    • vin

      He may have gotten fooled by the low ERA, which, in this bullpen, was acquired in mostly low leverage situations. I would’ve gone with Bart as well. If nothing else, he gives you another guy who can throw hard out of the pen in short bursts, or give you multiple innings should there be extra innings or rain-related issues.

  • Monteroisdinero

    We need to learn from Bart’s injury that if guys like him and CC are required to run to field their position, let’s get in better shape. CC is a severe hamstring injury-risk everytime he (remembers to) has to cover first base. If he goes down for a month we are in deeper shit.

    • gc

      EVERY player is a severe hamstring injury risk every time he has to run fast. If CC is somehow more of an injury risk due to his weight, he sure hasn’t shown it so far. The guy has been in the league for 11 seasons and the fewest amount of starts he has made in a season has been 28. You can argue that his AGE would make him more of a risk, but I would think the weight thing would have made itself evident by now. I think CC is a bit of a freak of nature in that regard.

  • virginia yankee

    nonsense – how do you define “went right”

    Colon was a delight to watch – he was not the answer – he was a “lucky” stop gap but at what price — Cashman did nor do what needed to be done to develop a pitching staff capable of competing with the top 6 teams – good enough was the enemy of getting it right — MAYBE no one was available at any price – much less a reasonable one; NOBODY in the Minors was better — who would develop into a Nova or CMW, or Joba — none of these avenues were tried – WHAT WAS CERTAIN especially after the All Star break and CC’s decline that the Yankees starting pitching was not competitive – in any series Boston, Orioles, Totonto, Tampa, Phillies, A’s, Mariners could beat them —

    So LIKE 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, – the Yankees went home EARLY with an OFFENSE that provided enough runs — Only Nova and of all things AJ kept the era under 4

    So while Colon and Garcia were just wonderful luck and cheap – they were really stop gaps — and while they entertained us Cashmnan did nothing — enjoying being “lucky”

    NOTICE HOW HE is still DOING NOTHING — ARod will at best be a DH — his body is not finished breaking down — better to have him healthy enough to hit than taking a further toll diving in the dirt. MONTERO PROVED he needs a POSITION OTHER than Catcher – if Joe Mauer gets beat up at Catcher and loses a SEASON of productivity this early by what LUNACY would we SUBJECT a pure hitter to the PAIN and lost productivity of catching. He can’t DH if ARod must and he MUST — not recognizing that is FATAL. If Nunyez is NOT the Answer at 3B or SS — then get on with the solution –

    Despite woeful postseasons – Swisher grades out terrifically in the OF, so the Yankees are BLIND to replacing him or Gardner with Montero — if Swish is preferred then maybe the RIGHT ANSWER is to Trade Montero for SS – 3B, P, C – while the WORLD appreciates his value and BEFORE a Broken/Torn (fill in the blank) results from his catching.

    Start THINKING for CASHMAN — or we will face 10 years of MARGINAL “what went rights” —

    • gc


    • aluis