Archive for Bartolo Colon
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.
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.
Here is the Yankees’ ALDS roster:
DH: Jorge Posada
The preliminary schedule for the 2012 season was released earlier today, but let’s take a step back to discuss some stuff affecting the Yankees right here, right now…
Burnett’s New-Old Mechanics
Lost in last night’s win and A.J. Burnett‘s eleven strikeouts is that it looked like he was injured at one point. Burnett was visibly bothered by something in the third inning, when he loaded the bases and allowed the tying run. He was moving his arm around and appeared to be wincing after each pitch, but he stayed in the game after a visit from the trainer. He finished strong, striking out seven of the last dozen men he faced.
After the game, Burnett said there was no injury, he was just uncomfortable with his mechanics. That’s why he reverted back to his old motion mid-game. “I kind of went back to my old delivery in the middle of the game, but kept the things we worked on with that,” said A.J. “I was a little uncomfortable trying to get loose and trying to get the ball out like that, so [Larry Rothschild] was like, ‘Whatever it takes.’ I was more aggressive, and I think the work we put in allowed my hands to stay in the right spot when I went back. It was confidence. Confidence and pitching with conviction.”
Within this notebook, George King mentions that the Yankees have flipped Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia in the rotation. Sabathia will now start on Friday in Toronto, Colon on Saturday. As I wrote two days ago, there’s basically no easy way for the Yankees to line Sabathia up for September 30th, the date of Game One of the ALDS.
Looking at what’s left of the schedule, the Yankees could have CC start one of the doubleheader games on the 21st (normal rest), then throw an abbreviated start (or something like that) on the 25th (three days rest). That would line him up for Game One. They could also have him throw that abbreviated start on three days rest on the 20th, then start him on the 25th (normal rest) and in Game One (normal rest). I’d much prefer the latter. Something has to be done though, unless they plan on running someone else out there to open a five-game series.
A-Rod Could Return Friday
Alex Rodriguez‘s sprained left thumb started giving him trouble again a few days ago, and the team originally said he would need three or four days on the shelf. Yesterday was day number four, but Joe Girardi said before last night’s game that a Friday return “is reasonable for Alex.” The idea is that with Thursday’s off day coming up, they’d give him a few extra days just to be safe since this injury is clearly nagging. A-Rod will do some kind of hitting work before tonight’s game just to test the digit, either batting practice or something else.
Seemingly lost in the fact that the Yankees lost last night – whether that’s due to an anemic offense against one of the better pitchers in the game or bad bullpen management – was the fact that Bartolo Colon went out there pitched his sizable butt off. Sadly, Jered Weaver also pitched his butt off, and it seems like success is based on percentage of butt pitched off, rather than objective size of butt. If objective butt size was the case, Weaver probably would have lost pretty badly to Bartolo. Regardless of butt proportion, this is probably the best start we’ve seen out of Colon since he pulled his hamstring on June 11th vs. Cleveland.
The pitching line tells the beginning of the story quite clearly: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. It’s an extremely good start, with the only blemish being Derek Jeter’s error and the lone walk to Bobby Abreu. During a long roadtrip, getting length like that is invaluable. To get a little nerdier, this game gave Colon his second-best game score since his hamstring injury (67), though his best game score post-injury (68) was against the Mets, so it shouldn’t really count at all. Another thing that it seemed Colon had remastered was his efficiency: in his outing, only three batters had at bats where they saw six pitches or more (two of them being hits), and the most pitches any hitter saw against Colon was seven (Mark Trumbo, who flew out). On the other side, Colon was able to deliver at-bats with three pitches or less to 17 of the 28 batters he faced. This allowed a man who hasn’t thrown this many innings since 2008 to get through seven complete frames on only 99 pitches, touching 90 twice in his last inning of work.
One of Colon’s biggest keys for success has been his two-seam fastball and its sharp movement that he uses to gather up called strikes. His previous start in Toronto, he threw 42 two-seam fastballs, which was the only pitch that he had a negative linear weight on during that game (-1.38). Yesterday in Anaheim, he threw 50 of them for a linear weight of -1.08, which while it was slightly less impressive than his previous start, it has been and continues to be significantly better than all his other pitches. A few starts ago when he bombed against Oakland, he threw only a handful of two-seamers, in contrast to how he usually uses the pitch as his bread-and-butter. It seems that, between yesterday and his start in Toronto, whatever confidence he may or may not have had in the pitch has certainly been replenished.
An additional reason for Colon’s success has been the massive amounts of called strikes that he’s gotten. His 27% called strike percentage is easily the highest in the league – behind him is Carlos Marmol with 23% and Kyle Lohse at 22%. Over the season, batters have began to try to adjust to this by at least taking hacks at his pitches and hoping they get something out of it or fouling them off in a two-strike count. Last night Colon’s five strikeouts skewed in the looking direction, but not heavily: three called verses two looking. However, even though batters are trying to get a handle on the sides of the zone, Colon is still beating them, especially on the inside to lefties/outside to righties:
Check that out. There’s 9 called strikes on that side of the plate, one hit, a few fouls and an out. On the other side, there’s three called strikes, mostly outs and a few foul balls as well. While Colon can still throw some considerable heat (especially considering his age, physical condition, and innings pitched), it’s location and precision that has made him into the successful pitcher he was last night.
While there are obviously concerns about Colon: innings, called strikes, his somewhat rotund form – these kinds of outings are the ones that settle those doubts in my mind. Regardless of the actual outcome of the game, there’s no denying that Colon put up a stellar start against an offense that, while not the most impressive, can certainly do some damage if they’re feeling up to it. It’s just bad luck on his part that he was matched up against Weaver, who dominated everyone except for one measly right-handed twenty-one year old. What’s that kid’s name? Oh, he’s probably not that important anyway. Either way, no matter what kind of opposition is planted in front of Bartolo Colon, it seems like when he’s getting his calls and his stuff is on, he can roll right on through them. With his pitches, I mean.
As Irene batters the East Coast, the Yankees and the Orioles are currently scheduled to play a double header later today, and the Yanks have made some slight adjustments to the rotation. They currently have announced that Bartolo Colon will start Game 1 and Ivan Nova will start Game 2. This move gives the Yanks some flexibility for Monday. They could ask CC Sabathia to throw on regular rest or they could activate Freddy Garcia, thus allowing CC to start against the Red Sox on Tuesday. Either way, A.J. Burnett lines up to start one of the games in Fenway whether any of us want to see that or not.
When Joe Girardi yanked Bartolo Colon from last night’s game, he did so shortly after the right-hander had racked up inning 130 for the season. Somehow, the Yanks’ big gamble has paid off. Colon, making just $900,000 this year, has made 20 starts for the Yanks, has won eight games and was a stud throughout May and into June. The wheels though might be coming loose.
Colon’s outing last night was one I’d characterize as good enough. Usually, allowing three runs to another team over six innings would be enough to allow the Yanks’ offense to take over. Colon threw a few bad sliders to Brandon Allen and Eric Sogard, but before the 7th, he had been effective even if not efficient. His final line — 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 5 K — isn’t pretty, particularly against the A’s, but that’s also due to Boone Logan‘s failures.
For Colon, though, his outing was his second straight in which he struggled, and since coming off the disabled list with a hamstring injury, he hasn’t been nearly as good as he once was. Before he hurt himself covering first, he appeared in 13 games and made 10 starts, eight of which were quality starts. In 78.1 innings, he had a 3.10 ERA/3.44 FIP and allowed 66 hits, 18 walks and nine home runs while striking out 72. Opponents hit .227/.272/.375 with a .268 BABIP, and he averaged just over 14 pitches per inning.
His last ten starts have not been nearly as effective. Since his return, he sports a 4.61 ERA/4.48 FIP in 52.2 innings and has allowed 65 hits and eight home runs while walking 14 and striking out just 40. Just four of his ten outings have been quality starts. Opponents have hit .302/.352/.507 off of him with a .339 BABIP, and he is now averaging over 17 pitches per inning.
Clearly, something has changed for Big Bart since his early season success. Colon, who hasn’t reached this lofty level of innings since 2005 and threw over the winter as well, denies being tired, but his approach has changed. Prior to his injury, 86 percent of his pitches were fastballs. Of those, 48 percent were four-seamers and 38 percent were two-seamers. Since his return, 55.7 percent of pitches were four-seamers while just 24 percent were two-seamers. Sliders and change-ups now account for over 20 percent of his pitch selection.
To make matters worse, his pitches haven’t been moving as much. His fastballs and sliders have seen less vertical movement over the past ten starts, and his slider has seen more horizontal movement than before. It has become a bit flatter, and as Allen’s monster shot showed last night, Major League hitters have no problems with flat, fat 83 mph sliders. That ball reached the upper deck above right field.
Today, Joe Girardi expressed his concern about Colon’s disappearing two-seamer. The skipper said to Jack Curry that the two-seam fastball has “been a very important pitch for him and we need to get it going.” That much, at least, is obvious.
In an ideal world, the Yankees would figure out a way to give Colon some extended rest over the next few weeks because they will need him at his best for the playoffs. If A.J. Burnett were pitching even adequately, the club could afford to tinker with the rotation, but unless they’re willing to give Hector Noesi or Adam Warren a spot start or two, Colon will get the ball every few days. Even as it gets late in the season, it’s too early, meanwhile, to say that the wheels have come off completely for Colon, but he’s not the pitcher — both stuff- and results-wise — that he was earlier this year.
Via Andrew Marchand, pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that Bartolo Colon‘s hamstring is healthy, but the right-hander is still apprehensive about re-aggravating the injury. It was pretty obvious that Colon wasn’t 100% last night, he wasn’t moving well and it didn’t look like he was pushing off with his usual effort. This is something that he really should have gotten over with a rehab start, and unfortunately bringing players back from injury too soon has become something of a pattern for the Yankees. Remember Chien-Ming Wang in 2009 (hurried back after Joba Chamberlain took a line drive off his leg), Colon, possibly Phil Hughes…
So far, in examining the Yankees offense, we’ve learned that the infield is pretty good and that the outfield is phenomenal. It all adds up to the second-best offense in the league (though the most high-powered one). Yet it’s the pitching staff that has impressed the most this year. Thought to be one of the team’s weak points heading into the season, the pitchers have stepped up and have allowed just 3.80 runs per game, which ranks fourth in the AL. Let’s see how the starters stack up.
Comparing pitchers is a bit trickier than comparing hitters. Defense consists of two aspects: pitching and fielding. Both have an effect on run-scoring, and so when I say that the Yankees pitchers’ have held opponents to 3.80 runs per game, I really mean that the Yankees pitchers and fielders have done that. Sticking with the three-point comparisons, we’ll go with ERA, which includes both pitching and fielding, FIP, which isolates pitcher-specific events, and WAR.
NOTE: There are 113 qualified pitchers.
Coming into the season, Sabathia was the one pitcher on whom the Yankees could rely. With only Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as surefire rotation candidates behind him, the Yankees needed Sabathia to step up and again be the ace they signed to the most expensive contract for a pitcher in MLB history. He’s done that and more, turning in a superb first half.
ERA: 2.72, 14th. In years prior, a 2.72 ERA would certainly rank higher than 14th in the majors. But in this reduced run-scoring environment it’s a degree lower. Still, plenty of teams don’t have a player with an ERA nearly this low. It’s a great mark, even if it’s not top-10 in teh league.
FIP: 2.50, 5th. Now we’re talking. Thanks to a low walk rate and an even lower home run rate, Sabathia’s fielding-independent stats rank far higher than most of his peers. His strikeout rate has been rising, too, especially in his last few starts.
WAR: 4.8, 2nd. This is what happens when you have the second most innings pitched in baseball. Sabathia provides major value this way. He not only pitches quality innings, but he pitches a lot of them. There aren’t many workhorses left, and that’s one reason that Sabathia is the richest pitcher in baseball.
Who would have thought that Colon would even make the team out of spring training, never mind turn into their second best pitcher? Bart has been a pleasant surprise of the greatest kind. Not only has he been effective in the first half, but he’s been a joy to watch. That two-seamer is a thing of beauty, and we can only hope beyond hope that he remains healthy in the second half.
ERA: 3.20, 35th. Big Bart has done a great job keeping runs off the board in his 90 innings. His season is so far bookended by two tough appearances, meaning all the appearances in between were that much better. He certainly does take advantage of the defense, though he does have a decent strikeout rate.
FIP: 3.54, 42nd. Colon’s success might seem like luck, in large part, but he’s actually pitched well in fielding-independent terms. This is because he doens’t walk many batters, a 2.20 BB/9. That, combined with a slightly below average BABIP, means he has fewer runners on base when he allows home runs — he’s given up 11 in 90 innings. This does give some hope for the second half.
WAR: 1.6, 50th. Such are the perils of starting the year in the pen and then spending a few weeks on the DL. Colon would be higher if he had pitched more than 90 innings, but hey, he’s got fewer innings pitched than the other pitchers who are around the 1.6 WAR mark. Again, it bodes well for the second half — if he stays healthy.
This is a big year for Burnett. He slid considerably in 2010, and the Yankees needed him to step up in a rebound effort. If he didn’t, who knows what they’d have to do. It’s not easy to deal with a guy who has that much money remaining on his contract. He’s been decent, at best, but it could obviously be a lot worse. It’s not acceptable really, but it’s reality at this point.
ERA: 4.15, 77th. Honestly, this could be a lot worse. It’s certainly below average, but it’s not nearly as bad as last year. The main difference is that he’s so far avoided his June, 2010-like implosion month. His strikeout rate is acceptable and his walk rate is predictably high, but Burnett has managed to get the job done.
FIP: 4.54, 96th. What happens when you give up a lot of homers and walk too many batters? Usually it will lead to an inflated ERA, but in the case of Burnett it has only inflated his fielding-independent stats. A .242 BABIP helps keep men off base, thus reducing the effect of the homers. I just fear that the magic wears off in the second half. On the other hand, xFIP, which normalizes home run rate based on fly balls allowed, has Burnett several degrees better, at a 3.85 mark.
WAR: 0.9, 83rd. Burnett has pitched 119.1 innings, so that’s not the issue with his WAR. Rather, it’s his 4.54 FIP. It would be a shame to see the Yankees get less than two wins over replacement for their $17.5 million, but that was the risk with Burnett. Of course, the original risk was that he’d get hurt and not pitch enough innings to eclipse 2 WAR. I don’t think anyone figured him to pitch this poorly.
Garcia hasn’t been a surprise on the level of Colon, in that he doesn’t dazzle with his stuff. But he has been far more effective than anyone could have wished. When the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal it made sense, since they had recently heard of Andy Pettitte‘s retirement. At that point I thought he’d fill in for a month or two and then be back on the scrap heap. But he’s been a big part of the rotation’s success so far.
ERA: 3.13, 32nd. This is the biggest surprise of all. Who would have thought that Garcia would have the second-lowest ERA on the team through the first half? I’m guessing it’s only slightly larger than the number of people who thought he’d be here, period. Garcia has used smoke and mirrors to work his way through lineups, but hey, the Yanks will take it at this point.
FIP: 3.97, 72nd. While Colon has put up solid fielding independent numbers, Garcia has been a bit less than that. Again, it’s to be expected. He’s kept the ball in the park despite a low ground ball rate, but he has an embarrassingly low strikeout rate. Still, even if he regresses to his FIP in the second half, he’ll still be only slightly below average. Again, I’m pretty sure everyone would have taken that from Freddy when he signed this winter.
WAR: 1.3, 71st. As with Colon, this is largely a product of innings, just 92. Since FanGraphs WAR is based on FIP, Garcia gets dinged a bit here. Again, the idea is not to show what should have happened. Rather, it’s to give the pitcher credit for only things that he, and not the defense, did.
The Yankees have also gotten 22 starts out of Ivan Nova, Brian Gordon, and Phil Hughes. While I’d love to put them into the comparison, Nova is in AAA and the other two have combined for 25.2 innings. Nova would rank just ahead of Burnett in the ERA and FIP categories while falling 0.1 WAR behind (on account of innings pitched). Overall it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of the starting staff. It might not be pretty, but they’ve gotten the job done.
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”.