Bartolo Colon threw 38 consecutive strikes last night

Bartolo Colon pulled a Hiroki Kuroda last night, shutting out the much-hyped Angels over eight innings. More impressively, he threw 38 consecutive strikes from the fifth through eighth innings. Thirty-eight! Here’s video if you don’t believe me. Colon had no problem pounding the zone with the Yankees last year, but sheesh, this is excessive. Bartday was my favorite day of the week in the first half last season, and now the Oakland faithful get to enjoy the fun.

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The Bartolo Era Ends: Colon Heads To Oakland

Via Jayson Stark, Bartolo Colon has agreed to a one-year deal with the Athletics. He’s a stopgap solution for a team that traded away both Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill this offseason, and will be without Brett Anderson until at least midseason due to Tommy John surgery.

Colon, 39 in May, was an option for the Yankees right up until Friday night, when the Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda stuff went down. He was the team’s second best starter in the first half of 2011, painting corners with 95 mph heat and backing lefties off the plate with two-seamers inside. Once he started throwing 91-92 and wasn’t hitting the corners as frequently, it stopped being fun. Good luck Bart, thanks for those 164.1 IP.

The Silence Is Deafening: Bartolo Colon

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Larry hinted at this yesterday, but the market for Bartolo Colon has been absolutely non-existent this offseason. If you look at his MLBTR archive, there have been a total of two posts written about the burly right-hander this winter: one looking at his free agent stock, the other a short little bullet point about Brian Cashman mentioning his interesting in re-signing Colon and a few others. That’s it, not a single other newsworthy item about the guy over the last two and a half months.

Given the lack of impact pitching in this year’s free agent market, Colon figured to draw some interest after resurrecting his career in 2011. MLBTR ranked him as the tenth best starting pitcher available this winter while Keith Law (Insider req’d) had him 11th, so the media thought he had some value to offer going forward. The 30 teams seem to disagree based on how little interest there’s been, or at least disagree about just how much he could help next year.

There are obvious reasons why teams would be skeptical about Bart going forward. He’s going to be 39 in May, he’s overweight, and both his fastball velocity and overall performance declined in a big way down the stretch last year. He’s also a two-pitch pitcher for all intents and purposes (four-seamer and two-seamer), leaving him short on wiggle room. I think there’s also a fear of the unknown given his stem cell treatment, since no one really knows what to expect going forward. Was the second half fade the result of fatigue, or is his shoulder starting to come apart? Maybe both? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that question.

Despite all that, I do think Colon’s getting a bit of a raw deal this winter. He outpitched both Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano last season while in the tougher league and the tougher ballpark, but those two guys ended up with the two-year, eight-figure contracts. Neither of them is all that young, plus they both have injury histories of their own, a significant one in Capuano’s case. I’m not saying Bart deserves that kind of contract, but it goes to show what kind of gap there is between our perception of his value and how the clubs see him.

The Yankees brought Freddy Garcia back with a one-year, $4M deal earlier this winter, which probably means Colon is looking at something below that. Garcia is coming off back-to-back 150+ IP seasons, a claim Bartolo can’t make. Of course if his market continues to not exist, he might be looking at another minor league contract, probably one with a higher base salary than the $900k he made last year. Colon didn’t sign with the Yankees until late-January last offseason (the 26th to be exact), and I have to think they’ll show some more interest in bringing him back if he’s still sitting out there in a few weeks.

I think that Colon’s lengthy winter ball stint — 37.1 IP without including playoffs — contributed to his late season collapse, and not having to deal with all those extra innings will theoretically help him going forward. Of course that also means he won’t break camp in what amounts to midseason form, but that will just make him like everyone else. I don’t expect Colon to repeat his first half brilliance over a full season, but I think he can still be useful at a reasonable price. The only problem is that no teams seem to feel that way.

Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what’s left of them)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty)

A few weeks ago Tim Dierkes of MLBTR noted that there were still a handful of one-year stopgap starting pitchers on the market. Between the relative lack of activity on the Yankees’ part along with the team standing to benefit from added rotation depth (and not wanting to overpay for said depth), myself and others have spent a lot of time during the last calendar year trying to identify sensible low-cost options for the team. Of course, as our own Mike recently astutely noted:

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.”

I’m very interested to see what Phelps (who I’ll be taking an in-depth look at on Monday), Noesi, and Warren might be able to do given the opportunity; however, this being the offseason and all I wanted to take one more pass through the unsigned names to see whether any of ‘em may make a modicum of sense. I began drafting this post two days ago; before I could even get through a couple of paragraphs a handful of names on my initial list quickly came off the board, including Aaron Cook (signed by the Red Sox to a minor-league deal), Paul Maholm (signed by the Cubs to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a club option) and Wei-Yin Chen (somewhat inexplicably signed by the Orioles to a three-year deal that appears to have evaluated him on what he did prior to 2011).

Anyway, by my count here are the remaining guys presumably in line for one-year or minor-league contacts:

Bartolo Colon
Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Rich Harden
Hiroki Kuroda
Roy Oswalt
Brad Penny
Joel Pineiro
Joe Saunders
Kyle Davies
Zach Duke
Livan Hernandez
Kevin Millwood
Ross Ohlendorf
Tim Wakefield
Chris Young

And here’s a link to a customized leaderboard I created on Fangraphs showing how they performed in 2011. There isn’t anything all that surprising in here; if you’re a believer in Bartolo Colon having another 2011 in him he’s pretty clearly the most appealing option of the bunch, having been the most valuable per fWAR, posting the third-best K/9, 5th-best BB/9 and 3rd-best FIP and xFIP.

Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda of course also look appealing, but as we know the Yankees remain uninterested unless either righty’s asking price drops substantially. The only other remotely appealing player in my book on this list is Rich Harden, who I covered extensively back in November, but his propensity to give up the long ball combined with legitimate health concerns are apparently outweighing the mouth-watering strikeout rate and continuing to keep suitors away.

For depth purposes, I still wouldn’t mind seeing the Yanks take a flier on Harden — who’s barely merited a mention on MLBTR this winter —  if his price ends up being near the $1.5M deal he signed with Oakland last season, although at this point he doesn’t pass the “better than Nova and Garcia” test, nor is he an obvious upgrade over old friend Bartolo. Ultimately, if the Yankees do decide to pass on a Colon reunion and asking prices for others remain unfavorable, it would appear that their best move would indeed be to utilize the rotation depth they have at AAA for the 2012 season.

In Bartolo and Freddy we trust?

All is quiet on the Yankee front these days, and it isn’t one of Brian Cashman‘s stealth-quiet periods that turns into a surprise signing of Mark Teixeira. Rather, the Yankees are waiting to see what comes to them. They’re rightly cool on C.J. Wilson but have to fill some starting pitching holes. What’s a $200 million team to do?

Last year, when the Yanks found themselves in a similar situation following Cliff Lee’s departure to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte‘s retirement, Brian Cashman turned to the scrap heap. For a few million dollars, his coaching staff coaxed 51 starts and over 300 innings from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. It was the biggest surprise of the Yankee season, and now, early yet in the Hot Stove League, the Yanks’ GM is, at least publicly, wondering if he can capture lightning in bottle again.

In comments yesterday to ESPN New York, both Cashman and his boss Hal Steinbrenner talked about bringing back Big Bart and Sweaty Freddy. “I have an interest in both Freddy and Bartolo,” Cashman said. “Those guys all did a good job for us, a really good job.” Echoed Steinbrenner, “Absolutely, that’s something we’d consider. It worked out pretty well last year.”

That it sure did, Hal. That it sure did.

In its coverage of these statements, ESPN New York turns this into some sort of money issue. The pair made around $2.6 million combined before incentives and both would like a raise. That’s not a problem. The Yanks have rotation holes to fill and money to spend. Garcia may be itching for a multi-year deal, and that is a potential hurdle. Yet there’s a larger question at play: Should the Yanks even be considering these two?

If we play the not-so-arbitrary endpoint game, it’s very easy to make a case against Bartolo Colon. Through his first 78.1 innings, he had a 3.10 ERA and a K rate topping 8 per 9 IP. He wasn’t walking many guys and was thriving mainly on a fastball. After suffering a hamstring injury and returning in early July, he had a 4.81 ERA over 86 innings and saw his walk rate climb while his strike outs dipped by over 1.5 per 9 innings.

As expected, his velocity fell off by year’s end, and he wasn’t nearly as efficient with his pitches. Colon will turn 39 in May, and no one is sure how much more his surgically repaired shoulder can take. At a low cost and with little riding on it, the Yanks could bring him back to camp, but if they’re counting on him for another 164 innings, I hope they have a good back-up plan.

Meanwhile, Garcia, who didn’t reach the 150-inning mark due to some mysterious cut on his finger, also struggled post-injury. In his first 20 games, he sported a 3.22 ERA and decent peripherals over 117.1 innings. Thanks to one disastrous outing vs. the Orioles and a bad start against the Angels, his post-injury numbers were ugly. He walked 11 while striking out 16 and giving up seven home runs in 29.1 innings. It’s tough though to put much stock in 29.1 innings.

For Garcia, the questions concern durability. He has thrown over 300 innings since the start of 2009 but he threw just 129 over the three prior years. He did a good job keeping the ball in the park this year, and that’s what fueled his success as his walk rate was higher in 2011 than in 2010. He turned 35 during the ALDS and giving him more than a season might be inviting trouble.

To me, Colon and Garcia represent the Yanks’ last resorts. What they did in 2011 made from some great stories and fun games. They defied age and expectations to help lead the Yanks to a championship title. To expect them to do it again may be putting blind faith into pitchers who don’t deserve, and the Yanks would be better served looking elsewhere for some upgrades.