In many ways, Bartolo Colon is one of the most unique players in baseball, if not one of the most unique professional athletes you’ll ever see. He is 42 years old and listed at a generous 285 pounds. He has played for eight different franchises, and had the best season of his career at age 40. He is one of the few active players that donned a Montreal Expos uniform. He was once traded for Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore. He has a higher career WAR than Hall of Famers Rich Gossage, Catfish Hunter, and Roy Campanella. He is a former Cy Young winner who once served a 50-game suspension for steroids. He has earned nearly $100 million playing baseball, and is now rapidly approaching the end.
With Colon’s contract with the Mets due to expire at season’s end, it is hard to envision a scenario where Colon gets another chance to pitch, at least in an expanded role like the one he has today. His current iteration represents one of the biggest disconnects between traditional stats and our current understanding of baseball and player valuation. Colon’s 9 wins are third in MLB, only behind aces Felix Hernandez and Gerrit Cole. He owns baseball’s second-lowest walk rate, with a 0.98 BB/9 that serves as testament to Colon’s life around the strike zone (never forget). And yet, Balon’s WAR, according to Baseball Reference, is one of a sub-replacement level player, with a -0.4 figure that would be really hard to explain to a traditionalist.
In another hard to believe stat, Colon has now received a decision in 27 straight starts dating back to last season, and 33 of his past 34. The 27 straight represent a Mets franchise record, while also becoming one of the longest such streaks in recent baseball history. While it used to be customary for starting pitchers to hang around enough innings to regularly receive decisions, long streaks are no longer the norm, with only four pitchers since 2000 being able to string at least 26 decisions: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Tim Wakefield, and the same Bartolo Colon, who went 18-12 in 30 starts between 2004 and 2005.
With Colon now again approaching the 30-decision streak, we take a look at the two sides of his performance during this span, and why Colon has been a near replacement player in the twilight of his career. As is customary, there will also be a solid reference to his hitting ability.
Bartolo Colon, since July 23, 2014
16 wins: 108.1 innings, 33 ER, 2.74 ERA, 84 K, 11 BB
11 losses: 59.1 innings, 51 ER, 7.73 ERA, 43 K, 11 BB
During this span, he has gone 7-5 on the road, and 9-6 at home. He has beat the Mariners, Dodgers, Reds, Astros, Orioles, and all of his division foes at least once. He has lost to the Giants, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, and all of the NL except for the Braves. He has allowed 22 homers during the streak, 14 of them of the solo variety.
In a way, the fact that Bartolo Colon has become replacement level during this period of his career falls on the fact that he is basically unreliable each time out. While he is certainly capable of spinning a great outing, he is also a perennial risk for pulling out a stinker. It appears that there are days in which his strike-throwing prowess can befuddle hitters, while there are other times when he comes preeminently hittable and becomes almost an auto-loss for the Mets.
Using graphs from the invaluable Brooks Baseball, we can see that Colon has been doing this by using basically two pitches: his four-seam fastball and a sinker, only occasionally mixed with a slider and change-up to keep hitters honest.
The streak has seen Colon remain impressively consistent with his velocity, as he hovers around the high 80’s and low 90’s with his primary pitches, relying mostly on location to achieve his elusive success.
This profile of Colon is fairly consistent with his late-career renaissance, though it may have come to a point where scouting has caught up to him, and good hitting teams know how to exploit his limitations. Still, it is hard to see the Mets vacating his spot on the rotation despite their flurry of pitching talent. His $11 million salary remains the third-highest on the team, and his starts have become an event in Twitter and Internet circles, both for his unique pitching style and the high entertainment of his at-bats.
Bartolo Colon Hitting Stats since July 23, 2014
Now, speaking of Colon’s at bats, here are is the breakdown of his hitting stats during this span:
57 PA, 51 AB, 4 Hits, .078 AVG, 5 Sac. Bunts, 1 Sac. Fly, 23 K, 3 RBI, 1 Double
Included here is probably the hitting highlight of 2015, a double against the Marlins in what could have easily been an internet-breaking triple:
In the end, Bartolo’s career may end with his final 15-18 starts left in 2015, trying to help the Mets remain in playoff contention as he hopes for his seventh trip to the postseason. Just for entertainment’s sake, let’s hope he can pull it off, if only as a reminder that players of all shapes and sizes can succeed in baseball.