Comeback Player of the Year

Bartolo Colon Bartolo Colon #40 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Boston Red Sox during their game on May 13, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Bartolo Colon's line from last night's game is extraordinary: 9.0 IP; 103 P (71 strikes); 0 ER; 4 H; 6 K; 0 BB.

How many times in the history of the game has a pitcher as old as Bartolo (38) thrown a complete game shutout with as few or fewer pitches?  20 times.  Warren Spahn and Bert Blyleven accomplished the feat twice.  Maddux, Schilling, and Smoltz are also on the list.

Only twice has a pitcher done all that and had a higher strike ratio than Bartolo's 68.9% from last night: John Smoltz vs. the Padres in 2006 (when he threw 71.8% of his pitches for strikes) and David Wells vs. the Twins in 2003 (75%). 

In Smoltz's '06 performance, he too gave up 4 hits, but he also walked two that night.  Only Wells in '03, who – like Colon – walked none and struck out 6 but accomplished it all with just 96 pitches and yielded only 3 hits, had a more efficient complete game shutout performance at the ripe old age of 38+ (Wells was 39).  Must be something about being fat in pinstripes.

And Colon was absolutely cruising toward a similarly efficient and dominating line two starts ago against the Baltimore Orioles when Girardi pulled him after 8 IP for Mo to go for the save (which he promptly blew, forcing the Yankees to go 15 innings before wrapping up the win).  In that game, Colon was even more aggressive in the zone than last night, helped by the Orioles' impatience and a large K-zone by the home plate umpire Dan Bellino: 8.0 IP; 87 P (61 strikes – 70.1%); 0 ER; 3 H; 7 K; 1 BB.

But the truly amazing thing is not these individual performances, but rather Bartolo's general rebirth in 2011.  


He appeared in a total of 19 games over 2008 and 2009 and disappeared altogether in 2010.  He hasn't thrown 100 innings since 2005, when he won the Cy Young (and threw 222.2 innings). And now, he is among the most effective – not to mention entertaining – pitchers in the game, in part because, unlike many other pitchers who were successful into their late 30s like Maddux, Wells, Moyers, or even his teamate Freddy Garcia (with whom he shares a 3.26 ERA), Bartolo is doing this as a power pitcher who often looks like he could be the ace for virtually any team in the league.  Anyone who has watched him this year knows that his fastball in the late innings is at least as hard (ranging from 94-98 mph) and moving just as much it does in the 1st. 

Last night, when asked after the game if Colon's performance in 2011 so far reminds him of Colon circa 2002-2005, Jeter said what is obvious to everyone: Colon's pitches are moving substantially more than they did back then.  And yet his control is exceptional.  He has never completed a season with a K:BB ratio better than 3.65 (also in his '05 Cy Young campaign).  His K:BB so far in 2011 is 4.13 – ranking him 7th among all major league starters with at least 65 IP behind just Halladay, Lee, Haren, Price, Hamels, and Shields.

He has never compiled a WHIP better than 1.159 (also 2005).  Right now he stands at 1.101 WHIP - 18th among all major league starters.

Now an obvious factor here is stamina – it is virtually impossible for me to imagine that Colon keeps this up for the entire season after taking an entire year off of pitching and having thrown more innings already in 2011 (66.1) than he did in either 2008 or 2009.

But for Yankee fans, the fact that the Yankees – with all their flaws, especially in the starting rotation – sit in first place today has a lot to do with this guy's resurgence, so let's just enjoy it for however long it lasts.

And for anyone else who appreciates the game – and is not unduly influenced by a hatred for all things Yankee – watching a Bartolo Colon start right now is as entertaining and enjoyable as anything in the game. 

26 comments… add one

  • With Colon/Garcia on the Yankees, and Hill/Albers/whomever on the Red Sox, I think it’s officially time to stop making fun of offseason minor league deals.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 8:22 am
  • You’ve ruined the obnoxious quotient! Swap the last post with this one then right a bunch of really tiny paragraphs all week long!
    Kidding aside, I hate everything about Barty except for how he throws the ball. His release point is sick. The ball looks like it’s coming from his ear.
    Now let’s swap in Noesi for Nova and see if they have any pitching prospects they haven’t screwed up yet.

    James YF May 31, 2011, 8:34 am
  • I don’t think they screwed up Nova – this is who he is. He always had trouble walking guys in the minors and never really struck out all that many.
    Now, that’s not saying he can’t improve, because everyone can improve. But unfortunately the Yankees are not (and, unless they sell their team to Jeffrey Loria, never will be) in the position of finding out if he will. The burdens of pretty much non-stop success.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 9:58 am
  • I wish I had been wrong, but I thought the Colon signing was pretty good when it was made. Like I’ve said before, he was surprisingly good when he pitched for the Sox in 2008 (including a 7 IP, 1 R, 84-pitch performance), and that wasn’t all that long ago, and it wasn’t like he was ineffective in 2009 either. Heck, it’s been four years since Colon was healthy enough to pitch AND ineffective. Since then, his ERA+ has been 119, 113, 125.
    So maybe I’m the only person who’s not really that surprised by his resurgence, sad as it makes me. ;-)
    Just keep him away from batting during interleague play. As you might remember, he was injured in June 2008 when he swung too hard at a pitch, messed up his back and was out until September (then was asked if he would move to the bullpen for the playoffs and, rather than answer one way or another, simply disappeared.

    Paul SF May 31, 2011, 10:26 am
  • I don’t know what he looked like with the Sox in ’08 Paul, but I really meant what I wrote re: how entertaining he is to watch right now. I don’t know how to look at/compare pitch f/x info, but I swear his fastball is moving like crazy and he seems consistently able to spot it on both sides of the plate. And he is throwing something like 95% fastballs.

    IronHorse (YF) May 31, 2011, 10:33 am
  • Glancing at the various Pitch f/x data available at Fangraphs, it looks like he’s throwing about 85 percent fastball variations, and while his fastball overall doesn’t move more than average, he’s locating it very well. Check out these heat maps, particularly against righties, against whom he’s fared better this year:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/heatmap.aspx?playerid=375&position=P&pitch=FA

    Paul SF May 31, 2011, 10:47 am
  • The guy looks good, what can I say? Well, not physically but pitching wise.
    The way he locates his fastball is crazy. He needs to work with Nova and Hughes on that. Not to mention, he was throwing mid-90′s at the end of the game. I really hope he can keep it up because I trust him more than Freddy at this point. He could be the wildcard with CC and AJ, along with whatever starter we trade for…

    krueg May 31, 2011, 10:57 am
  • I wasn’t referencing Nova. No, they screwed up Joba and Hughes. Nova is just filler until Banuelos is ready. The question is whether Noesi or Phelps are upgrades. Brackman isn’t. This is the year to figure them out or to trade them away to become the next Ian Kennedy.

    James YF May 31, 2011, 11:27 am
  • Hey, if trading them away to become the next Ian Kennedy means getting a prime-aged, elite offensive up-the-middle player in return, sign me up ;)
    And while Joba is a pretty obvious screw-up, I don’t see where they messed up with Hughes. They bring him up when he’s more than ready for the Show, and he injures his hamstring. Ends up having a pretty solid rest of the year when he comes back. In 2008, he’s rightly given a rotation spot, and completely implodes. Turns out he had a cracked rib he was hiding from the team. Spends the rest of the year recovering from THAT, and he didn’t exactly do all that well in his recovery. So they bring him up again in 2009, he doesn’t do all that well, so they put him in the bullpen where he re-discovers his fastball and aggressiveness and rejuvenates his young career. They then give him a rotation spot in 2010 and stick with him even through the tough times, and he finally is healthy enough to put in a full year of starting. And then in 2011 he loses everything and can’t pitch worth a damn.
    Sorry, not seeing it with Hughes. He had injury after injury, and then suddenly lost all his stuff. Simply sounds like a fragile young pitcher trying to overcome a change in talent.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 11:50 am
  • Indeed, I wish all trades would work out so well!
    The problem is they won’t. And this team still needs pitching – like in 2005. Remember when Cashman said they wouldn’t be signing any high-priced pitchers any more!?
    Their utter and sole reliance on Hughes has been the problem. It looks like he’s the one that should be in the bullpen. Outside of one month, Joba has never been hurt.

    James YF May 31, 2011, 12:17 pm
  • As has been discussed here before I think, the major league IP-jump between 2009 and 2010 for Hughes is where I think you can legitimately call into question how he was handled. He went from 72.2 IP in 2007; to 34.0 in 2008; to 86.0 in 2009; to 176.0 in 2010.
    Now obviously it would help to have numbers reflecting the load he carried in the minors on rehab assigments, etc., but regardless, that is a massive leap of oer 100% in major league level workload from ’09 – ’10.
    Perhaps his ’11 troubles have nothing to do with that. But since there is no clear reason for them, it is certainly as good a hypothesis as any.

    IronHorse (YF) May 31, 2011, 12:38 pm
  • Meh, I’d agree with you IH if that inning jump actually caused an arm injury. Hughes doesn’t have an arm injury (honestly, with all the tests they’ve done which found nothing, he probably has one of the healthiest arms in the game!), he just lost all his stuff all of a sudden, and he didn’t have the off-speed stuff to compensate, because for some reason after 6 years he still can’t throw anything but his fastball for strikes, so he couldn’t pitch through it.
    The Wang injury has really hurt the Yankees. Here they had a perfectly solid #2-type pitcher who was doing great until he suffered a completely fluky injury rounding third. Then, when he tried to compensate his mechanics from that foot injury, he completely blew out his shoulder and is now done as a ballplayer.
    The Yankees, for whatever reason, just don’t have the ability (or fortune!) to keep their young pitchers healthy. And honestly, they haven’t really had the ability to develop young pitchers throughout their history. Look at the history of great Yankees. A disproportionate amount of them are hitters. Recount the greatest home-grown Yankee starters in the modern era: Ford, Guidry, Pettitte…Stottlemeyer, I guess. It’s a surprisingly short list.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 1:47 pm
  • The problem is Wang’s “success” was unprecedented in the history of baseball (see his K rate). It was never going to last.
    I agree on the organization never having the ability. But then they have had the talent (Rijo, Drabek, Lily, now The Big Three). The reality is they don’t really develop pitchers.
    Hughes has never been any better than when he first came up in 2007. The problem is he’s just never been that good. He’s a fine 4 or 5, but they’ve been pushing him as an ace. Only Joba had that potential. Of the next group, only Banuelos does.
    That’s the issue. The Yankees want an ace and they want one now. The problem is there are always growing pains on pitchers. My view on it is that there is no proper substitute for major league hitters. Guys in MLB can foul off pitches that are untouchable in AAA. Have that happen twice in an at-bat and what’s the preparation? Hughes’ response is to throw the same pitch again and again.
    Remember, Hughes’ biggest problem has been putting guys away. He’s got 4A stuff. Good enough for the bullpen or back of the rotation, but unless he develops another pitch, he’s not good enough to front a rotation.

    James YF May 31, 2011, 2:32 pm
  • Trying to identify more than a couple of teams that have been really good over the past twenty years at developing their own pitchers and keeping them healthy and in their own uniform long-term. It’s not easy. I am not sure the Yankees are unique in this inability, whatever the resources.
    Acquiring Lee and doing their best to keep him off the market with a sweetheart deal would have been wisest, as Montero continues to sit in AAA. They might have another championship to show for it, to boot.

    SF May 31, 2011, 3:47 pm
  • What’s harder to find I wonder…a quality, #1 ace or a Pro Bowl QB?

    krueg May 31, 2011, 4:11 pm
  • All SFs look the same to me. Ugly!
    Zoing!

    James YF May 31, 2011, 6:19 pm
  • Not acquiring Lee turned out to be the best move, really. Having Lee didn’t win Texas the World Series, and having Lee didn’t exactly make Lee give Texas a sweetheart deal.
    Getting Lee was good for Texas because it allowed them to appear in the World Series, something they never did before. But simply appearing in the WS is old hat for the Yankees.
    Knowing what we know now (Lee was going to Philly no matter what), I’m pretty sure every Yankee fan is perfectly fine with how it all went down. Montero might not be hitting the snot out of the ball right this instant, but he’ll either come up and mash with the Yankees, or frontline a deal that gets them a younger, similarly talented, less expensive pitcher than Lee.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 6:33 pm
  • Having Lee didn’t win Texas the World Series
    I am pretty convinced the Yankees would have won back-to-back had they had Lee. But it’s all debatable, of course. That alone would have been worth the acquisition in my opinion, regardless of whether he had stayed.

    SF May 31, 2011, 6:55 pm
  • the yankees/texas series went like this:
    game 1 6-5 yanks
    game 2 7-2 tex
    game 3 8-0 tex
    game 4 10-3 tex
    game 5 7-2 yanks
    game 6 6-1 tex
    in his only start cliff lee beat the yankees 8-0 in game 3…if lee had been a yankee, for fun, let’s assume we win that game 3 and the series is tied 3-3 going into game 7…our game 3 starter was pettitte and our game 4 starter was burnout, who indeed did burnout giving up 5 earned runs in 6 innings…sure would like my chances better going with lee in that hypothetical game 7, but i’m hard pressed to agree that i’d be “pretty convinced” that the yankees would have won the world series…i think andrew’s right, texas didn’t [win] and they had lee…bottom line, lee didn’t want to pitch in ny…too much to give up for a rental, even for the enhanced chances of getting to another ws, where we still would have had to get past a formidable giants squad…

    dc May 31, 2011, 7:18 pm
  • If you could guarantee a win, sure.
    But the way the Giants were playing, I’m not sure the Yankees even win a game. And Lee, ah, lost both World Series games he appeared in. The first one pretty horribly, too.

    AndrewYF May 31, 2011, 7:19 pm
  • We would have won the WS if we had Lee. Also, we would be far better off with Lee at this point as well. Now, we need to find another Lee to replace Lee since we didn’t get Lee.
    See?

    krueg May 31, 2011, 8:03 pm
  • Again, this is all totally debatable, and I see the opposing case. But I really do believe the Yankees would have won it all with Lee. So we are all universally ok with the fact they didn’t get him!

    SF May 31, 2011, 8:38 pm
  • “Bartolo’s general rebirth”
    Oh dear lord! The imagery is too much for this Wednesday morning post spicy food dinner. For one thing, what becomes of the afterbirth?!

    Nick-YF May 31, 2011, 8:58 pm
  • Dude. Awful.

    krueg May 31, 2011, 9:32 pm
  • CC ate it.

    IronHorse (YF) May 31, 2011, 9:42 pm
  • I just threw up in my mouth a little.

    krueg May 31, 2011, 10:29 pm

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