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.