To say Bartolo Colon has been a pleasant surprise for the Yankees this season would be an understatement. His signing (along with that of Freddy Garcia) prompted a lot of snarky jokes about the fact that it is no longer the year 2005 (a brilliant observation!) and that Bartolo Colon is fat (so perceptive!). Considering that he did not pitch in the majors at all in 2010, it was easy to write off Colon as finished, and put him in the same category as Mark Prior (a nice story if he’s able to contribute anything, but likely a non-factor). Even the Yankees appeared skeptical of Colon, giving the 5th starter job to Freddy Garcia even though Colon outpitched him in Spring Training.
Even though Colon looked good in the spring, the Yankees’ concern was about Colon’s stamina, that he wouldn’t be able to go a full 6 inning start. With a solid 6 2/3 inning, 3 run, and 7 strikeout start against a strong Toronto lineup on Wednesday night, Colon may have begun to put those concerns to rest. In this post, I will take a look at Colon’s outing via pitchFX, to see which pitches were working for him, and how his “stuff” compared to his relief appearances.
Here is the pitchFX data for Colon’s start on Wednesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
For those of you a little rusty on your pitchFX, Average V-break and Average H-break correspond to the average break, in inches, for each of the pitches. Linear weight corresponds to (according to Brooks) “how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result.” Don’t get too bogged down in the specifics here, but keep in mind that a negative linear weight is a good thing (because it corresponds to fewer expected runs).
Looking at Colon’s 4-seamer, there’s a lot to like. The velocity range is good, going from 91.5 mph to a high of 94, and he will likely be effective if he is able to maintain this pitch in that range. Although Colon only got 1 swinging strike with the 4-seamer, he was able to locate the pitch well to avoid getting hit hard, which explains the negative linear weight. Colon actually threw his 4-seamer about 1/2 mph harder than he did in his last relief outing, which is a positive sign for his stamina.
The changeup also looked like a fairly effective pitch in its limited usage. Colon threw it only 5 times, but each time it was for a strike. 3 of the 5 strikes were swinging strikes, which indicates that Colon was able to keep hitters off balance with the change. The pitch averaged around 82 mph, which is a significant differential from the fastball. Although it was a small sample, the change was more effective for Colon in his start than in his 4/14 relief outing, when he threw it only 3 times for a 0.4679 linear weight.
The slider was not an effective pitch at all for Colon on Wednesday. He only threw it 9 times for 6 strikes (2 swinging). Presumably, some or all of the other strikes resulted in hits. On the 14th, Colon’s slider was effective (linear weight: -0.3256) and it was thrown 8 times for 5 strikes (and no swinging strikes).
Colon’s most effective pitch was the 2-seam fastball, which ranged from 90.2 to 93.6 mph. Although the pitch did not generate any swinging strikes, Colon was able to use the movement on the 2-seamer (along with the pretty solid velocity) to force weak contact from the Blue Jay hitters, which allowed the pitch to be highly effective. On the 14th, Colon’s 2-seamer was less effective, and only ranged from 89.3-90.7 mph. Assuming the pitch classifications are correct (which we can’t necessarily do), it looks like Colon gained some significant velocity on the 2-seamer (or else some 4-seamers were misclassified as 2-seamers), which may have contributed to its effectiveness.
By comparing Colon’s 2 outings, the encouraging sign is that there did not appear to be a drop-off in stuff for Colon pitching out of the rotation instead of the bullpen. In fact, Colon’s velocity increased as a starter, which is an unexpected occurrence. If Colon is able to maintain this strong velocity while mixing up his 2 fastballs with an occasional slider or change, he should be able to keep the Yankees competitive in his starts. Will he put up starts like Wednesday’s on a regular basis? Unlikely, but the outing does show that Colon still has the repertoire to be an effective big league starter.
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