Age is Just Another Complicated Number for Bartolo Colon

By: Blake Dowson | March 2, 2018

Bartolo Colon started to show his age last season. Most major leaguers would when they’re just a couple months shy of turning 45. In fact, most major leaguers no longer call themselves major leaguers at that age.

Colon is an exception, and the wear and tear seems to be taking a toll. He was on the mound for 28 starts last season, and 33 the year before that. He was an All-Star in 2016 at the ripe age of 43 for the New York Mets, but sported a 6.48 ERA in 2017 between Atlanta and Minnesota.

Now, he’s in Texas Rangers camp trying to win a sixth spot in a rotation that has almost completely flipped from a season ago. On Opening Day 2017, the Rangers were slated to have Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Cole Hamels, A.J. Griffin, and Andrew Cashner fill out the rotation. This season Hamels and Perez are the only holdovers, joined by newcomers Matt Moore, Doug Fister, Mike Minor, and the candidates for the sixth spot – Colon, Jesse Chavez, and Matt Bush, mainly.

If Colon wants to make the big league roster, he needs to prove he can manufacture the production he showed in 2016, and that he hasn’t finally fallen off with age, like 2017 might suggest.

What changed for Colon in 2017? Not much on the surface, according to STATS TVL data. His average velocity was the same, his pitch-mix didn’t fluctuate very much at all, and his strike percentage was roughly the same for all his pitches, along with his swing-and-miss percentage and chase percentage.

One major difference was Colon’s opponent’s batting average on balls in play – in 2016, it was .291, and in 2017 it was .331. That’s a significant bump, and it’s due mostly to guys teeing off on Colon’s two-seamer. In 2016, right-handed hitters slashed .266/.290/.378 off Colon’s two-seamer and lefties slashed .244/.284/.466. In 2017, righties slashed .352/.378/.557 and lefties slashed .349/.397/.627.

Colon threw it for a strike 70 percent of the time in both ’16 and ’17. His swing-and-miss percentage fell from 10 to seven, but that’s not major. The major difference was the fact that Colon missed inside the zone far more often in 2017 in critical counts than he did in 2016.

The two charts below show where Colon gave up hits on 0-1 counts with his two-seam fastball, from the pitcher’s perspective.

The chart on the left shows 2016. Colon gave up hits when he made mistakes in the zone (he almost always wants to paint the outside corner to righties with his two-seamer), but he did a good job minimizing those mistakes. In the chart on the right, 2017, he missed in the zone much more, and paid the price. Here are a couple videos pulled from SVS, the first from 2016 when Colon executed a 0-1 two-seamer to get Addison Russell to ground out, and the second from 2017, when he missed inside the zone and gave up a big fly to Ryan Braun.

He ran into the same mistakes against lefties on 0-2 counts in 2017. In 2016, lefties hit .167 and slugged .250 off 0-2 two-seamers from Colon. In 2017, they hit .429 and slugged .500 against the same offering. During Colon’s 2016 All-Star campaign, he didn’t give up a single hit inside the zone on 0-2 counts. Pitchers typically feel like they can waste a pitch or two in an 0-2 count trying to get hitters to chase, and Colon was no different. However, as you can see from the screengrab below, in 2017 he missed multiple times in the zone, and paid for it.

Colon got in trouble on full counts against righties, as well. In 2016, right-handed hitters hit .185 and slugged .259 against Colon’s two-seamer in 3-2 counts, and in 2017 they hit .389 and slugged .611 off him. Part of that is because Colon gave in to hitters more in 2017, and part of it is because he was up in the zone more this past year.

In 2016 on 3-2 counts when Colon threw two-seamers to right-handed hitters (these may seem like incredibly narrow parameters, but Colon threw a two-seamer 84 percent of the time against righties in a 3-2 count that year), he was in the strike zone 61 percent of the time. He was middle/up in the zone 43 percent of the time. In 2017, he was in the strike zone 71 percent of the time and middle/up in the zone 54 percent of the time.

The solace Colon can take from 2017 is that he found his changeup, and it turned into a good pitch for him after he used it only four percent of the time in 2016. He more than doubled his usage in 2017, and got better results.

In 2016, hitters slashed .367/.412/.600 off Colon’s changeup, but in 2017 slashed .243/.284/.443. And although he doubled his usage of the pitch, his strikeouts from ’16 to ’17 were five-fold.

Colon strikes out Elvis Andrus with a changeup in the following clip from STATS Video Solution. From the way Andrus’ head snaps back towards Colon after he swings and misses, you would think he had no idea Colon throws a changeup.

Colon may be wise to up his changeup usage even more this season to help keep hitters off his two-seamer, or else he may not find himself in the Rangers’ rotation come summer time.