Join us, as we do a one-inning, pitch-by-pitch investigation into Bartolo Colon's dominance
We here at Cut4 have a deep and abiding love of Bartolo Colon. Here is a pitcher who looks more like the guy in your office who is always talking about sports than someone who actually plays sports, who missed all of 2010 with a shoulder injury -- which are not your now-run-of-the-mill Tommy John injuries -- and is the second-oldest pitcher in the Majors.
He's played for the Montreal Expos and was on the Angels when they were still known as the team from Anaheim and not the "Los Angeles Angels of." He won his Cy Young in 2005 -- the year that Felix Hernandez reached the Majors and three years before Clayton Kershaw made his debut.
At the same time, this is a player with the same the same I-wanna-crush-the-baseball-demeanor at the plate as your 5-year-old nephew at his T-ball game:
But too often we only enjoy those crazy swings and wonderful lust for life and we ignore how exceptional he is on the field and that, like a fine wine or the Nickelodeon's "Pete and Pete," he is only getting better with age. Entering Tuesday's action, Colon was 4-1 with a 3.31 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, while walking only one batter and striking out 25. And he does it while throwing only fastballs.
Coming into the game, Colon had thrown 85.6 percent fastballs, the highest rate in the league by six percentage points over the second place Jarred Cosart. (The same difference as between Cosart and the fifth-placed Doug Fister.) It's even more impressive that he does it with an average velocity of just 90.2 mph, ranking 78th out of 111 qualified Major League starters.
This is also what he looks like while warming up. Not the most intense of warm-up routines.
So how does this portly gentleman in his age-42 season consistently confound batters while being like the Foo Fighters (in that he just keeps releasing variations of the same thing)?
We decided to plunge in deeply and take a pitch-by-pitch look at the grand Bartolo's fourth inning on Tuesday night against the Orioles to find out. We chose the inning because:
- It was his second trip through the lineup, so they had already seen his fastball in action.
- He was going up against the heart of the order, so there would be no easy outs.
- It was after his first trip to the plate. Maybe his spinning top act has some sort of affect on his performance on the mound.
To start, Colon was already throwing more offspeed pitches than he usually does. Colon's fastball was sitting closer to 85-86, only occassionally touching 88-90. Perhaps that was why he was throwing more breaking balls or perhaps it was simply a part of the gameplan. After all, in the first inning, Colon threw four of his five offspeed pitches in the inning against Chris Davis before freezing him with an 87-mph called strike three.
Now then, let's flash forward to the top of the fourth, the Orioles and Mets tied at 0.
Adam Jones: 0 on, 0 out
Pitch one: 87 mph two-seam fastball, called strike. 0-1.
This is the pitcher that myths have been written about: Attacking All-Stars with expert location. A great start to the inning and this experiment.
Pitch two: 90 mph four-seam fastball, fouled off. 0-2.
Colon dialed it up, topping out at 90. Again, he's simply placing this in the Kevin Plawecki's glove as if the baseball was attached on a rubber band.
Pitch three: 83 mph slider. Singled into right field.
Colon missed his spot some, but it was only further off the plate while looking to get the agressive center fielder to chase. 99 times out of 100 this is either fouled off or missed. Instead Jones picked up a base hit. Baseball is wacky like that.
Knowing not to confuse the results with the process, Colon did the same thing the next time Jones came up in the sixth inning. Same pitch, slightly different result.
Chris Davis: Runner at first, 0 out
Pitch one: 85-mph two-seam fastball, called strike. 0-1.
After giving Davis mostly soft stuff the first time around, Colon started him off with straight cheese. Well, 85 mph hard cheese.
The offering was over the middle of the plate, but after changing his strategy of staying away with breaking stuff in the first at-bat, he may have caught Davis off guard.
Pitch two: 80 mph changeup. Soft line drive to right field for a single.
Colon executed his gameplan once again, placing a changeup that is breaking down and away from Davis. (The angle of the camera is misleading. PitchFX shows the pitch was down and near the border of strike zone.)
Again, though, because baseball is hard and the universe is darkness and chaos, Davis picked up a base hit. This was another softly hit ball that dropped in front of the right fielder. Given the kinds of unspeakable things that Jones and Davis can do to a baseball, that's not a bad result.
Delmon Young: Runners at first and second, 0 out.
Pitch one: 88 mph two-seam fastball. Ground out, runners advance to second and third.
Arguably Colon's worst pitch of the inning as he missed up and in against Delmon Young. Of course, in the continuing saga of baseball weirdness, Young grounds out.
For anyone that still doesn't think that Colon is an athlete, just watch him get off the mound, field the ball and throw for the out. Sure, Young runs with the speed of a 1930's pulp adventurer trapped in quicksand, but this is still a difficult play.
Caleb Joseph: Runners at 2nd and 3rd, one out
Pitch one: 88-mph two-seam fastball, fouled off. 0-1.
After battling Colon for six pitches in his first at-bat in the second innning (before striking out looking on a perfectly-placed fastball on the outside corner), Colon probably wished he had a little more on his fastball to blow batters away. With the Mets' infield back, almost any ball put in play would drive in a run. Add in the fact that the Mets had not scored since the eighth inning against the Nationals on Friday at this time -- a streak of 22 consecutive innings -- that would be problematic.
Possibly trying to get that extra oomph, Colon left another one over the plate. It's probably a mistake, but maybe not. Look at Colon's pitch chart from the fourth inning and you'll notice how he tosses first pitches down the center of the plate before nibbling at corners the rest of the way.
I can't imagine that was his gameplan with runners at second and third, but who knows the strange ways in which Colon works.
Pitch two: 88-mph two-seam fastball, fouled off. 0-2.
If at first you don't succeed, try again. Colon went back to the same pitch, same location and this time he executed it to perfection. Joseph fouled it off, but because of where it was thrown, he simply drove it straight into the dirt. This is peak Colon.
Pitch three: 90-mph two-seam fastball, called ball. 1-2.
Going back to what he struck out Joseph with in his first at-bat, Colon barely missed nipping the outside corner. Plus, with an 0-2 count, he could afford to waste one. I would call this another perfectly executed pitch.
Oh yeah, this also ended a streak of 13 consecutive strikes thrown. All hail, Lord Bartolo.
Pitch four: 89-mph two-seam fastball, swinging strike. Strike three.
Going with another two-seam fastball, Colon has perfectly set up Joseph with the outside pitch before. Going back under his hands, Joseph can't do anything but flail helplessly at a heater not much faster than the pitching machines at the arcade.
This is why location matters.Colon threw four straight two-seam fastballs between 88 and 90 mph, but Joseph was completely outmatched. I mean, just look at that movement.
Travis Snider: Runners at second and third, two outs
Pitch one: 90-mph two-seam fastball, called strike. 0-1.
It must be nice catching Colon. After all, you can pretty much just set up anywhere, ask for a two-seam fastball and then not move.
Honestly, it would get boring if he wasn't so outright dominant. It's like an Andy Warhol painting. Except that Warhol used silk screens and Bartolo Colon is the flesh and blood representation of modern beauty.
Pitch two: 92-mph four-seam fastball. Ball. 1-1.
Colon reached back for his hardest pitch of the inning. Though he misses his location on the outside corner, he keeps the ball down and in a still unhittable spot just off the inside corner.
Pitching is hard and throwing strikes is more difficult than finding the clean porta-potty at the state fair, so I'd call this another successful pitch.
Pitch three: 83-mph slider. Ball. 2-1.
A shocking and rare second ball in a row. Again, Colon is just off the plate and has placed his slider in a spot where Snider could do nothing with it had he swung. With a base open and the .213-hitting Everth Cabrera on deck, it wouldn't even be the worst thing in the world if Colon walked Snider here.
Pitch four: 82-mph changeup. Groundout to first. Inning over.
Though Colon missed up, he still got his changeup off the outside part of the plate. By setting up Snider down and in throughout the at-bat, he set Snider up to only roll over the pitch and end the threat.
While this start wasn't Bartolo at MAXIMUM COLON-NESS (a whopping four of his 14 pitches in the fourth inning were of the non-fastball variety, with only 77 percent of his total pitches in the game being fastballs), this was proof of how a pitcher can decimate his opponents with less-than-dominant stuff.
All told, this turned out to be a pretty good start to look at how Colon manages to succeed against players one to two decades younger than him. He finished the game going 7 2/3 IP, while giving up six hits and one run. He also struck out nine and walked none as the Mets won, 3-2. That now runs his consecutive innings without a walk up to 34 2/3 IP. While he's unlikely to reach Bill Fischer's record of 84 1/3 innings that was set in 1963, would you really put it past hjm? After all, his K/BB rate this year is currently 34, which would obliterate the 11.63 mark set by Phil Hughes last season.
Oh yeah, it also makes Colon the only pitcher to have beaten one team on seven different clubs.
Here's to ten more years of this, Bartolo.