When the season began, I have to admit that Bartolo Colon wasn’t exactly high on my radar. While he was effective in 2012, that season was cut short by a PED suspension. It wasn’t exactly a huge leap to think that Colon, who turned 40 last week, was either completely done, or that he’d toil around in mediocrity (or worse) for a while before his career ultimately ended.
Well, if you were like me and felt that way, you were wrong. Off of his suspension, Colon has actually been better in the early part of 2013 than he was in 2012, posting the following statline over his first 11 starts:
So when you see numbers like that, you have to ask a few questions. Let’s do it.
- Why is Colon still available in most leagues?
There are a few ways to look at this. The first is the PED stigma. If Colon is busted again, it’s definitely the end of his season (100 games), and likely the end of his career.
Also, when someone in his late-30′s has a career year and it’s later revealed that that season was PED aided, it’s only natural to wonder how good he actually is. While valid, that concern isn’t terribly relevant anymore, as Colon is now theoretically clean and is pitching as well or better than he did in 2012.
- Is it sustainable?
I know that people are likely to roll their eyes at 2012. Truthfully, Colon deserves for people to be skeptical of his performances, at least from that year. But put those questions aside for a second and take a look at a month-by-month of what Colon has done since June 1, 2012.
*–Colon was suspended on August 22, 2012
The overall numbers are pretty impressive, but I’m a fan of the consistency. In every one of those months, he was right around a hit an inning, but managed to keep a borderline elite WHIP in four out of those five months. In fantasy baseball, consistency is wildly important. So, this is a really good sign for the future months.
- Is he good away from Oakland?
Actually, he has been. His home/road splits have been relatively consistent in 2013, with a 3.18 ERA/0.912 WHIP at home, and a 3.47/1.183 on the road. In 2012, his home WHIP was far better than his road one (1.090 Home/1.374 Road), but his ERA was actually marginally better away from Oakland (3.27 Road/3.54 Home)
Colon does allow a lot of contact, so that naturally means he’ll be better in pitcher-friendly environments. But his walk rate means that the bases are rarely clogged up. Even allowing a hit an inning, he’s not in serious jams that often. That’s something that translates to success in any park.
- Will his strikeout rate go up?
Colon has an identical K rate (5.4 K/9) than he did before his 2012 suspension. So, odds are that this is what we’re looking at. This is a frequent flip-side to pitchers who don’t walk many batters. Their pitches are generally in the strike zone, so batters can at least put the ball in play against them.
The comeback to that is that most of his starts are in Oakland, which is a fine park to contact in. Also, he’s generally ahead in counts and can hit spots on the corner, so he doesn’t need to challenge the fat part of the zone too often. So, I don’t worry about his ERA ballooning throughout the year. But I wouldn’t count on his strikeouts to go up in a big way.
- Can fantasy owners combat a poor strikeout rate?
Actually, this is very doable, you just have to mix and match a little bit. There are a few strategies.
One is to find a few similar waiver wire guys and pair them together with Colon. You still won’t have a great K/9 rate, but you can remain competitive in strikeouts with volume, while not killing your team’s WHIP. For the sake of this discussion, let’s group Colon with Bronson Arroyo of the Reds, and Andrew Cashner of the Padres. Let’s also only count Cashner’s numbers as a starter.
Just to give you a sense of how this may line up with your pre-draft goals, look at how this trio would look if they duplicated these numbers over the season’s final four months.
Now, the problem is that there aren’t many of these types of guys available. So, even if Colon maintains his pace, finding a second or third guy to group with him could be more difficult if Cashner and Arroyo either aren’t available in your league, one gets hurt, or they become less effective.
Another option would be to find a waiver wire guy who’s strengths can offset Colon’s weaknesses, and vice versa. Let’s look at Colon thus far this year, paired with both Ryan Dempster of the Red Sox, and Jose Fernandez of the Marlins.
Let’s start with Dempster
Multiplied by three to see what kind of numbers these guys would put up over a full year we get:
And for the full year:
Of the two possibilities, you’d obviously want to grab Fernandez if they stay at their current rates. But even a pair of Colon & Dempster wouldn’t be bad. In terms of K/9 rates, Colon & Dempster combine for 7.65/9, while Colon & Fernandez are at 7.08/9, which are both decent totals.
So, to answer the question. Yes, you can make up for Colon’s weak K rate with one or two other moves, and still be right on track to have a good pitching staff.
- Where is a drop expected?
Well, if Colon pitches around 200 innings and only walks 12 guys all year, I’d use this site to campaign for him to win the American League Cy Young Award, pretty much no matter what the rest of his numbers look like. Actually, I might suggest that the Cy Young Award be renamed the Bartolo Colon award, as 12 walks in a season when sabermetrics is more and more a part of the game and hitters are told to look for walks would be the greatest single-season accomplishment in baseball history.
Now, I don’t expect any of that to happen. Since he’s going to be around a hit an inning, you can expect that his WHIP go up a little bit, although I do expect that his 2013 WHIP will be around 1.20 by the time the season ends. That’s still a good mark, but it would put his WHIP from here on out in the 1.25-1.30 range.
Other than that, I think his numbers are sustainable. Again, I really like that his stats since last June are not only good, but consistently good month-to-month. That’s a sign that a pitcher’s good productivity can be maintained.
- Is Bartolo Colon worth signing?
In a word, yes.
Now, I may not be that patient with him. If over the course of a month or so, Colon begins to falter, I’d look in another direction. But Colon has been consistent, plays on a good team that will win games, with a good bullpen that will hold leads, and in a home park that is forgiving to pitcher’s mistakes. Being skeptical at the beginning of the year was one thing. Now that Colon has picked up where he left off (which Melky Cabrera has not done), remaining skeptical also means you’re ignoring someone who can help your team. In a year where many aces aren’t pitching like aces, that’s risky.