Monday Notebook

Top 5 Bartolo Colon BP Annual Comments

The 2018 Baseball Prospectus Annual has shipped! If you ordered a copy, it should be on the way. Unfortunately, Bartolo Colon will most likely be absent from its pages. Big Sexy’s career spanned from 1997-2017. He has most likely been the subject of more BP Annual comments than any other player (not really sure how to check this, but who else could it be?). There are essentially three categories of Colon comments, which can be found on his Baseball Prospectus page:

  • Fat Jokes: “The Red Sox took a chance on him in spring training, signing him despite a long history of physical problems and an equator-like waistline.” (2009)
  • Premature Demise: “Colon cannot go beyond 80 pitches in an outing without losing his control and damaging his arm, which is leading them to convert him to relief.” (1997)
  • We Are Not Worthy: “Let us admire what an artist this man is: It will be a long time before we see a starting pitcher with the command to throw 84 percent fastballs, as Colon has done since 2007. And it will be a very long time before we see another pitcher decide, screw it, I’m playing my at-bats for comedy.” (2015)

In honor of the Annual’s release and the everpresent glory of Bartolo Colon, here are his top 5 BP Annual comments ever:

5. 2002

Colon, who has been a very good pitcher for four years, seems destined to suffer the fate of someone like Darryl Strawberry, never appreciated for what he is, perpetually scorned for not living up to expectations. Yes, he could stand to lose a few pounds; then again, so much of his power is generated by his heavy legs that perhaps his doing so would be counterproductive. Do you think we recognize the biggest moments of our lives as they’re happening? It’s hard not to think about how much different Colon’s life might be had Charlie Manuel relieved him just a little sooner in Game Four of the AL Division Series. Maybe Ricardo Rincon gets out Ichiro, and the Mariners don’t take the lead. Maybe the Indians win the game, and with it the series, with Colon as the hero. Maybe Colon sheds the underachiever label for the happier ones that the media likes to distribute in October. You think he knows?

In Game 4 of the 2001 ALDS, Colon blew a 1-0 Indians lead in the top of the seventh. The Mariners won 6-2 and clinched the series with a victory the next day. It’s silly in retrospect that this could define the legacy of a man who would pitch another 15 years and counting. The comment asks, “Do you think we recognize the biggest moments of our lives as they’re happening?” As it turns out, this was far from his biggest moment.

The beauty of this comment is that it uses Colon as a medium for philosophical thinking. It ponders profound ideas such as appreciating people for who they are and not who they are supposed to be, recognizing the moments that define us as they happen, and arbitrary application of labels such as hero or villain. All of this is ridiculous in hindsight because of how much would still remain ahead of him.

Also, they praise him for being fat, which is awesome.

4. 2016

Colon threw 83 percent fastballs, with an average of 89 mph, at the age of 42. He allowed 217 hits, the most in the league, yet pitched to a 3.87 FIP. He has been the same pitcher for the last five years, since his stem-cell treatment in 2010, yet no one has figured him out. That’s because when you know what’s coming, there’s nothing to figure out. He made a natural transition to the bullpen during the playoffs, raising the question “If this is how the one-pitch wonder does in relief, would Mariano Rivera have made a league-average starter?” And Colon does all this with a physique that cannot possibly produce these results, and makes you wonder about stem-cell legislation. So what to make of Colon? Well, nothing. You ignore all this and make fun of him for being overweight and old and actually trying to hit when he’s at bat. That’s what a cultured fan would do.

Colon should not exist at all. A major league pitcher who throws a fastball 5/6 of the time that doesn’t crack 90 MPH? It will be a long, long time before we see that again. As this comment astutely points out, we should marvel at how rare and wonderful it is that we get to witness something so absurd. Better yet, we should pick him apart in a lab and figure out how he works. Instead, we just make fun of him. This comment is the most apt description of Colon at any point in his career.

3. 2010

Given one more shot, Colon had a handful of decent starts in April and May, but his conditioning got the better of him once again, leading to knee and elbow issues. By the time June arrived, Colon’s velocity slipped into the mid-80s. After a long time on the shelf, the White Sox released him in September without his getting another chance to pitch. Since winning the 2005 Cy Young Award, Colon has pitched just 257 innings with a 5.18 ERA. This looks like the end of the line.

This is the best ‘premature demise’ comment of all. In each of the 4 years following his 2005 Cy Young award, Colon failed to throw 100 IP. He allowed 316 hits and 44 homers against only 172 strikeouts. The Angels, Red Sox, and White Sox all gave up on him. He was 36, injured, ineffective, and overweight (as always). The only reasonable conclusion to make was that his career was over.

He did miss the 2010 season, pitching only in the Dominican Winter League. The Yankees gave him a “last chance” contract in 2011, opening the door for 203 more starts and 1238.2 more innings from 2011-2017, his ages 38-44 seasons.

2. 2012

Colon was supposed to be a swing-man or spot starter, but for the first half of the season a pitcher who hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2009 ended up being the Yankees’ most important pitcher not named Sabathia. Whether the cause was the stem cell procedure he underwent or just rest, his fastball was back, bringing with it terrific late movement. He used it almost exclusively, tossing in only the occasional offspeed pitch. That all changed following a hamstring-inspired trip to the DL. Colon’s second-half drop off (4.96 ERA, and 6.8 K/9 down from 7.9 in the first half) was significant enough that he did not start a postseason game though A.J. Burnett did. We shouldn’t be surprised: Colon hadn’t pitched more than 150 innings in a major league season since 2005, is about to turn 39, and is so heavy that if this were the 19th century he could keep the Nantucket fleet in oil for a year. These factors make him a risk going forward, but the 2011 Yankees wouldn�t have won without him.


1. 2001

Bartolo Colon can be a menace to himself, but he’s worth the trouble. He came into camp looking like he’d spent his winter out-eating Rich Garces then had to log three weeks on the DL getting into playing shape. He spent the last months of the season fighting with Jerry Manuel and Dick Pole about his endurance after pulling himself out of three starts. When you consider he had four five-inning, one-run starts, you can understand the frustration. If he shows up in camp in shape, he’ll be the second-best pitcher in the league behind Pedro Martinez.

This comment checks all the boxes for a perfect Colon comment. Fat Joke? Check. “…spent his winter out-eating Rich Garces…” Premature Demise? Check. “…He spent the last months of the season fighting with Jerry Manuel and Dick Pole about his endurance after pulling himself out of three starts…” We Are Not Worthy? Check. “…he’ll be the second-best pitcher in the league behind Pedro Martinez.”

At age 27, Colon was already everything he would always be and yet nothing of what he would become. He was overweight, out of shape, and on the precipice of failure, yet pitching as effectively as anyone alive. At the same time, the legacy of a man’s career can hardly be written 17 years before it ends. And who’s to say when that will be? Apparently, he’s getting another “last chance” with the Texas Rangers. Perhaps there’ll be a few more comments to write.

-Daniel R. Epstein

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