Alex Colomé Gets His Groove Back And Heads To Minnesota

On September 4, 2020 in Kansas City, Alex Colomé had one of those nights where he just didn’t have it. It took him 40 pitches, only 23 for strikes, to get four outs and preserve a White Sox 7-3 victory over the Royals. With one out in the ninth, he missed a location with the second best of his two pitches. James McCann set up in and Colomé missed out with a 94 mph fastball, which Jorge Soler nailed with an exit velocity approaching 110 mph. If Soler had pulled the ball, it would have been in the seats, but he thankfully couldn’t get around on it; the ball went oppo, and a well-positioned Nomar Mazara easily jogged it down. Check out the end of the video as Colomé shakes his head, knowing he made a mistake, and maybe a couple, in terms of both location and pitch type.

Ten days later in Chicago, Colomé wasn’t especially sharp but kept runs off the board to finish up a 3-1 win over the Twins, who became his new team this week as he inked a one-year deal with a unique mutual option. With two outs in the ninth and looking to end the game, Colomé had the rare extreme miss with his signature cutter. Yasmani Grandal wanted one down and out, knowing Buxton couldn’t do much damage there, but Colomé delivered a center-cut meatball that the center fielder hammered. The good news was that the ball was a line drive to the left fielder. The bad news? That left fielder was Eloy Jiménez, who absolutely zooed the ball, resulting in an inside-the-park home run that was later reversed to a ground-rule double.

Alex Colomé faced 90 hitters during the pandemic shortened season, and using Statcast’s definition, those were the only two hitters who barreled him up. That’s it. That’s the list. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Colomé will surpass $30 million dollars in career earnings in 2021, and I sure hope he set some of it aside to buy Dick Bosman a couple of steak dinners. Colomé was a once highly touted prospect who was scuffling, struggling to translate his prospect status into major league success. The now-retired Bosman, who was a pitching coordinator for the Rays at the time, taught Colomé a cutter. He took to it, underwent a permanent move to the bullpen, and turned himself into a high-leverage reliever who has saved 138 games over the last five years.

That said, avoiding hard hit balls hasn’t been something Colomé’s been so adept at. In fact, it was the opposite in 2019, when he gave up 15 barrels, at a rate nearly triple that of last year. He was a closer, but not an elite one due to a tendency to give up home runs. The problem? The cutter wasn’t cutting so much.

It’s one of the more unique pitches in the game. Easy to learn, difficult to master. It’s not a fastball, and it’s not a slider. It’s in between, but that’s simplistic and reductive. There is no margin for error on a pitch that’s hard to get consistency with, as the timing on the release and getting the ball to come off the fingers just right is something many are just incapable of getting accustomed to.

But Colomé changed something in 2020. He took a tick off the pitch and got it to move more. The only new factor I can think of was the presence of Grandal, who spent four years in Los Angeles receiving one of the best cutters of all-time in Kenley Jansen’s, and caught Colomé during spring training, and for 5.2 innings during the season. The veteran backstop has late-inning experience receiving the pitch and knows what a good (and bad) one look like and may have helped Colomé get his groove back in terms of movement.

Colomé’s Cutter
Year Avg Velo Horizontal Mvmt Vertical Mvmt
2018 90.4 1.3 26.6
2019 90.4 1.2 26.2
2020 89.3 4.0 28.3
SOURCE: Statcast

Take a little off it, get more run and depth and boom, nobody can hit it hard. It’s what makes the cutter unique. A good one is still hittable, but centering it? That’s another story. In a world where a strikeout per inning is seen as the floor for a “good reliever,” Colomé is well below that. He’s far from a strikeout artist, but that’s normal for a cutter-based reliever, and Colomé, who is fastball/cutter only, throws the pitch nearly three-fourths of the time. Was Colomé’s ridiculous 0.81 ERA last year a bit lucky? Of course it was, but his various FIPs don’t tell the real story either. Every year of his career, his ERA has been below any predicted ERA, often by a large margin. When the cutter is going great, it just doesn’t get hit hard. Colomé is certainly no Mariano Rivera, but Rivera had a similar pattern of much better realities than predicted ERAs and also wasn’t a big strikeout artist. It was just that nobody ever squared the guy up.

Not pitching like a traditional closer made it hard to get paid like one, and the Twins pounced on the right-hander, who weranked as the 34th best free agent on the market earlier this winter. The contract, much like the pitcher, is unique. At first it looked simple enough. One year at $5 million with a mutual option for 2022 at $5.5 million with a $1.25 million buyout. My first reaction? it’s one-year at $6.25 million, because mutual options are just the damn silliest thing in the world, and never get exercised. It’s just being used this way to defer money and let the team not take a CBT hit. But then Twins beat writer Betsy Helfand revealed an interesting twist.

The basic effect of this is that Colomé’s pot odds when it comes to betting on himself change a bit. If the Twins want him back at $5.5 million for the 2022 campaign, Colomé and his representative at Wasserman Sports will need to feel he can make $6.75 million or more in the open market due to the potential loss of the $1.25 million in buyout money. The potential for a multi-year deal at a lower AAV complicates things a bit, but another strong season from Colomé and something of a return to post-pandemic normality in terms of an offseason would likely mean Alex’s commitment to the Twins is only for one year.

With pitching coach Wes Johnson embracing new information and Senior Analyst Josh Kalk, one of the most well-regarded folks in the industry when it comes to pitching, on board in Minnesota, it’s a good bet that Colomé’s cutter maintains its effectiveness or even finds improvement with better location and usage. Manager Rocco Baldelli has already made statements this offseason about being flexible with his late-inning roles, so expect Colomé and lefty Taylor Rogers to form a highly-effective platoon of ninth-inning options. Just like the Nelson Cruz signing, Colomé makes the Twins better and widens the gap a bit between themselves and the White Sox for AL Central supremacy.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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3 years ago

Great article. It appears to me that Colome is a real bargain, I’m not sure why there isn’t more interest in him. IMO a lot of competitive teams could really use him.

3 years ago
Reply to  strosfan

totally agree … must be the low K’s …

3 years ago
Reply to  jhisley

Kevin, do teams undervalue soft-throwers with low K’s in your opinion?