Bartolo Is Back and Better Than 2017 (For Now)

It was only one start, but when you’re coming off an age-44 season featuring a 6.48 ERA, a 5.21 FIP, and a 5.4% swinging-strike rate (the lowest among pitchers with at least 140 innings), you’re on a start-to-start basis anyway. So it counts as good news that, on Monday night, Bartolo Colon made an impressive debut with the Rangers — his 11th franchise — throwing six innings of one-run ball against the A’s in Oakland.

After three surprisingly strong seasons with the Mets, during which he averaged 196 innings, a 3.90 ERA, 3.79 FIP, and 2.7 WAR, Colon signed a one-year, $12.5 million deal with the Braves for last season, but he struggled mightily, first in Atlanta and then Minnesota after being released in July. With no major-league deal forthcoming, he inked a minor-league deal with the Rangers on February 4, with a base salary of $1.75 million plus another $1.3 million in incentives. With Martin Perez still on the disabled list as he rehabs from a bull-induced elbow fracture that required surgery, Colon had his opening to make the team, but only after being released and then re-signed last week in order to work around his opt-out clause.

Colon retired the first six A’s he faced, bookended by caught-looking strikeouts to Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty on sinkers, something he’s done 245 times since returning to the majors in 2011, more often than any pitcher this side of David Price. He would later victimize both hitters again, the former swinging at a slider, the latter swinging at an 0-2 sinker.

Colon went to the well once too often, however. Facing Matt Chapman to start the third, his 0-2 sinker caught just enough of the outer strike zone for the 24-year-old slugger to drill it 390 feet to right-center for a solo homer. But as with Chapman’s three-run homer off Shohei Ohtani the day before, that would be Colon’s only major blemish. He made an athletic snag of a Jed Lowrie comebacker to start the fourth, and stranded two baserunners. He received timely defensive help in the fifth to keep the Rangers off the board despite three singles, with Adrian Beltre scooping a wild Joey Gallo throw from first base to force Chapman at third, and Robinson Chirinos digging up center fielder Drew Robinson’s peg home to deny Jonathan Lucroy the plate. He finished by Houdini-ing out of a two-hit fifth via a forceout and an around-the-horn double play. It was vintage late-period Colon:

In all, Colon allowed seven hits and walked one while striking out four over the course of 89 pitches. He was even more Bartolo-esque than usual, throwing his sinker a hair under 70%, up from 62% in 2016-17. Via Brooks Baseball, that sinker averaged 87.5 mph, same as last year. The five swings and misses he got with the pitch (out of seven total for the night) matched last year’s high. Interestingly enough, the pitch got uncharacteristically more horizontal movement (-10.84 inches, higher than all but three outings since his re-emergence) and less vertical movement (3.32 inches, less than all but two outings of that renaissance). It was as if the earth tilted on its axis to aid him — but then, why wouldn’t it?

It tilted only so much, however. Oakland’s 3-1 victory deprived Colon of win No. 241. Now, you and I don’t care about pitcher win totals, but Colon is on record as wanting to surpass Dennis Martinez (245) and Juan Marichal (243) to become the winningest Latin America-born pitcher in history, and who are we to deny that? It remains to be seen how the Rangers, who have Perez scheduled to pitch on April 5, juggle their roster to accommodate him, but he’s certainly earned another shot. Bartolo is back!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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His reaction to snaring the comebacker=priceless. And he threw a bullet to first.


Yeah, he really gobbled that one right up.