The last time Bartolo Colon was effective was way back in 2005, so when he showed up to the Yankees and surrendered four runs in his first two innings this season most of us wondered how he could possibly help the Yankees in 2011.
A funny thing happened though. After that first game against those first two innings against the Tigers he turned into a great pitcher, one that lead the Yankees early with a 2.78 ERA in 12 outings before he went down with a groin injury. He was outstanding and he helped turn what was expected to be the Yankees biggest weakness, their rotation, into an early strength.
It wouldn’t last though. After the injury he was still a decent pitcher, but he was just not the same. What had made him strong before, an amazing two-seamer that he was able to spot at will had disappeared. And the pep he had on his fastball was gone.
There has been a big difference, but I wanted to know exactly how big and if the difference was small enough that he could still contribute in the playoffs. So I turned to PitchFX and the results weren’t pretty.
Here is a comparison between a typical Colon start in May (A May 2nd win against the Tigers, 7 IP, 3 ER) and his start last night which has been more typical of how he’s pitched lately (against the Rays, 5.1 IP, 2 ER).
Before we get into the data it is clear there is a big difference right away. Against the Tigers he allowed seven hits and two homers over seven innings, but he was able to pitch effectively and hold the Tigers to just three runs thanks to seven strikeouts and zero walks. Last night he was able to hold Tampa to just two runs, but was not able to work as deeply into the game, gave up more hits per nine and walked a pair. Nothing too egregious, but simply not up to par with his first half performances.
So where’s the difference?
Back in the beginning of the year Colon was basically a two pitch pitcher. He threw a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball.
The four-seamer had quite a bit of pop to it often hitting upto 96 mph. It got about five inches of horizontal break and more than 10 inches of verticle break and generated a lot of swing and misses.
The two-seamer came in up to 94 mph and broke 10 inches to the right and five inches down. It wasn’t so much of a swing and miss pitch, instead he combined that pitch with pinpoint location that allowed him to sneak it back over the plate, back-dooring it to lefties and pounding it in on righties.
He only ever occasionally threw a slider or changeup. The pitches had decent movement on them, but the reason why they were effective had more to do with the element of surprise as he often went with them less than 10 percent of the time.
Comparing that to last night’s start is quite a bit different. Instead of his four-seamer hitting 96 it topped out at 92 and both the horizontal and vertical breaks are not as pronounced. It rarely generates swings and misses anymore.
That two-seamer that came in at 94 and broke more than 10 inches to the right now comes in at 91 if he’s lucky and it breaks just eight and a half inches at best. He might be able to get by with that if his location were the same but it is not. That has caused him to lose confidence in the pitch and instead of throwing it nearly 50 percent of the time now he throws it more like 20 percent.
To compensate he throws more sliders which tops out at 84 mph and just doesn’t have much break to it.
To prove my point about his location, just take a look at these two graphs. The first is his strike zone against Detroit in May:
So he’s lost his pop on his pitches and location. That’s a dangerous combination. But why?
The biggest reason for that is mostly lack of stamina. This was something that even from the start, best case scenario we still knew that having not pitched consistently for so many years was going to take a toll on him at some point. His body began to breakdown with that injury back in June and he has really never been able to pull himself together again. Maybe for a start here or there, but certainly not over the stretch drive.
The single biggest physical defect is that he is no longer able to repeat his mechanics, a sign of a lack of stamina. Take a look at his release point back in May:
What this all means is that Colon is just not the same pitcher we saw early this season. Gone are the days of a 2.78 ERA that got the Yankees kick started this year. Now he is more like the pitcher he has been over his last 14 starts, a guy with a 5.30 ERA.
All of the graphs are courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.