Oakland Athletics Bartolo Colon Headed Towards All-Star Game, Career Season On Unconventional Route

By Thom Tsang
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the state of MLB‘s investigation on Biogenesis, there’s probably a pretty good PED joke to be made here, but for the sake of completeness … I think it can wait. In any case, it’s probably fair to say that not even in
the Oakland Athletics‘ wildest dreams would they have envisioned the kind of season that Bartolo Colon is having in 2013.

In a word, the veteran has been unrecognizable.

As deserving an All-Star as any other pitcher selected this season, Colon is finding the peak of his career at age 40, putting together a 2.69/1.11 ERA/WHIP with a .257 BAA over 120.1 innings. His 12-3 record in 18 starts certainly satiates the traditional numbers crowd, but the wins do happen to be well-earned.

Most impressively, however, the right-hander is getting these results in the midst of what conventional wisdom would say is a decline.

The most notable sign of this can be see in his strikeout rate, which has seen a three-year trend from a resurgent 7.39 K/9 in 2011, to 5.38 in 2012, dropping all the way to a career-low 4.94 this season. His fly ball rate? From 36.1 percent in 2011 going to 37.4 in 2013.

Strikeout decliners who tend to give up more fly balls over the years are usually a double-whammy of bad news, but to Colon’s credit, he’s managed to work around it using the most basic of baseball tropes: not giving in.

In fact, with a career-low 1.12 BB/9, the 15-year vet has turned a weakness into a strength, posting a career-high 4.40 K/BB almost in defiance of the fact that fewer and fewer opposing batters are whiffing against his arsenal. Besides, just because they’re not striking out, that doesn’t mean they’re getting good contact on the righty’s stuff.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Colon continually tweaks his offerings from year to year (for instance, he’s using his fastball less this year and his changeup at a three-year high of 6.7 percent), but he’s remarkably been adept at getting hitters off balance, as a career-high (PITCHf/x era) 82.4 contact rate with outside pitches and a 49.6 percent swing rate indicates.

That aggressiveness at outside pitches have led to a three-year low 17.7 percent line drive rate, a 10.9 infield hit rate and … well, all the other peripherals that are sending him to New York for the Midsummer Classic, I suppose.

Who needs strikeouts and ground balls when you’re getting opposing hitters to do the work for you with their bat? Not Colon, that’s for sure.

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