Bartolo Colon made a dramatic adjustment to his pitch selection in his last start, which came on Saturday against the Washington Nationals. His eight-inning, two-run, five-hit performance led the New York Mets to their only victory in Washington over the weekend, and the adjustment he made was a big reason why.
Colon is a guy who uses his fastball. A lot. Throughout his career, he has used his fastball 85 percent of the time or more per game. This year was no different. Colon used his fastball as much as 93 percent in one game this year. But that style hadn’t worked for him.
Going in to Saturday’s game, Colon was 3-5 with a 5.84 ERA. He had an 8.31 ERA in his three previous starts. On Saturday, he used his slider 17.1 percent of the time, significantly more than at any time this year. His highest percentage of sliders used previously was 8.9 percent during his second start of the season. Colon needs to keep this up if he is to succeed as he pitches in his 17th year in the major leagues.
Colon’s change in pitching strategy is reminiscent of another veteran pitcher who came to the Mets late in his career. Tom Glavine was once one of New York’s most hated rivals until he signed a five-year contract to play in Queens in 2003. Glavine got off to a rough start, going 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA in his first season with the Mets. The 17-year veteran knew he had to make a change.
Throughout his career, Glavine was known as a guy who only worked the outside corner with fastballs and changeups. The problem was, those pitches weren’t always on the corner.
Glavine was somehow adept at getting home plate umpires to expand their strike zone. About the time he joined the Mets, a technology called QuesTec was introduced to MLB ballparks. It was a way for MLB to evaluate how their umpires were calling balls and strikes.
As a result, home plate umps tightened their strike zone, and Glavine lost an advantage. From then on, Glavine and his pitching coach decided he should pitch inside more. Once he did, he was the Mets’ most consistently effective pitcher for the next three years.
Now Colon has made a similar adjustment here in 2014. He’s radically changed a style that made him a success for 16 years. The question is, will he continue to throw more sliders, or did he simply feel it was an effective pitch against the Nationals?
In baseball, it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. If Colon wants to keep tricking major league hitters, he should continue to throw more sliders.