Ageless Bartolo Colon is baffling baseball analytics and MLB oddsmakers
Baseball has always been the sport for aging men with decreasing power and waning mobility. In today’s game, there are a few prominent players in their early 40s. Some of these include Ichiro Suzuki (42), R.A. Dickey (41), and David Ortiz (40). The player that tops the list, however, is the crafty and never-unexciting 43-year-old Bartolo Colon.
Big Bart is in his 19th season as a big leaguer and it might just be one of his best. The former Cy Young winner is 12-7 with a 3.44 ERA (50 basis points lower than his career average). Additionally, his GB/FB ratio this season is his best in over 12 years and 21.82 percent better than his career average mark.
This season also featured Colon’s first career home run, when Mets TV broadcaster Gary Cohen emphatically exclaimed, “The impossible has happened!” Bartolo also earned his first career walk in his 282nd career plate appearance. He had previously held the major league record for most AB’s without a free base.
Interestingly enough, Colon may also have a realistic shot at winning his first career gold glove. He leads the SABR Defensive Index for National League pitchers – a statistical formula that accounts for approximately 25 percent of the award process – with a rating of 2.8.
Zach Greinke, a two-time recipient of the award, trails Colon with a 2.5 rating. He also ranks third among major league pitchers with 32 assists (two short of his career high) and has only committed one error.
It’s no surprise that Colon’s longevity and ability to continue performing at an above-average level has caught the attention of baseball fans and players, who watch Colon pitch and bat with glaring eyes of amazement and awe. After some regression in his late 30’s, Colon’s last four years as a member of the 40’s club (and National League) have been brighter and have reminded us of his glory days.
What’s the secret to Colon’s longevity as a pitcher? Interestingly enough, Colon uses his fastball 89.0 percent of the time. Yes, 89.0 percent. Second on the list is Aaron Sanchez, who uses the power pitch 74.2 percent of the time (the MLB average is 54.8 percent for starters).
Hitters can’t seem to solidly hit Colon’s fastball, even though they know it’s coming. Colon has thrown a fastball on 2,026 of his 2,277 offerings this season. He even generates misses on 17 percent of fastball swings, a rate above the MLB average (15.9%), which is a large contributing factor in his continued success.
His 6.11 K/9 rate is 78th in the majors among qualified starters and he usually won’t get the job done from a fantasy perspective as his K upside and ability to go deep into games is limited.
One thing that is certain, however, is plenty of fastballs for opposing hitters. And, in some strange and miraculous way, that is good enough for 15 quality starts for the Mets this season (more than Greinke, Ian Kennedy, Jaime Garcia, and Michael Pineda have earned for their respective ball clubs).
It seems as if handicappers aren’t even sure what to make of Colon’s numbers this year. Interestingly enough, in games where Colon and the Mets are priced as underdogs, the Mets are 7-4. That’s something to consider when placing your bets for the remainder of the Mets season.
Pitching coaches always preach that the fastball is the foundation to a great repertoire, and that adage may not be more relevant for anybody else but the great Bartolo Colon.
The author of this article, Gio Companioni, is a member of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, a student-run organization at Harvard College dedicated to the quantitative analysis of sports strategy and management. This was originally published on PIX11 sister site Covers.com.