This is a series of evaluations that will be done this offseason on every player that closed the season on the 40-man roster for the Minnesota Twins throughout the winter until each player has been evaluated. The plan is to start with Mr. Belisle and move all the way through the pitchers, then to the catchers, infielders, outfielders and finally those listed as designated hitters on the club’s official MLB.com roster. That means we’ll wrap it up with Kennys Vargas sometime before the season starts.
- Name: Bartolo Colon
- 2017 Role: Stabilizing force for the Twins at a time they needed it in the rotation, but performance on the whole was underwhelming.
- Expected 2018 Role: Free agent. Virtual certainty he won’t be back with Twins. In the best-case scenario, he’ll get an incentive-laden deal to be a No. 5 starter or swingman from a non-contender.
- MLB Stats: 6.48 ERA, 5.21 FIP in 143 innings; 5.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.59 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR, minus-2.2 bWAR.
- MiLB Stats: N/A
- Contract Status: Free to sign wherever he pleases.
Big Sexy says he wants to pitch until he’s 45 — which means being in uniform this upcoming May — but a look at his overall numbers from 2017 doesn’t really make that seem likely. His ERA nearly doubled from the previous year (3.43), and his razor-sharp command didn’t prevent him from falling prey to the league-wide jump in home runs allowed, as he set a career-high with 1.76 homers allowed per nine. Even in the context of the jump around the league, that’s plenty worrisome.
Looking at the splits between his time in Atlanta (8.14 ERA in 63 innings) and Minnesota (5.18 ERA in 80 innings), it would seem like a tale of two seasons, as though Colon magically turned in a better stretch after leaping to the tougher league. But he more or less pitched exactly the same for the Twins as he did for the Braves.
Colon’s insane ERA was backed by a 5.09 FIP with the Braves, while he posted a 5.31 FIP with the Twins. That’s a pretty insignificant gap when considering a 5.00-plus ERA isn’t terribly good no matter how it’s sliced. Working in Colon’s favor was that he induced more fly balls when he came over from the Braves — nothin’ falls but raindrops, remember? — and saw some normalization in secondary rates that simply wasn’t happening with Atlanta. His strand rate was a meager 45.6 percent in Atlanta, which hurts doubly when posted in light of a .331 batting average allowed.
In short, he was allowing a ton of baserunners with the Braves and not stranding many of them. The strand rate normalized with the Twins (75.7 percent versus a career rate of 72.6 percent), and with it, so did the ERA. The same is true for his BABIP, as it was a coronary-inducing .360 with Atlanta and a merely so-so .307 with the Twins (career rate .296).
The higher-than-usual BABIP isn’t all that surprising, either. Colon allowed an average exit velocity of 87.8 mph, tied for the 51st-highest mark among 280 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 pitches. If we scale that to 1,500, Colon has the 27th-highest mark among 150 pitchers. At 2,000 pitches — Colon had 2,286 — he’s 24th out of 118. In other words, he threw a lot of low-velocity, hittable pitches, and opposing batters hit them hard.
With the Twins, those hits were mostly in the air, where he was bailed out by a good defense but still allowed almost two homers per nine innings.
Colon absolutely deserves credit for a really strong stretch as the Twins were rebuilding their postseason chances, as he had a nine-start stretch from late July to early September with the following numbers: 3.59 ERA, 35-11 K/BB in 57.2 innings. But even that came with a price, as he allowed a slash line of .292/.322/.515 — or roughly the season-long equivalent of what Eddie Rosario (.290/.328/.507) did.
After that (superficially) good stretch, Colon’s final five starts were ugly — 9.33 ERA in 18.1 innings, 9-4 K/BB, .995 OPS against — though he did twirl 6.1 innings of one-run ball on the season’s final day against the Tigers.
If that was Colon’s swan song, it was a good one.
The end is nigh, sweet prince.
Grade: C+. The overall body of work — this is not a pun — isn’t all that impressive, but he steered the ship in the right direction when the team desperately needed it. His time should be remembered fondly. Bonus: Colon was the opposing starting pitcher in Paul Molitor’s final MLB game.