The Minnesota Twins spent most of their offseason loading up their bullpen after productive, high-leverage relievers like Trevor May, Sergio Romo, and Matt Wisler were let go in the offseason. The biggest addition for the bullpen was bringing in Alexander Colomé on a 1-year, $6.25 million deal after he spent the last two seasons closing for the division-rival Chicago White Sox.
The signing was pragmatic. Even though manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t have a designated closer, Colomé has been taking on the ninth-inning spot loosely held by Taylor Rogers and Romo last season. The right-hander gives Baldelli more flexibility late in games: He can use Colomé as the closer and hold Rogers for other high-leverage situations when necessary.
Colomé has been a reliable reliever for eight years. He owns a career ERA of 2.99 over 430 innings and a career strikeout rate of 22% since debuting with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013.
Better yet? Last year was his best season. He posted a 32.3% hard-hit percentage and a .200 batting average on balls in play, with an 0.81 ERA in just over 21 innings in the condensed season — all career highs. Oh yeah, and in the long ball era, he didn’t allow a single home run all of last season while also finishing fourth in baseball with 12 saves.
Unfortunately for Colomé, he’s seen a dropoff since last season. He has pitched just over six innings in six games and has an ERA of 5.68, a BABIP of .429, and has blown two saves. To make things worse, he gave up a three-run bomb to Kyle Seager in a save situation against the Seattle Mariners, and Minnesota lost both the game and the series.
Colomé isn’t the only reliever who has had a slow start to the season. The entire Twins bullpen has been struggling so far this year, and the defense let him down in his appearance on Opening Day. But he was brought in to anchor the bullpen and has been largely ineffective so far. According to FanGraphs, he has a clutch rating of -0.12, compared to a ranking of 0.48 last year. His replacement in Chicago, old friend Liam Hendriks, is among the league leaders in saves this year.
What has been the reason for Colomé’s struggles so far? He relies on his cutter, throwing it 72.4% of the time. His only other pitch is a fastball, and while his average velocity on those pitches hasn’t changed, he’s been having trouble with location early in the count. Colomé has generated the lowest amount of strikes outside the zone since his rookie year with 27.7%. He’s nowhere near his 39.2% mark from last year.
One of his biggest issues this season is that he’s fallen behind in counts against opposing hitters, throwing a first-pitch strike only 50% of the time. That’s about a 5% decrease from last season and an 11% dip from his career average.
Because Colomé has been falling behind in these counts, he needs to come inside the strike zone more. Half of his pitches are inside the zone, which is up 8% from last year. There may be an increase of pitches inside the zone, but Colomé has managed to give up about as much contact he did as last season. The problem is that opposing hitters have been making their swings count.
Batters have been teeing off on Colomé this year, barreling up his pitches 22.7% of the time with an average exit velocity of 93.8 MPH. To make it worse, he’s had 59% of his batted balls leave the plate with an exit velocity of over 95 MPH. That’s nearly double the mark last season, leading to a 1.58 WHIP and opponent batting average of .345.
Part of the issue is that Colomé’s cutter, a pitch he relies on so heavily, has not worked for him this season. He has a runs-above-average ranking of -2.5 when throwing cutters. Lefties in particular are crushing his cutter. Colomé has an ERA of over 15 after facing 14 batters in over two innings this season against left-handed hitters despite having a pretty consistent track record against both sides of the plate.
It’s obvious that this start to the season isn’t what he or the Twins had in mind when he was signed this winter.
But things haven’t been all bad for Colomé. His strikeout rate of 23.3% early on looks promising, and he has an ERA of 0 facing righties. Colomé just needs some time to get right. The Major League Baseball season is a long road with a lot of peaks and valleys. It would be unfair to give up on Colomé after a rough first few weeks. He was great last season, but it was a small sample size, and it’s safe to say Minnesota assumed there would be some regression.
The Twins aren’t going to give up on Colomé as their closer quite yet. He is a proven veteran who can help a club that’s looking to defend their division crown. But he might need to take a step back and gain more confidence in some lower-leverage roles for the next week or so.
Minnesota has three capable arms who can pitch in high-leverage spots: Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Jorge Alcala. Colomé doesn’t have to be the go-to reliever for the Twins to still give Baldelli a great resource to use in high-leverage situations later on if he turns things around.
Colomé just needs to take a different role for a few games to show the Twins he’s the closer the team thought he was. Otherwise, he will force a difficult decision on Baldelli and the front office.