Friday, November 11, 2016

Braves Go Big, Sign Bartolo Colon

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA (#WorldSeries Game 1:
Bartolo Colon) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
One day after adding 42 year-old R.A. Dickey to their rotation, the Atlanta Braves signed 43 year-old Bartolo Colon. If both reach at least 20 starts in 2017, it will be the first time since 2007 that a team had two starters get the ball that many times to begin a game. It's only happened once for the Braves - 1981 with Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry.

Of course, by now, you know the Colon story. A Cy Young winner in 2005, Colon's career took a sharp downward turn due to injuries and poor pitching. In 2011, he made a triumphant comeback as a competent starter for the Yankees and after two years with the A's, he returned to the National League for the first time since 2002 when he signed with the Mets. Three years and 588.2 innings later, Colon is on the move again - this time to help open SunTrust Field to the tune of $12.5 million. Oddly, that's a fairly good price for Colon.

The last player still active who played for the Expos, Colon is a fan favorite. One of baseball's best moments in 2016 - before a magical World Series - was Colon's first career homer against the Padres. Outside of that, he is one of baseball's worst hitters with a career .091 average and a strikeout in over half of his 302 plate appearances. Weighing at least 285 pounds, Colon looks more like he's playing in a charity game rather than getting paid to play baseball professionally, but he makes it work.

But how?

While the image of an old pitcher throwing all kinds of junk at the plate hoping something gets by the hitter might immediately flood your mind when you think about Colon, he's really not that guy. For Colon, it's less about what he's throwing and more about where he's throwing it.

His main pitch is a sinker. Of course, it's lost 3-5 mph in velocity over the last decade, but he still averages 87.8 mph and the 95% +/- confidence interval tell us that the average is about what you should expect most of the time. He also throws a four-seamer at about 90 mph. While he does throw three other pitches, 85-90% of the time, you are getting two variations of a fastball. Again, it's about location and not trick pitches with Colon.

His collection of pitches includes a rarely thrown cutter, a change-up he throws more often to lefties, and a slider he almost exclusively uses against righties. He used his slider a lot less last year (a decrease of about 4-5%). His two breaking balls both are in the low 80's while his cutter is a few mph slower than his sinker.

Have I mentioned it's about location for Colon? He's going to live on the outside corner and only go inside to show that he's willing to. When he's on, he'll get a lot of foul balls off the bat and grounders up the middle. When he's not, he'll get a lot of foul balls off the bat and grounders up the middle and more homeruns. Either way, he's not going to hurt himself via walks, not is he going to get strikeouts.

While durable, Colon's innings and pitches per game have both declined the last two seasons. After reaching 100 pitches 14 times in 2014, he's only done it 11 times since. He only had one game where he failed to throw 80 or more pitches in 2014. He's done that 15 times since. Basically, it's like having a better, older, more robust Chuck James.

But why?

That's the bigger question. Why Colon especially after already adding Dickey (along with bringing back Josh Collmenter?). Here's a few possible hypotheses.

First, the Braves really don't have a lot of faith in Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, John Gant, Robert Whalen, and Tyrell Jenkins to be starters for them in 2017. These five pitchers combined to make 61 starts in 2016 for the Atlanta Braves. Now, they will battle Collmenter, other young starters looking to make a mark, and any other veteran the Braves bring in to join the rotation to open 2017. Atlanta feels that Colon gives them a better shot to compete now and the price was too good to pass up.

Second, the Braves feel another lean year is destined for 2017. They see the shallow free agent market, the unreasonable asking prices in trades, and the slow development of many prospects as reasons to not commit to long-term deals that could become untradeable albatrosses. Instead, they would rather roll the dice with one-year veterans who, as we all know, they can trade later to turn into future assets (such as the aforementioned Gant and Whalen).

Third, they need depth for when they trade Julio Teheran. I don't think this is likely, but let's run with this idea. The Braves are attached to Chris Archer in trade talks. Apparently, they asked about him and tried to gauge the Rays' asking price. What if that was research to see what the asking price might be for Teheran? It's a shallow free agent market (that may have been mentioned). Why not try to cash in an asset at above market value to take advantage?

Fourth, they really enjoy watching Colon bat. I really didn't have another hypothesis, but I didn't want to end on an odd number.

Whatever the case, the Braves should avoid the desperate search for random arms to help fill out the rotation in case of injury considering the depth they now have. That alone should make them a better squad in 2017.

No comments:

Post a Comment