Deep Dive: Bartolo Colon, a shrewd move for the Mets

Toby Hyde, Contributor

Bartolo Colon is no ace, but he is a very strong value signing for the Mets.

The 40-year old Colon — the 2005 Cy Young Award winner — is round, surprisingly effective and hit the free agent market at exactly the right time. He has taken a unique path to this point. He earned his first All-Star game appearance with Cleveland in 1998, but won his first and only Cy Young Award seven years — and five teams — later.USATSI_7505007_110579513_lowres

After shoulder pain from a torn rotator cuff and damage to ligaments and tendons cut short his 2009 season, he had an experimental (and controversial) surgery with in which stem cells from his hip were inserted into his shoulder in March of 2010 and followed by platelet-rich plasma therapy. He missed the entire 2010 season.

The Yankees took a chance on him in 2011. After an effective year in the Bronx, he headed to Oakland in 2012 for $2 million, only to draw a 50-game ban for testing positive for testosterone. Then in 2013, he put together one of the best years of his career.

Why is his timing so good? In 2013, Colon posted a career-best 2.65 ERA in 190 1/3 innings of work for Oakland. He was very close to the same pitcher he was in 2012 for the A’s when he ran a 3.43 ERA in 152 1/3 innings, but he got lucky in two key areas: he stranded runners at an abnormally high rate, and fewer fly balls turned into home runs than in the year before. Colon’s FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching (which is scaled to ERA based heavily on strikeout and walk rates and normalizes batted ball events and timing) – dropped, but less dramatically so, from 3.82 in 2012 to 3.23 in 2013.

Here are Colon’s key rate stats since his 2011 comeback.

ERAFIPIPK%BB%LOB%HR/FB
20114.003.83164.119.55.870.011.4
20123.433.82152.114.33.676.39.1
20132.653.23190.115.23.880.06.0
MLB AVG3.873.8719.97.973.510.5

Note that Colon’s strikeout rate and walk rate have both declined in the last three seasons. In fact, his walk rate is now half of the Major league average, which is excellent. Also note that his left on base percentage (LOB%), which has more to do with luck than skill, has bounced around (as it should), peaking in 2013. That high LOB%, combined with his lowest HR/FB% since his return, helped produce Colon’s pretty, sub-3 ERA in 2013.

Colon’s LOB% of 80.0%  was high – 8th in baseball in 2013 – but not off the charts. In theory, higher strikeout pitchers will tend to have higher strand rates because they can pitch for the strikeout with men on base if they need to. In fact, Colon’s strikeout rate (as measured on a per inning basis) was the lowest of any pitcher in the top 10 in strand rate in 2013.

USATSI_7270713_110579513_lowresHome run to flyball ratio is particularly important to Colon because he is an extreme fly-ball pitcher. In 2013, his groundball percentage (the opposite of fly balls) was 41.5%, 22nd in baseball. The fact that Colon was well, lucky, in 2013 and missed a few weeks with a groin strain, does not mean he cannot be an effective pitcher in the next two years.

In 2013, Colon led Major League baseball, among all pitchers who threw enough to qualify for an ERA title, in fastball usage percentage at 85.5% according to Fangraphs. In fact, he was the only pitcher above Justin Masterson at 73.3%. However, that camoflages the fact that Colon has two different fastballs: a fourseamer that averaged 92.9 mph that he threw 32% of the time and a sinker that averaged 90 mph that he threw 52% of the time per Brooks Baseball. His slider, at 11%, is his primary breaking ball and he throws a changeup about 5% of the time.

Colon is old, heavy, and unusual, but he represents good value for the Mets.

First, examine all of the free agent contracts that pitchers and teams have signed so far this offseason. This list comes from MLB Trade Rumors. Tim Lincecum never hit free agency, but his two year, $35 million deal with the Giants sure seems like a free agent-level contract from here, so we’re going to include him.

YearsTotalAAV3 Yr bWAR2014 Age
Hiroki Kuroda1161612.739
Bartolo Colon220109.840
Jason Vargas43285.831
Tim Hudson22311.55.638
Josh Johnson1884.630
Ricky Nolasco44912.254.331
Dan Haren110103.833
Ryan Vogelsong1553.236
Felipe Paulino11.751.752.330
Scott Feldman330102.231
Tim Lincecum23517.51.929
Phil Hughes32481.128
Scott Kazmir222110.830
Edinson Volquez155-2.830

In the last three years, Colon has been the second-best pitcher of this group by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement and it’s not really close. Hiroki Kuroda bests Colon by almost three full wins, while Colon is four wins better than Jason Vargas, who is third on the list. By average annual value, Colon’s $10 million contract is part of a three-way tie for seventh-highest in the group. By total value, it is eighth.

Now, lets look forward. For all of the free agent pitchers, I added up their RA9-WAR projections for the years covered by their latest contract, according to the Oliver model hosted at Fangraphs. Now we can construct a rough estimate of the value of each contract as measured by $ per projected win. I applied a major fudge: Oliver projects Colon to be worth 2.6 wins in 2014. However, he is the only pitcher for whom there is no win projection for 2015 and beyond. For 2014, Oliver projects 190+ innings of baseball with an ERA just under four. That seems high on the innings front for Colon for the following year, when he would be 42 in 2015. To be very conservative, I slapped in a win value of 1 in 2015. This lines up with Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs which projects Colon for 3.6 wins over the next two years.

2014201520162017TotalAvg$/win
Hiroki Kuroda3.43.43.44.7
Scott Feldman2.22.126.32.14.8
Jason Vargas21.51.315.81.55.5
Bartolo Colon2.613.61.85.6
Tim Hudson2.31.53.81.96.1
Dan Haren1.31.31.37.7
Josh Johnson111.08.0
Phil Hughes1.110.82.91.08.3
Ricky Nolasco2.31.51.10.95.81.58.4
Felipe Paulino0.20.20.28.8
Ryan Vogelsong0.50.50.510.0
Scott Kazmir0.90.91.80.912.2
Tim Lincecum0.90.51.40.725.0
Edinson Volquez000.0#DIV/0!

By this metric, Colon’s contract is the fourth-best among starting pitchers by projected $/win so far. And there are major caveats with the three ahead of him. Kuroda’s deal is only for one year. Meanwhile, Scott Feldman (3/$30) and Jason Vargas (4/$32) each signed deals worth at least $10 million more than Colon’s for one or two more years. It does not take much optimistic tweaking beyond flipping the estimate on 2015 from one win to two wins to make Colon’s deal the top in terms of projected $/wins.

Lets step back and look at Colon’s bWAR totals from the last three years: ’11 – 2.1, ’12 – 2.7, ’13 – 5.0. Which of these things does not look like the other? The beauty of this deal for the Mets is that it does not suppose that Colon be as good or as fortunate as he was in 2013 to provide good value. Instead, he has to pitch at his more established level in 2011 and 2012.

According to Baseball Reference, there are 49 seasons in the expansion era of a pitcher earning 2.0 bWAR or better after age 41, and 30 of 2.5 bWAR or better. This is a remarkable group. The list includes knuckleballers (Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield), spitballers (Gaylord Perry) and all-time greats (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn and Mariano Rivera), but it also includes more ordinary pitchers like David Wells and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Jamie Moyer. Pitching success at age 41 and 42 is unusual, but so is success at 40, which Colon now has on his resume.

The Mets need for Colon to be healthy and effective at the start of 2014. If he needs a few weeks on the disabled list by the heat of summer for a muscle strain, so be it. In theory, both Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard will make their rotation debuts for the Mets in 2014. By 2015, Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner will have successfully rehabbed their Tommy John surgeries.

Colon has been very effective recently, and has followed a wildly unusual career arc which, combined with his age – 41 in 2014 – makes projecting his next two years a little more shaky than usual. Still, the commitment the Mets made to Colon in years and total dollars is less than other teams were making to lesser pitchers this winter. This has the potential to be a very shrewd signing.




142 comments
Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez

Please mets fans we have to be possitive with all the signs alderson make we need to pray to see mets in playoffs again let s go mets

Kyungwan K. Chae
Kyungwan K. Chae

I don't know why people like this signing.

Not only he's 40 years old,

he was suspended for using steroids,

which basically tells you his great numbers in 2012-2013 could be due to him being juiced.


I wish he'd do well in Mets as well, but I have huge doubts what will happen to him now without steroids. 

Or maybe he does well and caught on doing steroids again and get suspended again.


I don't know. I just can't like this. I can't like any steroid addicts signing at all.

Mike DeRosa
Mike DeRosa

He will do fine as a pitcher....but I am terrified at the thought of him having to run the bases. Yes, yes, I know. He's an athlete and while overweight, can still run faster than I can. But I can't feel confident that he won't hurt himself or be picked off/tagged often because he lacks the speed a younger and lighter pitcher could offer.

arc34
arc34

Shrewd move and value pick is a bit overstatement, that is for sure.....risky contract for a guy pitching as a 41 and 42 year old.....pulling for him though, we can't afford anymore dead contracts.

Macacawitz
Macacawitz

I'm shocked that Sandy was able to pick up Colon.  Then again I'd be shocked to see anyone pick up Colon.

Metropolitan
Metropolitan

and the Wilpon propaganda machine just keeps hu m ming along.....



KHernandez83
KHernandez83

Any solid ideas on the 2014 rotation and who's the ace?

niesesnose
niesesnose

Does anyone here watch Covino and Rich on SNY? It's awful. They're annoying and like a worse version of Adam Carlin and CHris Schein. They also only talk about sports for like 50 percent of the show

Mont5
Mont5

Montero for Chris Owings. Make it happen.

niesesnose
niesesnose

Per Tom Hadricourt on tiwtter, talks between Alderson and Melvin didn't advance Ike trade talks. Melvin said he was just checking in.

Marcus Jensen
Marcus Jensen

Excellent article. I just don't get the title.

ac0814
ac0814

Let's hope Colon is able to pick the Mets up.

arc34
arc34

@Macacawitz At 285 lbs I would be shocked if Sandy could pick up Colon, LOL!

Matthew Buccelli
Matthew Buccelli

@MetropolitanSo tell me then which of the free agent signings on that list would you have liked more?  Glad you're not our GM

ferizzi726
ferizzi726

@Metropolitan It wasn't a bad move. I liked it. Just because you don't like something doesn't mean the people that do are part of a propaganda machine. Grow up.

dumdeeduda
dumdeeduda

I don't love the move, but it seems like everyone else does. Even guys that generally kill the Mets like Sherman and Law.

dumdeeduda
dumdeeduda

Colon, Niese, Gee, Wheeler and Mejia. I would expect either Niese or Colon to start on opening day. Might come down to who looks better in spring training, but my gut says that TC is going to want to use Niese to split the righties whenever possible. If you're asking me who do I think will have the best season in 2014, I'm going to guess Niese, followed closely by Wheeler and then Colon, Mejia and Gee.

dumdeeduda
dumdeeduda

Was 2012 a fluke too? 2011? He was pretty good those years. Certainly good enough to warrant this deal. I just don't think this really does much for the future of the team.

dumdeeduda
dumdeeduda

Totally agree. We just bought him a third summer home and an endless supply of cheeseburgers. I'm not at all confident that he'll be all that productive.

niesesnose
niesesnose

@Pedro's Rooster I mean, he went 18-6 last year in the AL. He throws strikes and is a flyball pitcher. Even if hes not as good as last year he can still win 14 or 15 games

Derpy
Derpy

@BiggieSmalls


Not entirely true.  The writers for itsaboutthemoney.net (the SNY Yankee blog) are also very, very good.  This article here from Toby is what they put up regularly (as in a few times a week, if not more) regarding the Yankees.

DMMP
DMMP

@Mont5 I think it would take a little more...  But I'm very for it

niesesnose
niesesnose

@Mont5 Idk, the D-backs wants a more frontline starter. Montero projects to be a mid to back end of the rotation guy

Sean Matrai
Sean Matrai

@dumdeeduda  They made a solid move.


Plus we egged the Mets on to spend money. They did so we really cannot complain.


Schien hates the move

arc34
arc34

@dumdeeduda 2012 was not nearly as good as last year...lets look at the previous seven seasons, guess not.

Julius Vernon
Julius Vernon

I don't like using wins as a metric but saying that a guy has 18 wins for a division winning team, then has a slight drop off due to age, comes to a last place team and wins 14 or 15...that seems like wishful thinking to me.

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@niesesnose @Pedro's Rooster the AL part means little in regards to record. 

A.) a pitcher can earn a W more easily in the AL because they are likely to go deeper into the game since they don;t have to be replaced for a pinch hitter in a tight one. it's simply more difficult to earn a decision in the NL.

B.) it's all relative.

C.) W-L is an almost arbitrary thing as Cliff Lee proved 2 years ago, because it is dependent on your own team's offense and your own bullpen, which have almost nothing to do with the SP. 

the baramoeter for a good pitcher is not W-L but ERA and IP and to a lesser degree WHIP.

Vin Santiago
Vin Santiago

@niesesnose @Pedro's Rooster He's not saying that he is incapable of winning he's saying that Colon got his retirement pay day so alas he has nothing to pitch for which is just another way of Met's fans complaining about something good happening.  


Agee's Catch
Agee's Catch

Toby is putting up most of his work on MetsMinors, which he contributes too almost daily. It's a daily stop and a click away.  Rob Brender doesn a nice job of recapping 51's games also. 

dumdeeduda
dumdeeduda

They would need to give up a lot more than Owings from a front line starter.

David Fernandez
David Fernandez

Did you not hear Sandy? He's not going to give Ike away. If he doesnt get what he wants he wont trade him.

If theres one place that Sandy has earned our trust... its his dealings with trade.

niesesnose
niesesnose

@Ben Bongadowski @niesesnose I have a feeling that Ike will be traded once Loney's off the market. What's interesting is that if the mets said they wanted no less than Thornburg they must think they can get something of value. BTW, I saw some of Thornburg's highlights and he's filthy. Straight over the top, low to mid 90's, big 12-6 and a nice changeup

Opti-Mets-tic
Opti-Mets-tic

@ton There are "odds makers" all over the place in baseball. They predict that Colon will be worth about $19.1 million in bWar. So, a slight overpay. But he's predicted to pitch well over 300 innings in his contract. That's pretty great. He'll serve his purpose, according to the "odds makers" of baseball. Not sure about the "odds makers" in Vegas.

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@niesesnose no i wouldn't. but so what? i'm not even saying colon was a bad deal, just that some people here think he is a shoe-in to recreate last year's aberrational season. look at his career. no  consistency and an ERA a shade below 4.00. it's a decent move depending on if it cash strapped them to get another bat or two. but to hand choose last year as the model for what he will do the next two years is ignoring what he has been his whole career and is sort of wishful thinking spin. i mean what would a vegas oddsmaker put as his over under for WHIP and ERA?

again i'm not against the move so long as it means the mets can still reasonably address SS, 1B, and OF. and people who think because he had a good year in the AL last year translating to automatic success in the NL are ignoring health age and history along with other stats.

niesesnose
niesesnose

I really just think this is a good value. Be honest man, I know how you comment, would you really be happy with Arroyo for 3 years?

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@Agee's Catch no frickin way. hall and colon are not two words that belong together, unless the we are talking about a dining hall. but seriosuly, no way anyone that appreciates the history of MLB spends any time thinking of colon for the HOF.

Agee's Catch
Agee's Catch

Stack up 30 more wins and he's at 219.  He'll get some hall consideration.

HobokenMetsFan
HobokenMetsFan

They do great work over at MetsMinors, love the reads they have.

Thejetsblog has some good writers and analysis as well.

niesesnose
niesesnose

@David Fernandez You never know what he's up to. One day we're not signing any starting pitchers for the league minmum, the next they have Colon. I have a feeling Sandy could get Drew. This team is sorta "win-now' when it comes to FAs. If they were truly punting 2014 they wouldn't have signed Colon and could easily have signed Capuano and Dice-K.