A headline today on one of the major sports outlets led off with a headline that "crafty old veteran," Bartolo Colon beat the White Sox. There was nothing crafty about Colon. He bludgeoned the White Sox with power from beginning to end. It seems impossible to understand what Colon is doing. Nor is it possible to know whether he can keep it up. But for right now, Colon has joined the conversation in 2011 as one of the most intriguing stories of the 2011 season.
And Colon's performance on Wednesday night was not some out-of-the-blue event. He's been doing this since the start of Spring Training. We kept hearing that he was ahead of the curve because he pitched this winter. But hundreds of pitchers have pitched in the winter and haven't come out of the gate like this. If that was the secret of success, more pitchers would do it. No, this is something else entirely. This is a resurgence of what used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
We had gotten used to making fun of Bartolo Colon. After he won the Cy Young Award with his 21 wins for the Angels in 2005 (Johan Santana SHOULD have won the award that season), Colon went through a series of injuries. His weight had ballooned and we took that to mean that he was careless and buffoonish. Which, if we examined ourselves carefully, was a bit racially profiled. Success had gone to his head, we said. He made his money and let himself go. But the bottom line is that his health wasn't there and he tried to pitch anyway. He went 14-21 from 2006 to 2009 with an ERA over that span of over five. By 2010, nobody wanted him.
The Yankees headed into Spring Training famously without Cliff Lee and then without Andy Pettitte. Both lefties spurned the Yankees heading into 2011 and the Yankees scrambled to find arms. Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia were two fliers the Yankees took along with later fliers on Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva. We all laughed. Come on, admit it. We ALL laughed. Haha! The Yankees were finding every old goat who had ever pitched.
But then Colon became the best pitcher for the Yankees this spring. He pitched so well that some of us were screaming when he didn't make the rotation to start the season. He was bullpen fodder when Phil Hughes faltered in his first start. Colon came in early in that ballgame and gave up a bunch of runs. People started laughing. But his second mop up outing on another aborted Hughes start was better. And then his next relief outing was better. And then Hughes was pulled from the rotation and Colon was inserted.
Colon started April 20 against a tough Toronto line up and pitched well and got the win. And then last night, against a White Sox team that beat the Yankees in two tough games in a row, he was absolutely dominant. He struck out six in his eight innings. He threw 99 pitches and yet only had five swing and misses. So, yeah, that sounds crafty. But he threw only five breaking balls all night. Five! He dominated the White Sox with 55 four-seam fastballs that averaged 93.1 MPH. He threw one to end the seventh at 96 and ended the eighth throwing 95. He threw 35 more two-seam fastballs that ran like the famous Greg Maddux fastballs. Except Colon threw them for an average of 91.8 MPH and topped out at 94.2 MPH. Maddux never threw those pitches that hard.
Colon now has averaged nine whiffs per nine innings against only 2.1 walks. That's good for a 4.33 K/BB ratio. That's elite kind of stuff with good control. Nobody knows how long this will last. But it's been a fantastic ride thus far. His rebound has begun to rival those other intriguing stories such as Sam Fuld and Andre Ethier. Laugh if you will at his rotundness. Scoff at the early results. But if you are fan of the game, this has been a very cool story.