Nothing about veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon makes sense.
In a rotation rich with talented young arms – including Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Daniel Straily – the doughy 39-year-old Colon is 9-8 with a 3.37 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 22 starts and 138.2 innings.
On Tuesday, Colon allowed one unearned run and four hits with five strikeouts and no walks over seven innings in Oakland’s 10-4 victory over the Angels. He surrendered the unearned run in the seventh and saw his consecutive scoreless innings streak end at 22 1/3, yet he has logged 22 2/3 straight frames without allowing an earned run. Colon last permitted an earned run on July 22, when Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson belted a solo home run.
An integral reason why Oakland is 60-51 and holds the second American League wild card spot after a 9-8 win against the Angels on Wednesday, Colon is getting outs and pitching deep into games in an unusual fashion.
Long gone is the power pitcher who overmatched hitters with a high 90s fast ball during his earlier Major League days with Cleveland and the Angels, for whom he won the 2005 American League Cy Young Award with a 21-8 record. In that former ace’s place is a crafty veteran who truly defines the baseball term “pitching to contact.”
According to Fangraphs.com, Colon is the highest among qualified pitchers in the American League by using his fast ball 89 percent of the time. Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, who incorporates the pitch in 78.6 percent of his offerings, is second.
Colon neither induces an extreme number of ground balls – as Masterson does with his sinker – or gets swings and misses with his heater, as he once did as a young fireballer. Fangraphs.com pointed out that Colon delivered 83 fast balls in Tuesday’s start. Angels hitters swung and misses at those pitches only once. On the evening, he tallied 93 pitches, so 89.6 percent of them were fast balls.
Having the benefit of pitching home games at spacious Oakland Coliseum undoubtedly helps Colon’s numbers. Yet the thrower turned pitcher’s favorable habits of throwing strikes, minimizing walks and fooling hitters into swinging at offerings outside of the strike zone. Fangraphs.com notes that batters swing of Colon’s pitches outside of the strike zone 32.6 percent rate. They typically don’t miss, but in many cases they make soft contact.
Naysayers will argue that it is a matter of time before opposing hitters knock around a 39-year-old pitcher who so heavily relies on a fast ball that doesn’t sink. Meanwhile, Colon keeps producing zeroes on the scoreboard and showing his young rotation mates that Major Leaguers don’t have to overpower batters to win.