Mets Wisely Sign Aging, Overweight Pitcher With PED History

Why the Bartolo Colon signing is very reasonable for the Mets.

After defying father time by posting back-to-back elite seasons with the Oakland Athletics, everyone’s favorite old, fat, PED-using pitcher will now take his talents to Queens on a two-year deal worth $20 million.

Bartolo Colon must find a way to continue to defy age. The new contract covers his age 41 and 42 seasons, typically dangerous territory for any player, but Colon seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Colon’s career seemed to be over until the Yankees took a chance on him in 2011, where the big fella posted 2.8 WAR in 164.1 innings. He has gotten stronger over the past two seasons with respective WAR totals of 2.4 and 3.9, the latter of which even resulted in a few murmurs about Cy Young consideration.

Colon’s success is largely a result of weak contact resulting from his 90 MPH fastball, which he throws 85.5 percent of the time. His batted ball data suggests that he is much more of an average pitcher supported by an elite defense, as he does not excel in keeping the ball on the ground or away from the barrel of the bat. Colon is not poor in these categories but rather merely average, which begs the question of how he managed to post an elite 2.65 ERA last season.

His low ERA is the product of good fortune in two specific areas. Colon’s BABIP of .294 was exactly league average, but his 80% strand rate is far above the norm, meaning that he, effectively, or perhaps more accurately, was fortunate to spread the damage around. His HR rate of 0.66 per nine innings is far below the league average and largely due to the spacious dimensions of the Colosseum, the 25th-best park for home runs.

Balls in play are key for Colon, as he does not strikeout or walk many people, though his 4.03 ratio in 2013 is elite. Keeping the ball in the park and refusal to surrender free bases is generally a recipe for success, but Colon’s metrics still suggest regression is in his future.

This suggestion is supported by the Steamer and Oliver projection systems, which forecast a regression in ERA to 3.80 and 3.72 respectively. The main cause for this is the normalization of Colon’s strand rate and HR rate, the latter of which is certain to suffer with the move to Citi Field, the 10th-best park for home runs. Assuming the rest of his metrics remain consistent with his recent norms, Colon will be a roughly league average pitcher in 2014 and is expected to post a WAR of roughly 2 to 2.5.

As for the contract itself, R.A. Dickey's extension with the Blue Jays serves as a good comparison. Dickey is also extremely old, throws one pitch (albeit a different one), and signed a comparable two-year, $25-million extension immediately following his trade from the Mets to the Blue Jays. Dickey won the Cy Young Award in 2012 but considering the Blue Jays were forced to surrender two of their top prospects and a total of $30 million for three years of Dickey (this includes the one year and five million from Dickey’s previous extension with the Mets), two years of Colon for $20 million with no loss of draft picks seems very reasonable.

Finally, with Colon projected to provide roughly 2 WAR next season and market value for a win equalling roughly $6-7 million this offseason, this contract is below market value. The age and PED history make this somewhat of a risk, especially in the second year of the deal, but if he can stay healthy this signing will give the Mets great value.