Can Chris Colabello Maintain His Hot Hitting?
Toronto’s Chris Colabello delivered a dramatic walk-off single Sunday to beat Luke Gregerson and the Astros and extend his hitting streak to 17 games. Colabello didn’t waste any time Monday against the Marlins, pushing the streak to 18 with a first-inning single.
While he’s hitting .338 during the 18-game stretch, Colabello went through a similar hot period early in 2014 with the Twins before being sent to the minors. A year later, does he have a better chance to keep mashing after the All-Star break?
Last year, Colabello burst onto the scene early for Minnesota and was hitting .359 with 19 RBI after 17 games. After notching 23 hits in those first 17 games, Colabello managed only 24 in his next 42, good for a .170 average. The utility man played his last game for the Twins on August 7 and was claimed off waivers in December by Toronto.
There are a few noticeable differences between Colabello’s stats last season and his numbers in 2015. During his hot start to 2014, Colabello hit an incredible .468 on balls in play. His BABIP remains high in 2015, but during this year’s streak he’s garnered 24 hits while batting “only” .403 on balls in play. This ability to get the same number of hits while getting out on more batted balls indicates that Colabello’s success might be slightly more sustainable in 2015.
In addition to the lower BABIP, Colabello is making better contact early in 2015 than he did in 2014. Granted, his stats from last season include his late-season struggles, but a move from hitting line drives 14% of the time to a 29% line drive percentage indicates improvement, even adjusting for the smaller sample size and the hot streak. Colabello is also hitting more balls up the middle of the diamond in 2015 than he did last year (his up-the-middle percentage has risen from 35% last year to 41% this season), another sign that he is seeing the ball well.
The biggest difference between last year and this year for Colabello, however, is the team he has around him.
A Chance to Play
Last year, when Colabello started struggling, the Twins gave him a little time to rebound before moving on to other young talent. This season, the cupboard is pretty bare in Toronto and a slumping Colabello will have opportunities to get back on the right track.
Right now, Colabello is slated as the starting left fielder for the Blue Jays, with Kevin Pillar in center and Jose Bautista in right. Bautista isn’t going anywhere, but someone will have to leave the lineup when Michael Saunders returns from the disabled list.
Colabello has some advantages over Pillar if Toronto is willing to play Saunders in center.
First, he projects as a better hitter over the course of the season. Our projections peg Colabello for a 0.689 OPS for the rest of the season compared to just 0.654 for Pillar. Also, ZiPS projects Colabello for a 101 wRC+ and a .318 wOBA (weighted on-base average) while the same system projects Pillar at 87 wRC+ and a .297 wOBA.
Second, Colabello also has experience at first base, where the Blue Jays might run into problems if Justin Smoak continues to struggle. Smoak has slightly better projections than Colabello (104 wRC+ and a .321 wOBA), but our algorithms project a 0.645 OPS for Smoak. Smoak is currently hitting only .253, with line drives 28% of the time and up-the-middle contact on 30% of batted balls. Colabello could be Toronto’s best option at left field or first base later in the season, which is a far cry from his position last year in Minneapolis.
Minnesota had several youngsters in 2014 that merited at-bats, and the Twins went through a trial by fire to see which players would stick with the big club. Eduardo Nunez, Aaron Hicks, Kennys Vargas, and Chris Parmelee all saw a similar number of plate appearances as Colabello last year, with Vargas earning the designated hitter spot and Hicks getting reps in the outfield.
Toronto doesn’t have the plethora of young talent to merit pulling the plug on Colabello when he starts scuffling (former big-leaguers Luke Scott, Ramon Santiago, and Chris Dickerson sit on the Blue Jays’ AAA roster).
For these reasons, Colabello should be able to maintain some of his success and even play multiple positions for the Blue Jays. That means that owners should hang on to Colabello in fantasy baseball, too.
The going will probably get tough, but Colabello has swung the bat better at the start of this season than he did in 2014. Odds are he’ll go through a slump, but the Blue Jays don’t have younger options they haven’t already tried. Barring a trade, Colabello should be a starter in the Great White North for the long haul this year, and he should finish with productive totals.