Man on Fire: Oakland A's SP Bartolo Colon
The Oakland A's had a lot of highlights during an eight game home stand. They went 6-2 against the NL Central. They retook first place in the AL West. They captured the second best record in the AL and positioned themselves to emerge as one of baseball's leading contenders if they can hold their own in upcoming series against the NL leading Pirates and AL leading Red Sox.
Oh yeah, Bartolo Colon won AL Pitcher of the Month honors for June. Reread that if you need to, but know that it is true. On a team that boasts the third best ERA in the league, the best starting pitcher is Bartolo Colon.
Impressive Stats, Lingering Doubts
Sadly, any conversation involving Colon's return to his 2005 Cy Young form must begin with a disclaimer. We're dealing with a known user of performance enhancing drugs. It was only last season that Colon got suspended for 50 games, and with his name ensnarled in the Biogenesis scandal, additional punishment could be forthcoming. So take his performance on the mound with as many grains of salt as you want.
Still, Colon is a 40 year old starter who isn't anywhere close to being in great shape, yet he's got the AL's seventh best WAR among pitchers at 3.1. His 1.103 WHIP is also seventh best in the league, while his 2.78 ERA ranks third. He's pitched two complete game shutouts. Though I put hardly any stock in wins for a pitcher, those making a big deal out of Max Scherzer's 13-0 record should also note that Colon ranks second in the AL with 11 wins.
Colon's resurgence is due entirely to superb control. he strike out only 13.7 percent of opposing batters, well below the league average of 20.0 percent. But what he lacks in overwhelming "stuff" he more than makes up for in his ability to place the ball exactly where he wants it. 70 percent of Colon's pitches are strikes. He only throws 3.50 pitches per plate appearance. Those are both the best marks in the AL.
Of Colon's strikes, 29 percent are strikes looking, a solidly above average mark that indicates his ability to locate his pitches around the corners. He does that while walking only 3.2 percent of opposing batters, yet another area in which he leads the AL. As you might expect from a pitcher exhibiting such great control, the batters who do connect with the baseball don't often get much out of it. Colon's ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.81 is well above average. Only 21 percent of the hits he gives up go for extra bases (again, an AL leading stat).
It's a bit of a stretch to say that Colon has reinvented himself, as he always had decent control. However, for his career, he's thrown only 64 percent of his pitches for strikes, walked 7.4 percent of opposing hitters and posted an above average 17.9 percent strikeout percentage. He never relied on pinpoint accuracy the way he does now. Maybe he got a big assist from PEDs in finding new life as a top tier starter at age 40. That's plausible and perhaps probable.
But whatever the case, there's little doubt that Colon has often dictated the results of plate appearances to hitters who can't seem to figure out how to string together enough base runners to score more than a couple of runs against him. At the end of the day, that's made him one of the AL's best starters during the season's first half.