The interesting case of Bartolo Colon

Bartolo ColonFor many, the big story from Saturday was the return of Juan Lagares to the starting lineup and his key role in delivering the Mets’ first win over the Nationals this season. Good for Lagares, especially with his homer. If he could add power to his game, that would be a wonderful thing.

But for me, the best, or perhaps more accurately the most interesting, thing was the performance turned in by Bartolo Colon. Lagares has a claim to be the most popular player on the Mets. Colon has a claim to be the most despised. Even after yesterday’s gem, Colon sits with a 3-5 record and a 5.34 ERA, hardly the stuff imagined by the higher-ups when they signed him to a 2/$20 deal this offseason.

Most Mets fans wonder why – with his poor performance to date- Colon is not being considered for a trip to the bullpen once Dillon Gee returns from the DL. Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero are the future and we all want the future to start now. Instead, one of them will be sent to the bullpen so that Colon can continue to start every five days.

Considering what he’s delivered the past three years, Colon has been extremely inconsistent so far in 2014. But even given that, he’s pitched better than his results. His FIP is over a full run better than his ERA and his xFIP is nearly a quarter of a run better than his FIP. If we go by xFIP, the only pitcher in the rotation with more than one start who is better than him is Jon Niese.

While Gee has had good luck so far this season, Colon’s peripherals suggest a guy who has pitched much better than his results.

Even if we just look at results, Colon has tossed six Quality Starts in nine games. In those six games, Colon has a 2.57 ERA yet has only a 3-3 record. Research completed previously shows that pitchers have a winning percentage of .779 when they receive a decision in a Quality Start.

Here’s how other non-rookie Mets SP have done this season when they hurl a QS:

Gee – 3-1
Jenrry Mejia – 2-0
Niese – 2-1
Zack Wheeler – 1-1

That quartet is 8-3 when they get a decision in a Quality Start, or nearly identical to the 8.6 wins that our research shows they should have. How different would the perception of Colon be among Mets fans if he was 5-1 when he threw a QS, like our numbers suggest he should be?

It’s easy not to like Colon. In addition to being old and fat, he’s new to the team and hasn’t gotten off to a particularly good start. It’s natural to see the money spent on him and wish that it was allocated to a shortstop, instead. And this is not a second-guess, either. Even at the time of his signing, many wondered why the Mets were sinking money into a pitcher rather than the offense.

My take at the time was that the Colon signing was a high-risk, high-reward move and my perception hasn’t changed much after seeing the results over the first seven weeks of the deal. Colon has been good twice as often as he’s been bad but when he’s been off, it has been ugly.

So, what should we expect from him going forward? Do you expect more games like the one in Anaheim, where he allowed 9 ER in 4 IP? Or do you expect more games like the one in Washington, where he had 8 IP and 2 ER? My money is on more games like the one against the Nats.

On the other end of the coin – do you really want two rookies in your starting rotation? Both deGrom and Montero were impressive in their major league debuts. But if nothing else, the struggles of Wheeler remind us how awesome it was that Matt Harvey was able to come up and excel immediately. Not all rookie pitchers do that, however much we may wish otherwise.

My opinion is that it is a mistake to declare Wheeler nothing more than a back of the rotation guy, just like it’s a mistake to assume that it will be clear sailing for deGrom and Montero. You have to display patience with young pitchers and sometimes (not always) the way to do that is by breaking them in via the bullpen if you have a reasonable alternative.

At this point in time, Colon is at least a reasonable alternative. The past three years indicate he has the potential to be so much more than that. While his past results should not guarantee him a spot in the rotation if the poor outings keep happening repeatedly, at this juncture there’s not much point in putting him in the bullpen.

And if he strings three outings in a row together like Saturday, we can all breathe a little easier. That’s why Colon’s performance was the big story yesterday.

Editor’s Note – This story has been updated since originally published to remove Wheeler from the lucky versus his xFIP category.

9 comments for “The interesting case of Bartolo Colon

  1. May 18, 2014 at 9:45 am

    You can never send Colon and his 20 million dollar contract to the bull pen. Not only would you significantly lower his trade value but you’ll wind up having to keep him for next season as well no matter how poorly he pitches. High risk? Absolutely. Money well spent? Absolutely not!

  2. Jim OMalley
    May 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I think he’s here to help impart some pitching wisdom to the young squad….Just like Valverde. I think too, that Colon could be a trade candidate at some point…..

  3. Jerry Grote
    May 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Quality start? Not sure what that indicates to me, and neither is won-loss records.

    Colon’s had three really terrible starts, but if you look at them within context they were against the Angels, in Colorado, and in Yankee Stadium. I’d call that extraneous circumstances. Meanwhile, against the guys we are going to face a lot this year and next – divisional opponents – he’s done well to very well.

    While we can get our dander up about pitching, we have a manager that is an absolute loon. The problem here is that we continue to play Young instead of Lagares, and talk about offense over defense. Oh, by the way, I’m talking about Chris Young, he of the .128/.190/.256 slash since Colorado (and of course, that would considerably worse if we left out the Yankees).

    He’s batting Young 4th. We can talk about Colon and have fun thinking about Montero and DeGrom. But our manager is batting Chris Young 4th and playing him while talking about “offense over defense”.

  4. Larry Rothstein
    May 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Rotation shoul be gee neise degrom Montero and syndergard demote wheeler release colon

  5. Name
    May 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I realize this isn’t the purpose of the article, but like you always said, you can’t look at a move in isolation. Even though Colon has been better than his stats indicate, it’s still very hard to justify handing Colon a 2 year deal when we have other needs.

  6. TexasGusCC
    May 18, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    I defended the Colon signing, and still think it wasn’t expensive. We are cheap, big difference. However, I think that Wheeler could use some bullpen time to develop a consistency with his release point and his delivery. Young pitchers have done well right out of the chute, look at Leake, Fernandez, or many of the A’s pitchers like Gray. While that isn’t often the case, it’s possible, so don’t sell the youngsters short until they get a shot.

    Colon will eat innings and hopefully have some trade value. If we can get a toolsy outfielder, i.e. Dexter Fowler, for Colon and say Tapia or Yona, that’s a nice deal.

  7. May 19, 2014 at 6:54 am

    It would be hard to get much in a trade for Colon.
    Imagine Seaver on the bench watching Colon wave at a pitch and not run to first?

    Can we get a draft pick for him and unload his salary? Stephen Drew is still out there.

    I think it is time to make some major changes. I know it is early, but the number of hitters below .220 in the line up is unacceptable.

  8. Patrick Albanesius
    May 19, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Colon still knows how to pitch, even if he fails from time to time. Let him get a good stretch of games going, and his trade value will rise quickly.

  9. Larry rothstein
    May 19, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Release colon bring up Noah syndergard release cris young and Reuben Tehada sign Stephen Drew don’t bat granderson 4 maybe 6

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