Oakland Athletics: What on Earth Has Gotten into Bartolo Colon?

Fernando GalloContributor IIApril 30, 2012

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 29: Bartolo Colon #21 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Seattle Mariners during a MLB game at Tokyo Dome on March 29, 2012 in Tokyo, Japan. The A's defeated the Mariners 4-1.  (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

What the hell happened to Bartolo Colon?

Or maybe more importantly, what the hell is going in the A’s front office?

That second question probably isn’t meant the way you think it is, because it’s a positive question. Somebody in the A’s front office—maybe Billy Beane, or David Forst, or some sharp-eyed old scout, who knows—has figured out how to find physically unimpressive veterans and turn them into competent pitchers again.

Last season was the great comeback story of Brandon McCarthy, that tall drink of water. The Texas castoff was signed to take the fifth spot in the rotation, and was so under-the-radar that when ESPN the Magazine did a cover story on Oakland’s starting pitchers, they chose members 1-4 and completely excluded McCarthy. Being the clever bugger he is, McCarthy very amusingly photo-shopped himself into the photo as a stick figure (how do you not love this guy?).

McCarthy ended up getting the last laugh in the end: not only did he have a great statistical season (3.32 ERA, WAR of 3.7 and the best FIP in the AL among starting pitchers), he got the cover of ESPN the Magazine all to himself this year. Well, he did have to share it with his wife, but have you seen what she looks like? I don’t think most of us would mind sharing anything with her.

This year’s version of McCarthy is the voluminous Colon, who made a short-lived comeback last year as a Yankee thanks to getting stem cells injected directly into his elbow or something (what the treatment actually was, and its true effectiveness, have been disputed). Colon started out well, but seemed to fizzle out by the end of the season.

When the A’s signed him in the offseason, my general reaction was “meh.” After the most obvious fire sale since the Florida Marlins, where the A’s dealt three All-star pitchers, Oakland was in need of some warm bodies to fill the roster while the prospects matured.

Colon made sense from a financial standpoint ($2 million for one year), and would offer many opportunities to make silly, juvenile colon jokes (the best kind of jokes!). “Rangers blow out Colon in messy victory.” Come on, that’s good stuff right there…

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 18:  Bartolo Colon #21 of the Oakland Athletics throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 18, 2012 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

But apparently, nobody told Colon that he’s washed-up roster filler, because if the All-Star game was held tomorrow, you’d probably see him on the AL’s roster. Colon has been a strike-throwing machine, even slinging 38 in a row against the Angels in one of this season’s biggest “What the hell?” moments.

His 2.53 ERA is twelfth best in the AL, and nobody in the league has thrown more innings than big boy Colon (42.2). He is in the top nine in batting average against (.214) and WHIP (0.94), even though he’s striking out less than six batters per nine innings.

Colon hasn’t been a guy with phenomenal stuff for years, yet the Orioles, Angels and Mariners have all been baffled by the mammoth magician.

Some more mind-boggling Colon numbers: 70 percent of his 574 pitches have been strikes (best in the AL), and he is getting ahead 0-2 on a third of all batters he’s faced—seriously, 33 percent of all batters fall behind 0-2 to Colon; the league average is 23 percent.

What is this, bizarro MLB? Did I mention that Colon throws almost exclusively fastballs (88 percent of the time), at an average of just 90 mph?

I can’t explain what on Earth is happening to Colon, or if there’s any chance it continues for the season. I can’t see him keeping this up—then again, I never thought he was capable of it in the first place. The sorcerer of strikes might not be svelte, but he can tip the scales all he wants as long he keeps pounding that strike zone.

For more foolish analysis, along with the occasional witty comment,