You've read my criticism of A.J. Burnett (if not, click HERE). Now, my six-part series concerning the Yankees' 6-member starting rotation continues with a review of Bartolo Colon. Will he be the odd man out?
Brief Yankee Career
In his first season in the Bronx, Colon has been a shocking success. Signed for under $1 million, Colon was invited to merely compete for a starting job in Spring Training, and initially fell short despite pitching effectively and reaching as high as 96 mph on the radar gun.
His first few appearances of the season came in long relief, but then an opportunity presented itself when Phil Hughes went on the disabled list.
Colon was terrific in his first three Yankee starts, and followed suit in May and early June before succumbing to an injury of his own. A strained left hamstring would force Colon to miss more than 3 weeks before returning in early July. With Hughes still on the shelf, Colon was immediately re-inserted into the rotation. The missed time has barred Colon from reaching impressive season totals. Still, he's among the top 20 in the American League in ERA and even higher up in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Why He Could Stay
Thanks to his bionic arm, Colon's fastball velocity has been at 2005 levels all season (Colon won the (AL Cy Young Award that year).
For the most part, his control has been awesome. Colon's ability to paint the corners has allowed him to use the 2- or 4-seamer on 82% of his total deliveries. Hitters know what's coming, but even in August, they remain skeptical that Colon can get it over the plate; he is among the league leaders in backwards Ks (strikeouts looking).
Colon has been particularly impressive against righties, who have trouble with his 2-seam fastball when thrown to the outside part of the plate. As the strikeouts would suggest, they often give up when they see the ball coming towards them because it appears to be outside... before making a late break. Even the contact they make is innocuous (.231 BAA, 1.76 groundout-to-airout ratio).
Lastly, Colon has a great move to 1st base with a runner on. Perhaps that's why there have been only 8 stolen base attempts--and just 5 successes--against him this season (remember that controlling the running game has been a BIG issue for A.J.).
Why He Might Lose His Starting Spot
Colon hasn't been very efficient of late, totaling only 9.2 IP at more than 20 pitches per inning over his last 2 starts. Also—over a large sample size—he's been very hittable, with 40 hits allowed over his last 29.1 innings.
I love the Yankees bullpen. Who wouldn't? But I don't want to see it being overtaxed two out of every five days (Burnett has proven struggles with pitch economy as well).
The velocity isn't the problem; he's a legit flamethrower again at the age of 38. But with no go-to breaking ball in his repertoire to use in big spots against the Adrian Gonzalezes, Josh Hamiltons and Joe Mauers, it's tough to trust him. He can fool 'em once, but Colon's game plan hasn't been holding up the third time through a batting order.
On a Scale of One-to-Sabathia
Using the same scale from yesterday's post, I would rate Colon as a six, but that doesn't mean he's safe in the rotation.
Burnett's contract is a real twist in this discussion. If the Yankees convert him into a middle reliever, his trade value plummets (and based on the Burnett poll, the majority of you would like to see him dealt).
Meanwhile, Colon, who has already pitched out of the 'pen this season, is a free agent after 2011 and is simply grateful to have received this opportunity after missing all of last season.
Anyway, it's WAY to early to make a decision. A-Rod is still over a week away from returning and we still have three more starters to assess. My Freddy Garcia analysis is coming tomorrow.