How Bartolo Colon Is Still Owning MLB on His 45th Birthday

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterMay 24, 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 21: Bartolo Colon #40 of the Texas Rangers delivers against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Globe Life Park  on May 21, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Baseball is trending younger and younger. Bartolo Colon turns 45 today.

Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Colon sometimes throws 84 mph fastballs.

Analytics suggest throwing more breaking balls will lead to more outs. Colon throws about 80 percent fastballs.

Sometimes you just need to forget everything you think you know. Sometimes you have to just sit back and appreciate Bartolo Colon.

He doesn't win every game, and when he loses, it can get ugly. He served up four home runs Monday night against the New York Yankees, two weeks after he did the same against the Boston Red Sox.

"He's not as crisp as he once was," said one American League scout who has already seen Colon pitch three times for the Texas Rangers this season.

But on his best days, he's still very, very good. And there are still enough of those best days.

That same scout spoke with admiration about the feel Colon has for pitching and his ability to keep hitters off balance. He's still getting outs and still winning games, and on those days when he throws the ball where he wants it, he can still throw 7.2 shutout innings, as he did May 16 in Seattle.

"You shake your head and really marvel at what Bartolo Colon still is able to do," Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters, as relayed by T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. "You see him moving the ball [in and out]. Then you look up and once in a while he'll still pop a 91-92 mph fastball. That is the 'art of pitching,' is what he's doing. It's not just the command, it's the late movement and adding and subtracting to different pitches."

Colon was a hard-throwing 24-year-old when he debuted with the Indians.
Colon was a hard-throwing 24-year-old when he debuted with the Indians.BETH A. KEISER/Associated Press

Adding and subtracting. Colon has become a master at what can sometimes seem a lost art in an era when many pitchers try to throw every pitch as hard as they can.

That afternoon at Safeco Field, Colon threw fastballs as hard as 91.6 mph and also as soft as 83.8 mph, according to MLB.com's Gameday. If you charted every pitch and rounded off, you'd have fastball or changeup markings at 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91 and 92 mph.

You think that might mess with a hitter's timing?

"And he has sink and run on both sides of the plate," the scout said.

This is nothing new for anyone who watched Colon win 44 games in three seasons with the New York Mets, where he became something of a cult hero. Colon had a 3.90 ERA as a Met, which seemed impressive for a guy who turned 43 in his last season there. He also made the All-Star team that year.

"The guy throws strikes," Mets starter Jacob deGrom said. "He goes right after hitters. And everybody is trying to hit fly balls, and he gets ground balls."

He did that well with the Mets. Almost incredibly, he's doing it even better now, with a 49.7 percent ground-ball rate, according to FanGraphs.

Even after allowing six runs to the Yankees this week, Colon has a 3.51 ERA. That ranks 24th among American League starters, but it ranks first among AL starters over 40.

Then again, it also ranks last among AL starters over 40, because Colon is the only pitcher over 40 to start a game in the major leagues this year.

When he starts Saturday against the Kansas City Royals, Colon will become just the 17th pitcher since 1908 to start a major league game as a 45-year-old, according to research through Baseball-Reference. The list includes hard-throwing Hall of Famers like Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, but it's swelled by knuckleballers like Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield.

It takes incredible drive to last that long, and Colon has that. It takes a willingness to work, and Colon has that, too.

"You don't see how hard he works," Colon's former Mets teammate Jeurys Familia said. "Pitching at that age, people have to know that now."

But Colon has more than just good genes and a terrific work ethic. He has a goal, one he has openly chased for several years. He wants to become baseball's biggest-ever winner from Latin America. For now, he's one win behind Juan Marichal (whose 243 wins are the most by a pitcher from the Dominican Republic), and three wins behind Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua), who holds the overall record with 245.

Martinez pitched until he was 44, but he was mostly a reliever in his final season with the Atlanta Braves. Colon still holds a spot in the Rangers' starting rotation as he turns 45.

His 3.51 ERA would be second-best in the modern era for a pitcher that old, behind only Niekro's 1984 season with the New York Yankees, when he had a 3.09 ERA at age 45.

And anyone who knows Colon is loving it. So is he.

"He enjoys every day like it's his last day," Familia said. "Everyone can see how happy he is."

He's happy, and everyone who has loved watching him pitch is happy to see he's still at it, still succeeding more than 21 years after he threw his first major league pitch with the 1997 Cleveland Indians.

He was unusual then, too, a young guy who threw 99 mph in an era when not many starters did. Two decades later, he's still going against the grain.

                   

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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