What Does the Venerable Bartolo Colon Bring to the Atlanta Braves?

Right-handed pitcher Bartolo Colon, who joined the Atlanta Braves for the 2017 season, is the oldest active player in baseball and is the last former Expo in the majors. The 43-year-old entered the major leagues in 1997 and has a career ERA+ of 111 in 19 major-league seasons (he missed all of 2010 with shoulder injuries, and was suspended for 50 games in 2012 for taking performance-enhancing drugs). His best seasons were in 2002 and 2013, posting an ERA+ of 147 in both years, although he won the Cy Young award in 2005 when he won 21 games with a less impressive ERA+ of 122. In recent years, Colon has ranged from mediocre (ERA+ of 84 and 91 in 2014 and 2015, respectively) to good (ERA+ of 119 in 2016), but has been remarkably durable, averaging 183 innings pitched from 2011 to 2016. Presumably, the Braves are hoping he has one more season of inning-eating averageness in him before their impressive minor-league prospects can begin to take over.

What he throws. Colon throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”); a two-seam fastball (“FT”), also called a sinker; a slider (“SL”); and a changeup (“CH”). Unlike many pitchers, his four-seam and two-seam fastballs are very distinct in terms of velocity and movement; his four-seamers average about 90.5 mph, while his two-seam fastballs are nearly 3 mph slower at about 87.6 mph, but have much more horizontal, and much less vertical, movement:

Bartolo ColonAlthough he has lost several miles per hour off his fastball in the past few years, Colon’s velocity is still respectable; there are about a dozen right-handed pitchers who throw a slower four-seam fastball than he does, although his two-seam fastball is among the slowest in baseball. The movement on Colon’s pitches is also respectably middle-of-the-pack. (Not shown in this chart: Brad Ziegler’s sinker, which is very slow but, coming from his underhanded delivery, has extreme movement. The very slow four-seam pitcher is, of course, Jered Weaver.)

Bartolo ColonPitch usage and trends. Colon throws either his four-seam or his two-seam fastball nearly 90% of the time, with his two-seamer being his main pitch (64.8% of pitches). His slider and changeup (6.6% and 4.0% of pitches respectively) are mostly afterthoughts, though he does throw somewhat more sliders to right-handed batters (9.1%):

Bartolo Colon

Colon didn’t change his repertoire much over the season, although the proportion of two-seam to four-seam fastballs did fluctuate from one game to the next, and his velocity (such as it was) remained fairly constant over the year:

Bartolo ColonPitch value. Colon’s fastballs were both about league average in terms of total bases yielded per 100 pitches, but he was somewhat better than average in throwing strikes with both of them. His rare sliders and changeups were fairly poor overall in terms of TB/100 and balls/100, although with extreme platoon splits that are probably mainly due to small sample size issues:

Bartolo ColonPitch location. Colon has been able to remain an effective pitcher even with low velocity and middling movement because of his excellent control. Note how tightly clustered each of his pitches are, almost all just inside the edge of the strike zone. Most of his pitches target the outside edge of the zone, with the exception of his changeup to right-handed batters and his slider to lefties, both of which typically come inside to the batter:

Bartolo Colon


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Featured image courtesy of Joe Robbins/Getty Images.

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