Former Tribe ace Bartolo Colon led the defending National League Champion New York Mets into Progressive Field on Friday night and prevailed with a 6-5 victory after a furious 9th inning rally came up just short. Trailing 6-2 entering the 9th against Addison Reed, Carlos Santana went deep for the 2nd time this season to cut the lead in half. The Indians then pushed across another run off relief ace Jeurys Familia before Jose Ramirez flied to left with two aboard to end the game.
After trading runs in the first inning, New York on a home run by Michael Conforto and the Indians answering with an RBI single by Mike Napoli, the Mets nearly put the game away with a five run outburst in the top of the 5th. Alejandro De Aza led off the inning against Cody Anderson with a home run to center field to break the tie and Yoenis Cespedes hit the second home run of the inning with a man aboard to make it 4-1 New York.
Another single by Lucas Duda chased Anderson after 90 pitches and reliever Ross Detwiler was mugged by Neil Walker on his first pitch for a two run homer half way up the bleachers in left. The 6-1 lead put the game out of reach until the futile 9th inning rally.
Welcome Back, Bartolo
Bartolo Colon made his first appearance against the Indians since May 9, 2013 when he lost 9-2 as a member of the Oakland Athletics. He has now made 85 regular season starts at Progressive Field, fifth most in history behind CC Sabathia, Charles Nagy, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee. Colon, who was traded by GM Mark Shapiro to Montreal in 2002 for a package that included Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips, is hardly the same type of pitcher who won 75 games over six seasons in Cleveland.
The Bartolo who debuted 20 seasons ago in 1997 was a 24 year old fireballer who often struggled with his control but posted some big strikeout numbers, particularly in 2000 when he struck out 212 batters for a rate of 10.1 per 9 innings. His strikeout rate over the rest of his career since leaving Cleveland is 6.3 per 9 innings.
Colon really struggled with his control at times, walking 4.7 per 9 in 2000 and 3.6 the next season. His lowest walk rate during his time in Cleveland was in the sixteen starts he made in ’02 before the trade to the Expos when he posted 2.7 walks per nine. Amazingly, that number is almost twice as high as his walk rate in any of the past four seasons, and he’s been trending down each year, as the graph below shows.
Last season, at the age of 42, Colon put up his best walk rate yet at 1.1, or just 24 walks over 31 starts and two relief appearances. As a quick comparison, 1995 Greg Maddux posted a similar 1.0 BB/9 (23 walks in 28 starts) while going 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA at the age of 29. 2015 Colon, however, led the National League in hits allowed with 217.
How long can Bartolo Colon keep this up? I don’t know that there’s a precedent for a 43 year old pitcher who measures 5’11” and 285 pounds who’s repertoire basically consists of an upper 80’s fastball and a slider. Colon threw his fastball 83 percent of the time in 2015 and relies on impeccable control because at this point, everyone knows what’s coming but not many can consistently square it up.
On Friday night, the Indians managed eight hits and two runs against Colon, but it wasn’t enough as Bartolo notched his first win of 2016 and the 219th of his career, tying him with Pedro Martinez for 77th all-time.
One More Look at the Big Trade
When Mark Shapiro landed Sizemore, Phillips and Lee from the Expos in the summer of 2002, few could have expected that it would be such a landslide deal in favor of the Indians. Although Colon would go on to win a Cy Young Award with the Angels in 2005, that same season saw Sizemore break out as a 22 year old with a .289/.348/.484 triple slash with 37 doubles, 11 triples, 22 home runs and 22 steals.
Even granting that the Indians hastily traded Phillips to the Reds for an inconsequential haul, the returns far exceeded the initial expense. The red and blue lines below represent the Wins Above Replacement (WAR, per baseball-reference.com’s formula) from 1997 to 2016 of Bartolo Colon (blue) vs. the Field (red, the combined single season WAR of Sizemore/Lee/Phillips).
As any sane person would expect, after a few years of advantage to Colon while the others toiled in the minors, the Field mopped the floor once Bartolo dipped quite a bit in 2004. The high water mark was 2008 when Colon went 4.2 with a 3.92 ERA for the Red Sox while Lee (6.9), Sizemore (5.9) and Phillips (3.0) combined for 15.8 WAR and one Cy Young Award for Lee.
But look where we stand now. The veteran Bartolo Colon, who was 29 at the time of the trade, has a chance to outlast all of the young phenoms that he was traded for. Cliff Lee has officially retired and Grady Sizemore is still unsigned this year. Only 35 year old Brandon Phillips continues to hang around, and he’s had a few down years himself before bouncing back a bit in 2015. Who would have predicted that in 2008?