Bartolo Colon and the comeback kids

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus on April 23, 2012:

Sure, it came against an Angels lineup whose centerpiece, Albert Pujols, has yet to get untracked, but it was difficult not to be impressed with Bartolo Colon‘s eight shutout innings last Wednesday. For one thing, it marked the 38-year-old Oakland righty’s second consecutive scoreless start; he had tossed seven scoreless against the Mariners on April 13. For another, he reeled off a streak of 38 consecutive strikes, running from the second pitch of the fifth inning through the seventh pitch of the eighth inning, a span that included balls in play; he allowed only a single and a double during that time. Pitch-by-pitch records only go back to 1988, so there’s no definitive account of whether Colon set a record, but via the San Francisco Chronicle’s  Susan Slusser, the next-highest known total was 30 in a row by Tim Wakefield in 1998.

Since reemerging with the Yankees last season after five years in the wilderness due to shoulder woes, Colon has done nothing if not pound the strike zone. Relying heavily on a mix of two- and four-seam fastballs that he can pump as high as the mid-90s, he struck out 135 and walked 40 in 164 1/3 innings last year, good for a 3.38 K/BB ratio, 10th in the AL. He led the majors in strikeouts looking thanks to the combination of outstanding movement and incredulity that this rotund 38-year-old zombie could seemingly put the ball wherever he wanted most of the time. Even in his salad days—as opposed to his start-seriously-considering-salad days, Colon excelled in that area, recording more strikeouts looking than any pitcher from 2002-2005, the season in which he won a (rather dubious) Cy Young, then tore his rotator cuff in the postseason, setting off his half-decade walkabout through oblivion.


For further evidence of just what a rare breed Colon is, consider that pitchers aged 35 and over who miss full major-league seasons for any reason rarely return to the big-league scene, and when they do, they tend not to last long. Since 1993—a timespan that has included more opportunities than ever for pitchers to extend their careers thanks to the creation of four expansion teams, pitching staff enlargement due to specialization, and the increased use of the disabled list—just 14 have done so.

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Originally published: April 23, 2012. Last Updated: April 23, 2012.