In his 19th season, Bartolo Colon is having a season of firsts.
Big Sexy became the oldest player in MLB history to hit his first career home run this May at the ripe age of 42. He also holds the MLB record for most plate appearances without a walk; in his 282th PA on August 16th, he drew his first career walk. They say things come in threes, so maybe his first career stolen base is in his future.
Colón seems to be the glue holding the Mets pitching staff together. On a staff riddled with injuries and inconsistencies, he has not missed a single start and has only had one minor injury (he was hit in the thumb by a batted ball in June). He is a reliable veteran starter, and a popular fan favorite. It seems Citi Field will be torn to the ground by elated fans every time Colón gets a hit; they’re just that rare. There has been a long-time running joke about his “skill” at the plate, and it seems like his own club has jumped in - the Mets agreed to give Colón a $50K bonus if he wins the Silver Slugger award. Although his plate appearances have been the subject of many jokes (and many GIFs), is Big Bart really as bad as everyone thinks he is?
Let’s compare six Mets starters at the plate this season using data from FanGraphs:
Well, none of these guys are really good hitters, but pitchers aren’t hired for their bats. They also all have a relatively small number of plate appearances (as most pitchers do). Syndergaard has the most plate appearances so you would expect the highest number of hits; he leads the group in the raw stats: HR (3), R (6), and RBI (6). He also leads in WAR (0.6), BA (0.146), and BB% (10.7%). However, this is accompanied by an extremely high K% (53.6%), and an okay wOBA (for a pitcher, 0.274 could be worse). His BABIP is also decent at 0.267.
Logan Verrett and Matt Harvey sit at the bottom for plate appearances, and this affects their statistics (Harvey is out for the season and Verrett is not often in the rotation). Neither have gone deep, recorded an RBI, nor drawn a walk. Verrett puts up pitiful numbers for wOBA (0.065), BA (0.053), and BABIP (0.143) - and he also posts a negative value for WAR (-0.2). Harvey doesn’t fare much better.
We now have a clear leader - and two who clearly shouldn’t be batting. Where does this put Colón?
Bartolo sits second in HR with his first (and only) career home run:
He is tied for second in RBI with Matz and deGrom with a pair each, and he also sits in second for R (4). This seems to be the end of the magic for Bartolo Colón. He has the MLB’s highest K% for players with at least 50 PA - he strikes out 62.7% of the time. He has only drawn 1 walk all season (and all career), and has a small BB% of 2.0%. His BA is also very low at 0.106: this is the eighth lowest value in the MLB for players with 50+ PA. His WAR also sits at a nice 0.0.
So, is there a breakthrough here?
Let’s look at the final column, BABIP. Do you see that 0.286? That’s not too bad! Maybe this is what makes watching Bartolo at the plate so exciting; he gets on base more often than most other pitchers when he makes contact - and we all love watching Bartolo run the bases:
Because his hits are so few and far between, they’re often cherished by Mets fans and players alike. Colón will never be a career hitter, but he’ll always be entertaining at the plate and around the bases.
"Not having National League pitchers hit would deprive us of the entertainment that Bartolo Colón has given us this year. It's been a great source of entertainment for me. I don't know about for the rest of you, but it has been for me." -Rob Manfred
If even the MLB commissioner cites you as an argument against instating a DH in the NL, you must be doing something right.
Julia Prusaczyk is a contributor to Beyond The Box Score. She, like Bartolo Colon, is not the worst hitter on staff.