Upon joining the New York Mets in 2014, Bartolo Colon's hitting, or lack thereof, became a national punchline. A Colon at-bat was always good for a laugh or two, mainly because he looked silly trying. The results matched the laughter. He went 2-for-62 with 33 strikeouts.
The jokes still come two years later.
“He’s Shrek meets the Country Bear Jamboree,” one scout said.
“The industry is abuzz in trying to scramble for an advance report on him,” another said.
But there’s a difference now. Colon may be a punchline, but he now has a little offensive punch when he steps up to the plate.
Colon is 9-for-70 with six RBIs since the start of last season, his .129 batting average a near-match for NL pitchers, who have hit .134 over that span. The home run is Colon’s only hit in 12 at-bats this season, but it represents a bit of offensive legitimacy for the burly 42-year-old.
"Bartolo Colon hitting is an Olympic event," said ESPN Baseball Tonight analyst, Doug Glanville. "He is hitting for athletes and non-athletes and athletes who look like non-athletes. His home run was an inspiration to try, try, and try again-- that if you persist, eventually the most obscure country, population 15, will win the gold."
How’s he doing it?
Here’s a heat map, contrasting the Colon of 2014 with the Colon of the last two seasons. A couple of points both from and beyond that:
Colon’s hard-hit rate was 1.6 percent in 2014. Since the start of last season, he’s at 8.5 percent (six balls determined by video review to be hard-hit in 70 at-bats). That ranks 20th out of 76 pitchers with at least 30 at-bats. In fact, his hard-hit rate is better than teammate Jacob deGrom, who played shortstop in college and is considered to be the best all-around athlete on the Mets' staff.
Colon has made adjustments to handle the pitch that’s in the upper half of the strike zone, or up around the eyes. Last week’s home run against Padres starter James Shields came against such a pitch. Seven of his last nine hits have been on pitches in that area.
During the 2014 season, Colon took 52 swings against those upper-half and above pitches and missed on 15 of them. Since then, he has taken 65 swings against them and missed only 14. He is a much different hitter against that pitch than he was two years ago.
Do it again?
Thursday’s game will likely provide some amusement and intrigue when Colon steps in against Clayton Kershaw. Opposing pitchers have a sub-.100 career batting average against Kershaw, though he has given up a homer to one (Madison Bumgarner) in each of the last two seasons.
There will be a bunch of challenges for Colon, among them trying to hit Kershaw’s 93 mph fastball. Only one of Colon’s nine hits has come against a pitch faster than 91 mph.
And if Kershaw decides to break out the slider or curveball, good luck, Bartolo. Over the last four seasons, Kershaw has thrown 116 breaking balls to opposing pitchers. They’ve resulted in one base hit and 51 outs.
We’ll close with some advice for Colon from another Baseball Tonight analyst, Eduardo Perez.
“He has a better chance of getting a hit than anyone else because he’s in the batter’s box. Once it’s out of Kershaw’s hands, Bartolo is in control. My advice to him would be ‘swing.’ He’s going to get strikes. You never know what can happen if you swing the bat.”