What can the Mets expect from Bartolo Colon at age 41 in 2014?
Three stat-based predictions systems have released numbers for the upcoming system.
The namesake of the 2014 Bill James Handbook gives Colon an 11-10 mark and 3.61 ERA in 30 starts.
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Steamer, which has a history of accuracy when predicting pitching, goes with 11-11 with a 3.80 ERA.
Oliver, a system designed by a consultant for a major-league team, has Colon going 12-8 with a 3.45 ERA in 2014.
The consensus seems to be something reasonably close to 2012, when Colon went 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA, unlike his 2013, when he went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA.
I think those predictions are worthy of our trust. Here's why:
The win-loss record will be one dependent on team performance. Colon received 5.5 runs of support per start last season. The Athletics scored at least six runs for him 17 times. As currently constituted, the Mets offense isn't going to score that many runs that often for anyone.
Pitchers who strike out about five-and-a-half batters per nine innings, as Colon has the last two seasons, don't typically post sub-3 ERAs.
Of the 26 pitchers who struck out between five and six batters per nine innings while pitching at least 100 innings last season, only Colon and Joe Kelly finished with ERAs below 3.00.
The median (midway point) of that group was Jonathan Pettibone's 4.04 and Jason Marquis' 4.05. You get similar results if you extend the look back three seasons -- five pitchers had sub-3s and the median is Joe Saunders' 4.07 ERA in 2012.
In Colon's case, he was helped by his holding opponents to a .195 batting average with runners in scoring position. That ran counter to his past work. In fact, in the previous two seasons, opponents hit better with .300 in that situation against him. He probably won't be that bad, but he won't be as good as he was last year.
What To Watch For
Colon in 2014
What also helps Colon is that he doesn't walk anyone -- he's yielded free passes at a rate of 1.4 per 9 innings over the last two seasons -- and he doesn't allow home runs at a high rate (which we'll get to in a moment).
Going back to 1990, 10 pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings in a season and met three criteria
a) Struck out between five and six batters per nine innings
b) Walked batters at a rate of 1.5 per 9 innings or fewer
c) Allowed a home run rate ranging from 0 to 1 per 9 innings.
Colon accounts for two of those seasons -- 2012 and 2013. The other eight include Brad Radke and Jon Lieber, who seem like reasonable comparables. Greg Maddux (the 37-year-old version) makes an appearance for his 2003, when he posted a 3.96 ERA that was a hair better than league average. So does Roy Halladay, the 2006 version, who posted a 3.19 ERA, but it seems wishful thinking to make any sort of comparison to him.
The good thing for Colon is that if you're in this group, it's hard to be a bad pitcher. The only one below league average was Brandon McCarthy, who had a 4.53 ERA in 135 innings for the Diamondbacks last season.
Citi Field looks to be a good fit for Colon, but it's not O.co Coliseum, and it's no longer quite the pitcher's park it was when it first opened. Colon will lose the luxury of high outfield walls and spacious foul territory that he worked with the last two seasons.
The 15 homers he allowed at home over the last two seasons translate to about 20 at Citi Field using Bill James Handbook Park Factor calculations.
The 33 foul outs he's recorded on what basically amounts to a football field holding a baseball diamond converts to about 23 by the same system.
Colon is going to have to get a handful of extra outs and is going to watch a few more balls fly out of the park than he has the last couple seasons.
Remember this when you're noting that the switch in leagues should benefit him. The ballpark change may neutralize that.
Let's average out what the three projection systems come up with for Colon:
11-9 win-loss record, 3.62 ERA
If those numbers look familiar, they should. They're a near-match for Gee's 12-11, 3.62 ERA of 2013.
So temper any sort of talk on Colon filling the Matt Harvey void. What the Mets most likely got themselves is a good, but not great pitcher.
Look at it this way: At the end of 2013, you'd definitely have wanted another Gee on the team. Now you've got one.