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Bartolo Colon Needs a Three-Hour Warmup July 11, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Bartolo_Colón_on_July_5,_2014Mets veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon had a very familiar outcome last night: He allowed three earned runs in the first inning, followed by seven innings of scoreless ball. He took the loss to Aaron Harang, 3-1. Harang pitched an excellent game and Craig Kimbrel was lights-out, as he often is. It was a quality start by any definition, making it Colon’s third tough loss. Though Bart hasn’t picked up any cheap wins this year, 11 of his 18 starts have had game scores of 50+, and 12 of them have been “headline” quality starts of 6+ innings with 3 or fewer runs. 8 of them have been “super quality starts,” per Gary Cohen, of 7+ innings with two or fewer runs; he’s won all of those.

There’s an endogeneity problem in stating that Colon gets better when he’s allowed to pitch longer, since obviously his better pitching is the cause, not the effect, of going ColonOverallStatslonger into the game. Nonetheless, Colon demonstrates a strong pattern of underperformance in the first inning. His ERA is a striking 8.47 in the first inning and literally half that – 4.24 – in the second (stats NOT INCLUDING last night’s game). Colon’s best inning is the third, but he’s serviceable through the remaining innings as well. His first inning involves facing the most batters, as indicated by the huge spike in total bases; he just has trouble getting opposing batters out during the first. He’s structurally different, too: he gives up nearly 3/4 of a base per plate appearance in the first, and every first-inning plate appearance is worth one-fifth of a run. Part of this tracks with Colon’s shifting BAbip, which spikes along with his per-plate-appearance stats – it looks almost exactly like the graph of total bases per plate appearance – but you can’t blame defense for numbers like this.

ColonPAStatsThere’s not much explanation for this. It’s the sort of pattern you’d expect from an inexperienced pitcher who doesn’t warm up properly. He didn’t have the same problem last year or the prior year, when his first-inning ERA was reliably 3.00. This is difficult to pinpoint, but maybe Colon should take some advice from Daisuke Matsuzaka and do a three-hour warmup.

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