Scouting Oakland Athletics Starting Pitcher Bartolo Colon: What To Watch For


July 21, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) returns to the dugout following the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like it has been a month since the Detroit Tigers last took the field — we’ve seen a lot in three straight days of one-game elimination baseball and the start of the National League Division Series — but the Tigers are back in action tonight in Oakland to start the American League Division Series.

The Athletics will send veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon out to the mound against the Tigers. Despite the fact that Colon is well advanced in years — he turned 40 back in May — he turned in a very nice year, finishing second in the AL in ERA among qualified pitchers (second only to Anibal Sanchez).

Part of Colon’s success is likely due to the fact that he plays in a home ballpark that suppresses run scoring, but we can’t take all of the credit away from him. Colon doesn’t walk many batters (1.4 BB/9, second lowest in AL) and doesn’t give up the long ball (6% HR/FB, second lowest in AL), so he’s doing something right. He doesn’t strike out many batters (5.5 K/9), but instead takes a “here it is, hit it” approach with a fastball-heavy arsenal.

Speaking of that fastball-heavy approach, here’s a visual guide to how he has approached hitters this season:

(Data from Brooks Baseball)

As you can see, Colon relies heavily on his sinker (or two-seam fastball), particularly against right handed hitters.Including both the two-seam (89.4 mph) and four-seam (92.5 mph) varieties, he’s opted to throw a fastball in nearly 85% of his offerings this season. He’ll flash a slider a little bit to right-handed hitters and a changeup to left-handed hitters, but those situations are rare even when he’s ahead in the count.

Colon pounds the zone with a lot of fastball strikes, and doesn’t walk many, so Tigers hitters are going to want to be aggressive when they see a pitch they like. It could get frustrating for fans if a lot of those early-count swings turn into quick outs — especially because his stuff isn’t overpowering — but taking too many pitches will just mean they’ll be spending the evening trying to hit while behind in the count.

His strategy isn’t to fool hitters with breaking balls or off-speed pitches, but his fastballs are still going to move a little bit and they’ll be in the zone for strikes. It’s just going to be a question of whether or not the Detroit hitters can square it up.