Bartolo, the Twins, and a Guy Named Phil
Image courtesy of © Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsStated multiple times during his brief tenure with the Minnesota Twins a season ago, Colon noted that he had told his late mother he would pitch until age 45. Despite that seeming somewhat unlikely at points throughout this offseason, the now-Texas Ranges hurler has posted 56 1/3 IP and has reached his 45th birthday.
Of course Colon isn’t the pitcher he was when he debuted at the age of 24 in 1997. He doesn’t have the scintillating fastball, and he’s put on a few pounds since then. Even looking back to the middle of his career, a run with the Angels in which he was hucking 93 mph cheddar, Colon’s days of overpowering hitters are long gone. What’s most impressive about the rotund thrower of baseballs is just how good he continues to be at reinventing himself.
This season with the Rangers, Colon’s fastball has averaged 90 mph. Despite throwing at a lower velocity, he’s slightly boosted his swinging strike and chase rates. Colon has generally been good at avoiding both hard contact and the longball, both of which have plagued him some this season. He’s throwing his sinker more often than at any point in his career, and his fastball is at a career low usage rate. What’s maybe most important is that Colon isn’t hurting himself.
With over one-third of the season in the books, Colon owns the league’s best BB/9 rate at 0.8 and also the best K/BB rate at 7.20. It’s a formula that works, and one that another recently jettisoned Twin hung his hat on as well.
If Bartolo Colon is a portrait of longevity, Phil Hughes may end up going down as somewhat the opposite. Nearing his 32nd birthday, the former Twins starter could be looking at the beginning of the end. Thanks to a shoulder injury that forced him to undergo thoracic outlet surgery, a procedure with poor recovery rates across the sport, Hughes never was the same pitcher that Terry Ryan rewarded with an extension back in 2014.
It is in 2014 and 2018 though, that Hughes and Colon find themselves intertwined. During his first season with Minnesota, Hughes burst onto the scene as a legitimate Cy Young contender. He would end up finishing seventh in the voting, his first time ever receiving a tally. With a 3.52 ERA and a 16-10 win/loss record for Ron Gardenhire’s squad, the 28-year-old looked incredible.
The secondary numbers, as with Colon in 2018, are what set Hughes apart. He completed the year walking just 0.7 batters per nine innings, and his 11.63 K/BB ratio is currently an all-time major league record. Although Hughes didn’t use a blistering fastball (albeit with a bit more bite than that of Colon’s current offering), he too worked on the premise that he was best suited for success by limiting self-inflicted damage.
Should you have decided to stick with me this long, I’d like to be fair and offer up that there may be no bigger point to this piece. Both Colon and Hughes’ exploits in these highlighted situations are minor data points in a sea of much larger careers. What I think we see here however, is what a great storyteller the game of baseball can be. Although neither Colon nor Hughes may ever be remembered among the most elite arms in the game, they’ve each given us as baseball fans plenty to be in awe of.
For one pitcher, the game isn’t going to be done until he decides that there’s been enough. For the other, the operating table may have been the final blow to an otherwise promising career. No matter how the dust settles or the sun sets, Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes have provided us with story lines like those that the sport is built upon. To Big Sexy himself, Happy Birthday. To Phil Hughes, thanks for that magical summer.
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