Bartolo Colon: Father-like ace

I watched tonight’s game with my dad, who’s now in his mid-50s and has long struggled to stay awake past 9 or 9:30 p.m. on a nightly basis. It makes sense that he’s typically an early-snoozer since he’ll wake up sometime just after 4:30 a.m., head to work in blistering heat and repeat the process. He sleeps peacefully at night because he works his butt off in the day.

He’s sleeping as I’m writing this, and he’s been that way — both legs crossed and perched on the top of the couch’s backrest — since about the seventh or eighth inning of the Pirates’ 2-1 loss to Oakland tonight.

Tomorrow at work my dad will ask me what happened, how they lost, who was to blame. And after I mutter some basics — Bucs couldn’t score, Locke walked the go-ahead run in the seventh, Coco Crisp — he’ll go back to straight-edging the piles of concrete around him that I’ve dumped from my wheelbarrow, eventually finishing the process and turning the piles into a beautiful basement floor or garage. His work ethic is the reason he is still more fit than I am, and the reason  a younger guy on the job once told his dad, who then told mine, “Hey, Dad, check out that old guy’s eight-pack.”

Rather than take it as a compliment, my dad was chapped the kid called him old. “Who’s he calling old?”

I’ll marvel at his ability to accomplish all of this — the concrete work, the physical shape — at such an old age, much like how Pittsburgh probably feels about Bartolo Colon right now.

Tonight, Colon threw seven innings, yielding just one run on eight baserunners — the majority of whom reached via base-hit. He struck out five.

Bartolo Colon is also 40-years-old, one of the 10-oldest guys in baseball this season.

What Colon did tonight is microcosmic of his season to date. One walk in seven innings translates to 1.29 BB/9; that rate is actually higher than his season mark of 1.12 BB/9.

Colon is clearly making do with what he has, which in this world is impeccable control. In his 2,513 2/3 career  innings, he’s walked 2.82 per-nine. Yet, he’s managed just 6.78 K/9 in his career, which started in 1997, and 4.94 strikeouts-per-nine in 2013.

The point is that Colon has never been a strikeout pitcher. He has, however, limited free passes and induced grounders on about 42 percent of all the balls put in play against him. That’s why, even at 40, Colon is still a highly effective, aging pitcher.

Watching him tonight reinforced both descriptors.

The 5-foot-11, 265-pound righty even physically resembles someone’s dad. His hair sits a bit higher on his head than, say, Jeff Locke’s mop does. He’s lost some of his baseball physique (if such a thing exists) and there’s aging lines on his face.

But his performance tonight proves that Colon is not some junkballing, wily vet who relies on a newfound knuckleball or what have you; dude was lighting up the radar gun. In particular, Colon’s third-inning matchup against Andrew McCutchen was a fastball clinic.

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here are some linked graphs of the at-bat, which ended in a swinging strikeout. Colon threw McCutchen four fastballs, averaging 95.53 mph, and pounded the upper, outside part of the zone after shoving strike one up-and-in.

Colon threw a two-seamer and a four-seamer tonight, averaging 91.65 mph and 94.13 mph on each respective offering. He also mixed in two change-ups and 14 sliders. Of his 106 total pitches, just 16 were off-speed. Colon had remarkable command of his fastballs and that really thwarted the Bucs offense.

In his other at-bats against the A’s starter, though, McCutchen roped the ball — once for a single that whizzed by Colon’s dome and the other for a disheartening line-out to center fielder Coco Crisp that would’ve (at least) tied the game.

The Pirates hit Colon well — contact wasn’t really the issue. Before tonight, the Bucs averaged 8.2 hits-per-game. Tonight, they  recorded nine knocks. It’s just that Colon and his defense made sure that was all the opponents got. Colon didn’t clog up the bases with walks and the rest of the Athletics turned batted balls into outs when needed.

Jeff Locke pitched well for the Pirates, going seven innings and allowing just three hits and three walks while punching out four Athletics. You could argue that Locke actually out-pitched his mound opponent, but the matter of the fact is that Jeff Locke walked someone when he shouldn’t have.

Derek Norris, up with the bases loaded and two outs, walked on a full-count in the seventh to give the A’s the one-run lead that ultimately won them the game. Norris was probably going to walk (10.9 percent of career at-bats) or strikeout (26.1 percent career), and Locke just happened to miss inside to the burly catcher.

The only other run scored by the Athletics came on a Josh Donaldson sac-fly to center that scored Jed Lowrie.

Grant Balfour came in for the ninth and Starling Marte nearly had his second game-tying homer in as many days, but he just got under it and flied out to Yoenis Cespedes in left. In addition to retiring Marte, Balfour got the save by retiring Travis Snider (75 wRC+ in 2013) and Michael McKenry (59 wRC+). In other words, I could’ve probably gotten this save tonight, and I last pitched in Little League in 2002 — or, Colon’s sixth season in baseball — with the same luck on Marte’s fly-out and the other guys’ performances.

There shouldn’t be an excuse for that last-ditch lineup. Even if the bookend hitters around Marte entered the game because of a double-switch, it should not have to be Snider and McKenry — or Jordy Mercer and Gaby Sanchez. This should be an alarming issue: The Pirates have a completely punchless bench. And with a Brandon IngeClint Barmes-pitcher lineup at 7-8-9, there was effectively two-thirds missing from Pittsburgh’s lineup tonight.

One of my links before the game was about the Nationals acquiring Scott Hairston from the Cubs. Hairston is solely a bench bat, and — in a more refined role — platoon option against lefties. The Pirates don’t have to go after Giancarlo Stanton right now — a Hairston-type bench guy could help out plenty.

But the story is that the Bucs got A’s’d to death tonight, losing to the pitching trio of Bartolo Colon, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour, who were supported by a sac fly and bases-loaded walk. Oakland is a remarkable story yet again, as the organization is still among the cream of baseball’s crop.

Tonight was just Bartolo Colon’s turn to star as a possible subject of Moneyball 2: The A’s are Still Freakin’ Good.

So when my dad asks tomorrow what happened, who’s to blame, etc., I have to explain why the Pirates have now fallen to second-place in their division. Maybe I’ll reply like, “That old guy, Colon, dominated the Pirates with his fastball.”

Rather than take the compliment for something he’s done his whole career, I think Colon would have a familiar reaction: “Hey, who ya callin’ old?”

Business as usual.

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By tyle23r

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