When you buy a pitcher on the high side of 40, you’re not hoping for gradual growth. You want immediate results. (Otherwise you’d have bought a young whippersnapper of, say, 35.) Bartolo Colon is 44. The Atlanta Braves took a chance on him. They’ve gone bust. Time to say, “Enough.”
The Braves have won three of Colon’s past nine starts. In two of the three victories, they scored 10 runs; in the third, relievers had to cover the final 14 outs, which was more than half the game. Those, we emphasize, were the high points.
In Colon’s three most recent turns, the Braves trailed 5-0 after three innings, 9-2 after three and, on Monday night, 7-0 (soon to become 9-nil) after 3 1/2. The second of those games featured the crazy-quilt inning of a half-dozen misplays and three official errors and saw Colon charged with only two earned runs, but still: He was gone after 2 1/3, having yielded seven hits and a walk.
The Braves actually saw that night in Anaheim as a positive, mostly by way of immediate comparison. They claimed Colon had the best stuff he’d shown this season. That wasn’t saying much, but they were hoping against hope. On Monday he was touched by Philadelphia, which on record is the worst team in baseball, for seven hits, two walks and eight earned runs while recording 11 outs.
His ERA is 7.78, the worst in the majors among qualifying pitchers by more than a full earned run. Opponents are hitting .332 against him, also the worst. (By way of contrast, Matt Kemp is hitting .328.) His Baseball-Reference WAR value is minus-1.9, also the worst. His WHIP is 1.71, which is second-worst. (Thank heaven for Kevin Gausman.) If you want to call Colon the worst pitcher in the majors, you’ve got a statistical case.
But this has become more about the 24 other Braves than Colon. He’s not giving them the chance to win, which is what a starting pitcher is supposed to do and was the express purpose for his hiring. He’s not eating innings. (He hasn’t worked six innings in a game since April 21.) The Braves thought he and R.A. Dickey would be a bridge to their younger pitchers in 2018 and beyond, but Dickey hasn’t been very good and Colon has been awful.
Brian Snitker told reporters after Monday’s game that he couldn’t commit to another Colon start, and why would he? The guy has nothing. When you sign somebody of such vintage, your fear is that one day he’ll wake up and look his age. That fear is grim reality.
The Braves sank $12.5 million into Colon, but the cost of keeping him in the rotation outweighs that. Far from giving his team a chance to win, letting him toe the slab has become the surest way to lose. The idea behind Colon/Dickey was to let the old guys prop up a rickety team for the entertainment of SunTrust audiences. When Colon pitches, the only folks who enjoy his stylings are wearing the other uniforms.
The experiment hasn’t worked, and if hasn’t worked by now it never will. (Can’t exactly send a 43-year-old to the minors to learn a new pitch.) It’s time to end it. If the Braves can get a third-string Class A catcher for him in trade, that’d be great. If they can’t, they have to eat his salary and let him leave. This isn’t doing anyone any good.