Thursday, May 06, 2004

One question bouncing around the Angel blogosphere: is Bartolo Colon really a number one pitcher, an ace? Or is he an overpaid, overregarded number two?

These questions are exacerbated by his recent struggles against Detroit. A month into the season, Bartolo sits at 3-2 with an ERA of 4.38 and a WHIP of 1.43. He strikes out 7.05 men per nine innings, walks 2.43 (a good ratio), and allows 1.46 homers (a little much). He has averaged 6.17 innings per start; his career mark is about 6.51 (he has two career relief appearances with affect the totals).

Aside from the homers, his peripherals look pretty good to this point. But let's compare him to his peers. I don't really want to look at this year, since it's only one month and that's a tiny sample size. Let's look at the last couple of years and determine whether the Angels are reasonable to expect Colon to be (Jarrod, avert your eyes) The Ace.

First of all, we must ask ourselves what a number one pitcher is. What is a staff ace? Well, if there are thirty teams, and each team has a best pitcher, there must be thirty aces, right? Well, not really. We all know that teams like the Yankees and Boston have multiple aces, whereas others (Tampa Bay, Detroit) have a big fat zero. But let's just use 30 as a starting point: the best 30 starters in the game are legitimate number ones, legitimate aces, and could reasonably expect to be the best pitcher on just about any team.

I picked a few different measures to examine starter effectiveness, but will only look at one for now (hopefully, others will be forthcoming). That one is VORP, tracked by Baseball Prospectus. VORP is Value Over Replacement Player, and reflects the amount of runs created (or, in a pitcher's case, saved) over what a replacement player would do.

Last season, Bartolo ranked 12th out of all major league pitchers in VORP with 53.3 (though second on his team to Esteban Loaiza). This is worth about 5 wins.

Bartolo ranked 30th in 2002. This is out of all pitchers; he had one reliever (Octavio Dotel) ahead of him, so he ranked 29th amongst starters. He posted a 38.8 mark.

2001 saw Colon post a 42.9, good for 22nd in the majors.

I think three years is an appropriate time to go back, and Colon, using a broad definition, ranks as an "ace" all three years. The other pitcher who have accomplished this in all three seasons are Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez, Jamie Moyer (!), Mark Mulder, Curt Schilling, and Barry Zito. Where Colon detractors may not be surprised is that Colon's total mark of 135 ranks last in this group. Schilling has a 198, Pedro a 184.8, Hudson a 179.6, Zito a 157, Moyer a 153.2, and Mulder a 147.1.

So, by VORP, Colon combines performance and durability, though he is not as outstanding as others with those attributes. Does this make him an ace or not? There are a lot of semantics to be played here. But Colon does have an impressive record.

I wanted to look at ERA+, as monitored at baseball-reference.com, but the organization of the site prevents me from sorting the top 30 for any season. Colon, however, ranks 14th amongst current pitchers in career ERA+. I also wanted to look and Support Neutral Won Loss, also monitored at the Prospectus, but they haven't transferred that info over yet on their redesign. I hope to look into SNWL once that info is posted.

I tend to think that Colon is a number one, though he is at the lower end of that spectrum. Again, it's semantics. Colon is a fine pitcher and should be a good addition to the team. Is he overpaid? Sure, by a little. But he was probably the best available pitcher over the offseason, so I can't complain. Ace or no, he's a benefit to the club.

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