Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bartolo Colon breaks record for most PA without a walk

Bartolo Colon is a marvel. He turns 43 later this month, and is MLB's oldest active player. He isn't just hanging on by the skin of his teeth though; through his first five starts of 2016 (plus one relief appearance), Colon has an ERA of 2.56, better than his more celebrated rotation mates Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Colon is in his 20th season, having debuted more than half my lifetime ago, in April of 1997. In 2002 he became the first pitcher to throw a Maddux on Opening Day. In 2005 he won a Cy Young Award. Aside from half a season with the Expos and a handful of Interleague Play games though, until 2014 we were denied arguably the greatest pleasure of the Colon experience: watching Bartolo bat.

Colon has just 20 hits in his 246 career plate appearances, with a .089 batting average. On August 9, 2002, Colon had the only two-hit game of his career, with both of them coming against Milwaukee's Ruben Quevedo, making Quevedo the only pitcher Colon has multiple hits against in his career.

Of Colon's 20 hits, just two were for extra bases, both of those doubles. I'm not sure how many fielders would have to suffer injuries on a play in order for Colon to record a triple, but it's probably at least eight. I'm still holding out hope for Colon hitting a home run one of these days, though my doctor advises against it.

Update: In his first at bat after I wrote this post, Bartolo Colon hit the first home run of his career!

Zero triples or home runs for a player with 246 plate appearances is noteworthy, but nowhere near historic. More than 200 other players have gone their entire career without a triple or home run while getting more opportunities than Colon has had. Topping the list is Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez, who didn't triple or homer in any of his 1023 career plate appearances. Jim Deshaies, a solid pitcher who spent most of his career with the Astros, had 440 career PA, and never even hit a double.

Colon's .089 batting average is obviously very low, but it's not anywhere near the record low among players with 200+ plate appearances. That crown belongs to Ron Herbel (who played in the 1960s and early 70s) and his .029 average. Colon's .098 slugging percentage is terrible, but again, he's way above Herbel's mark of .039.

Colon has struck out 119 times, which works out to 48.4% of his plate appearances. That's very high, but again a far cry from the record, which in this case (among players with 200+ PA) belongs to Ned Garvin, a pitcher who had a short career in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and who struck out in a full two thirds of his 538 career plate appearances.

There is something else though, something Colon hasn't done even one, and that's draw a walk. That's right, in 246 career trips to the plate, not once has Colon watched ball four. If Colon can continue that trend, he could be making history a few weeks from now.

UPDATED JUNE 9: He did it!

UPDATED AGAIN AUGUST 15: NO!!! In his 282nd career PA, Bartolo Colon drew his first walk. Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks becomes the first pitcher to get Bartolo to look at four pitches outside the strike zone.

Most career plate appearances without drawing a walk:

  1. Bartolo Colon, 259
  2. Tracy Stallard, 258
  3. Count Sensenderfer, 234
  4. Tim McGinley, 233
  5. Steve Cooke, 193
  6. Tex Shirley, 164
  7. Bob Osborn, 151
  8. Sean Bergman, 145
  9. Walt Kinzie, 144
  10. Milt Watson, 142

Colon is twelve plate appearances shy of tying the record, and with National League pitchers tending to average close to two PA per start, with another six or seven appearances, Colon could pass Stallard (who pitched for the Red Sox, Mets, and Cardinals during the 1960s). In addition to having an incredible name, Count Sensenderfer is also the leader among non-pitchers; he was an outfielder and first baseman during a brief career in the 1870s. McGinley and Kinzie were each also position players, and they also each played during the 1800s. No position player in the last 100 years has finished their career with 100+ PA and zero walks.

If Colon gets another 13 plate appearances without taking a walk, he'll pass Stallard's career total, but Bartolo's hold on the mark could get away from him later on. He'd have to pass Stallard and then go finish his career without taking a free pass later on. He currently seems ready to play for another decade or two, so it could be a while. Who knows how long we'll have to wait to find out if Colon will ever see ball four? Perhaps we'll all have to ask our grandchildren to keep tabs on it for us, as Bartolo buries us all.

It's not as though any of us needed another reason to pay close attention when Colon is at the plate, but now you have one.

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    1. This is helpful information for me to keep in mind. Thanks!

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