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Young Pitchers Can Learn From El Burrito Grande

April 29, 2011 - John Whittaker
There are a lot of young pitchers — Phil Hughes included — that should be watching Bartolo Colon right now.

Sure, El Burrito Grande is touching 95 or 96 miles an hour on the radar gun, but he's not just rearing back and throwing hard to get hitters out.

According to's pitch effects tracker, Colon averaged 93.25 miles an hour with his four-seam fastball, 82.74 miles an hour with his changeup, 84.58 miles an hour with his curveball and 91.8 miles an hour with his two-seam fastball. Lots of guys throw with those rough velocities. In fact, here are the numbers for Jeremy Guthrie, who started for Baltimore on Wednesday against Boston: four-seam fastball — 93.13 miles an hour; sinker — 92.59 miles an hour; changeup — 84.57 miles an hour; curveball — 73.32 miles an hour.

Pretty similar, eh?

It's not that Colon has below-average stuff, but it's the way he's pitching that is impressive right now. When you have 9 pitch innings, it means you're inducing weak contact from hitters. That's especially impressive when you realize Colon is throwing mostly fastballs, albeit fastballs with a lot of late movement.

How many times, even during his hot start last season, did you see Hughes get ahead 0-2 or 1-2 only to nibble his way into a 3-2 count. Not only does that lead to walks or hittable pitches, but it drives up Hughes' pitch count, meaning he can't stay in games and wears out the bullpen. What's worse, it just shows his lack of a putaway pitch. Even when he was throwing 95 miles an hour, he didn't have enough movement on his fastball to get it by people and his curveball isn't quite explosive enough to make guys swing through it. The best he gets with his curve is a foul ball, leading to throwing another pitch and the aforementioned higher pitch counts. And, Hughes doesn't trust his changeup enough to warrant mention — even though, if you're throwing a ton of fastballs, a changeup would seem to be a worthy weapon.

Colon, however, gets ahead early and often, throwing fastballs that move all over the place. When he's ahead in the count, he has the control right now to get weak contact — he'll put a little more sink on his fastball to get a groundball or throw the four-seamer that moves a little up and away, getting a weak pop-up. When he does make a mistake, it's usually with a breaking pitch he leaves up. Rather than chance mistakes, he pretty much just alternates fastballs and mixes in a few changeups.

Coming up through the minors, Hughes had the stuff to get strikeouts. Major League hitters, however, are good enough that you're not going to strike everybody out. Besides, according to Crash Davis, strikeouts are fascist, and I think fascism is still bad. Colon still has strikeout stuff, but realizes the object of the game isn't to strike out 10 hitters every start. The object of the game is to win, and sometimes, especially when you're eighth-inning reliever is the struggling Rafael Soriano, the best way to win is being able to pitch into the eighth inning and hand the game to Mariano Rivera.

I think I still believe in Phil Hughes, especially if the Yankees can solve this circulation issue he's having. But, while he's on the disabled list, I hope he's watching Bartolo and taking copious notes. A 92-mile-an-hour is more than enough to get hitters out if you know how to use it.

Right now, Bartolo is the master (a fat master, but a master nonetheless). As for Hughes, maybe this time off is exactly what he needed.

Last Week's Record: 4-2. Division Standing Through 22 games: 14-8, First in American League East.

What I Liked This Week Good Starting Pitching All Around: Going into Thursday's start by C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees went a week in which their shortest outing by a starter was 6.1 innings by Ivan Nova on Tuesday (a game he should have won, by the way). Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Bartolo "El Burrito Grande" Colon each threw eight innings in their starts, and Freddy Garcia threw 6.2 in his start. With a bullpen that's still sorting itself out, that sort of length by the starters is almost necessary. What was even more impressive is that Colon and Burnett didn't have to throw a ton of pitches to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. On Thursday, Sabathia threw seven innings, but didn't need to go deeper because the Yankees battered Edwin Jackson and Tony Pena to the point that Lance Pendleton was able to close the game for the Yankees. In my opinion, the best bullpen is the one that you don't have to use very often, especially given the shakiness of the Yankees' middle relief so far thsi year.

Robinson Cano: Even during a min-slump, Cano is driving the ball all over the yard. I was really impressed with two pieces of hitting against the White Sox, though. The first came in the first inning Wednesday against Mark Buerhle. Buerhle, a lefthander, tried to come inside on Cano and Robby put a perfect swing on the ball, smoking a line drive through the wind into the right field seats. Then, on Thursday against lefthander Will Ohman, Cano took another inside fastball and muscled it up the middle for a base hit. Even his outs (like his ninth-inning line drive that was caught on a ridiculous play by Brent Lillibridge on Tuesday) are hit hard. He's one of the top 5 hitters in the league, and, for you Yankee-haters out there —HE'S HOME GROWN!

David Robertson: After watching Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain struggle with control, confidence and their ability to put down their fork, it's been nice watching Robertson be able to wriggle out of some jams late in games by, shock of shocks, locating his fastball and mixing it up with a curveball that he can throw for strikes. Unlike Soriano (8 walks, 7 strikeouts) Robertson isn't beating himself. Unlike Chamberlain, Robertson isn't getting beat with hard-hit balls. I'm to the point, right now, that I'd like to see Robertson in a more substantial role in the bullpen. I don't care if it's the seventh or the eighth inning, but he's outpitching the Fat Nebraskan and the I Used To Be A Closer But Right Now Am A Shell Of Myself Eighth Inning Guy Who Can't Throw A Strike To Save My Life, and deserves to be rewarded. And, by the way, I am not concerned over Mariano and that little run of blown saves at all. Not even a little bit. That you know of.

What Concerns Me Rafael Soriano: At least Soriano found some of his missing velocity on Tuesday. IT's too bad, however, that Paul Konerko turned one of those 95 mile an hour fastballs around for a two-run home run to waste a perfectly solid start for Ivan Nova. After four weeks, I'm decidedly not impressed with Soriano. I've heard people say he's having trouble with the transition to the eighth-inning after closing games last year. Personally, Soriano knew what he was in for when he signed that $45 million contract. And, if he doesn't mind cashing his paycheck, he'd better stop minding pitching in the eighth inning. Guess what son, you're never forcing Mariano Rivera out of his job. If you like yours, you'd better start locking down some leads before the Yankees eat your salary and send you to Pittsburgh.

Andrew Brackman: With an opportunity to step up this year and possibly be a piece of the puzzle in New York City this season, Brackman isn't grabbing the opportunity, posting a 5.06 ERA in his first three starts. I'm especially not impressed with his 9 walks and 7 strikeouts in 16 innings and the .274 opponents batting average. I'm not sure Brackman will ever live up to that first-round draft pick. As for the other Killer B's, Manny Banuelos hasn't won in his three starts, but he's pitched well — 2 earned run sin 12.2 innings to go with 10 strikeouts and 5 walks. A blister issue has limited Dellin Betances to 1 start, but in 4.2 innings, he gave up 1 run, struck out 1 and walked 2. Banuelos and Betances were ticketed for a full year in the minors, though, largely because of their age and innings limits. Brackman, at the age of 25, should be able to pitch in the Bronx this year, if he earns it.

Brett Gardner: Before Thursday, I was really concerned about Gardner. I'm still mildly concerned, but three things point to a possible turnaround: he's started hitting a few balls with authority, he had a really good game Thursday against Chicago and he's got the best male pattern baldness in Major League baseball today. I like the three home runs in the last week as a sign Gardner might be centering the ball better than he did early in the season. I really liked the double he hit late in Thursday's game. I'm still troubled by 21 strikeouts and 5 walks, though, for a guy whose plate discipline is supposed to be his biggest asset. His batting average is, gulp, up to .169 and his on-base percentage is up to a whopping .229. He's bought himself a little more time in the lineup with his hitting recently, but Brett needs to pick it up.

What's Coming Up: Three-game homestand with Toronto followed by four games on the road against Detroit.


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