Commentary

History against a Colon comeback

Even if he's their best option for fifth starter, the Yankees shouldn't expect a miracle

Updated: March 25, 2011, 10:38 AM ET
By Ben Lindbergh | Baseball Prospectus
Bartolo ColonJ. Meric/Getty ImagesColon has put up solid numbers this spring, but is it too good to be true?

With the days dwindling before the start of the 2011 regular season, the New York Yankees have one key decision left to make in their starting rotation -- and based on a recent NY Post report that Freddy Gatcia is the favorite for the spot, they appear to be making the right choice, no matter what the small sampling of spring results may show.

The Yankees' signing of Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal in late January was greeted by a chorus of jeers that didn't begin to subside until his successful first outing of the exhibition season. It wasn't that Colon didn't have a Yankees-caliber pedigree: The Dominican's résumé includes two All-Star appearances and three top-10 showings in the Cy Young voting, including a 2005 first-place finish fueled by an AL-leading 21 wins. However, his more recent track record pales in comparison to those of the team's previous high-profile pitching imports.

By the time Colon was fitted for pinstripes, he'd left his greatest on-field achievements far behind. Since his Cy Young victory, the right-hander has gone 14-21 with a 5.18 ERA in 48 appearances, and his conditioning -- the hurler is listed at 5-foot-11, 265 pounds, which might undersell where he'd actually tip the scales -- makes him an easy target for the tabloids. Even more damning, Colon will turn 38 in May and sat out the entire 2010 season following a string of injury-plagued campaigns.

His primary rivals for the role of fifth starter, Freddy Garcia and Sergio Mitre, have posted spring ERAs near six. (Prior has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen.) In contrast, Colon has strung together four highly effective starts, culminating in a 2.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts and only one walk in 15 innings.

While the scouting reports match the peripherals, as the right-hander's fastball has been clocked at 93 mph, compared to the 89.6 mph it averaged during his last stay in the majors in 2009, the Yankees seem to be looking at the more reliable Garcia as the top choice -- and history shows us that they are making the right decision.

Ben Lindbergh

Baseball Prospectus
Ben Lindbergh is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has interned for multiple MLB teams and is a member of the BBWAA.