About a month into the season, the word “rollercoaster” may be the nicest way to describe the Twins’ season. They’ve experienced some big wins, a handful of extra innings losses, a bullpen meltdown, and now a (hopefully contained) bout versus COVID-19. As was profiled by Marea recently, one of the primary offseason additions for the Twins, Alex Colomé, has been anything but the shutdown reliever that many would have hoped. While Colomé has not exactly inspired confidence thus far into his short season, he may not be far off from the guy that the Twins signed.
NEW AGE THINKING
When a pitcher with Colomé’s resume’ normally hits the market, one would expect a lucrative, multi-year contract for someone who had the 2020 that he did. Colomé’s “baseball card” stats were absurd in 2020, as he posted a 0.81 ERA in 21 appearances, allowing only two earned runs in 22.1 innings. One would think posting those sort of numbers in your contract season would lead to a hot free-agent market, but the market for Colomé was largely dried up due to his secondary numbers.
First of all, Colomé posted a BABIP against of .203, almost 80 points below his career mark of .279. He did this while posting a 5.50 GB/FB ratio, as he forced ground balls at a rate of 53.1%, also significantly better than his career mark of 46.1%. Colomé also induced fly balls at a rate of 9.4%, which is a far cry from his career average of 21.5% average. Also, batters were only able to barrel up against Colomé at a rate of 3.1%, which would put Colomé among the best 5% of pitchers in the MLB. Colomé was so good against batted balls, that a less-than-ideal strikeout rate of 6.4 K/9 didn’t affect his ability to close down games for the White Sox.
Back to the original point: why did Colomé only get a one-year, $5.5M deal with a buyout with the Twins? Colomé posted rates of soft contact, ground balls, and a BABIP that were at nearly impossible rates to sustain, especially against his career marks. With his strikeout rate also at a steep decline, teams became very hesitant to commit to Colomé as a late-inning guy, despite his absurd stats in 2020. The Twins signed Colomé to bolster the bullpen, but they did so at a modest price, as the secondary numbers seemed to suggest Colomé would not replicate his 2020.
IT’S COLOMÉ, NOT COLO-APRIL
Even with the most tempered of expectations, the Twins were certainly hoping Colomé would be more effective upon his arrival into the Twins’ bullpen. Whatever voodoo Colomé did to miss barrels in 2020 has mostly been completely reversed, as his barrel rate has gone from 3.1% in 2020 (best 5%) to 22.7% in 2021 (worst 2%). With a large number of batted balls finding the barrel, Colomé’s BABIP in 2021 has more than doubled, as batters are batting .429 on balls in play. While BABIP is often looked at as a good luck/bad luck statistic, it seems to be in line with the number of balls that are finding the barrel. On top of that, Colomé’s fly ball rate has leveled back to 22.7%, much closer to his career mark of 22.4%. All in all, a spike in fly balls and a spike in balls hit on the barrel have led to a spike in Colomé’s ERA, as he has posted an ERA of 5.68, and allowed two more earned runs (4) in 2021 than he did in 2020.
Colomé has largely tried the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra with his pitch selection in 2021, as his selection has mostly mirrored his 2020 repertoire.
- 2020: 71.6%
- 2021: 72.4%
- 2020: 28.4%
- 2021: 27.6%
As you can see, Colomé will attack with only two pitches, but they largely complement each other if utilized according to plan. While he is throwing them at the same rate, his location has been more erratic, which has led to a lot more balls being hit on the barrel. See the Baseball Savant graphs below from 2020 and 2021.
As you can see above, Colomé was able to consistently find the part of the zone on his glove side with his cutter in 2020, but has been unable to replicate that consistently in 2021. On top of that, when Colomé threw his 4-seam fastball in 2020, he was able to frequently tunnel it to complement his cutter. On top of that, Colomé has thrown a career-high 52.6% of strikes, a far cry from his career-low mark of 40.7% percent in 2020. He was able to set people up to chase his pitches in 2020 at rate of 37.8% in 2020, and batters are only chasing at a rate of 25.5% in 2021.
Long story short, Colomé has thrown more strikes, but thrown them in less-advantageous locations, leading to almost a league-worse hard hit rate. In order to approach the reliever that the Twins thought they had signed, Colomé will need to find his command of the cutter, followed by tunneling the fastball right behind it. Because of the small sample size, it’s certainly not out the question that Colomé will return to the form that has made him an effective pitcher in the MLB for almost a decade. His 2020 numbers were almost impossible to replicate to begin with, but there remains a lot of hope that Colomé can be a valuable late-inning guy for the Twins.