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Braves Hall of Fame Profile: Bartolo Colon

He won more games than any Latin American pitcher in MLB history and won an American League Cy Young Award. Should that be enough for “Big Sexy” to gain entrance into Cooperstown?

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
Bartolo Colon’s 21-year career saw him play for 11 different teams including the Atlanta Braves in 2017.
Photo by Patrick Duffy/Beam Imagination/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

When you say the nickname “Big Sexy” to anyone over the age of 30 there are likely two former professional athletes whose name will be evoked. One is former professional wrestler Kevin Nash. The other is Baseball Hall of Fame nominee, and the long-time starting pitcher, Bartolo Colon.

Standing just under six feet tall and weighing - well, his listed weight may have been 285 pounds, but just like in professional wrestling, that may have been embellished - Bartolo Colon became an icon during the later part of his career. An All-Star twice as a 40-something, Colon may not have looked like a professional athlete but performed at an elite level into his mid-40s.

Colon was born in the Dominican Republic and signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1993 as a 20-year-old. Four years later, he would debut for Cleveland and pitch in 19 games including 17 starts.

In 1998, Colon would make his first All-Star team while pitching more than 200 innings with a 128 ERA+ while tossing six complete games and two shutouts in his 31 starts for Cleveland. He followed that success with a near-identical season in 1999, making 32 starts and finishing the season with 205 innings pitched and a 126 ERA+. American League Cy Young voters took notice with Colon finishing fourth in the voting.

Colon entered the 2000s by setting a career high with 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings across 30 starts and 188 innings. That 2000 season saw him provide the Indians with a 127 ERA+ despite issuing a career-high 98 walks.

The 2001 season marked Colon’s fourth full season as a starter for Cleveland. He set a new career high by making 34 starts while tossing 222.1 innings. His ERA+ took a small step-back with a still-above-average 110 for the season.

Entering the 2002 season, Colon’s old-school stats saw him with an ERA on either side of 4.00 with 14-to-18 wins in each of the prior four seasons. Through 16 starts, Colon took a significant step forward at age 29, with a robust 172 ERA+ while racking up 10 wins while posting a 1.160 WHIP thanks to a significantly decreased walk-rate - while also seeing his strikeout rate decrease.

With Cleveland looking to re-tool after the organization’s successful run of eight-straight seasons finishing 2nd of better - including six AL Central Division titles and two World Series appearances - the Indians traded Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens before the All-Star break in late June.

For the Expos, who were two seasons from re-locating to Washington, D.C., they were trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1981 and paid a handsome sum giving up four players who ended up providing a collective 101.4 bWAR during their careers.

Colon pitched well for the Expos, going 10-4 in his 17 starts for the organization. Although his advanced metrics were down against his performance in Cleveland - a 129 ERA+ and 1.316 WHIP - Colon finished sixth in the National League Cy Young voting. The Expos did end up finishing in second place in the NL East, but the team’s 83 wins were not enough to get them in the post-season.

In January 2003, as part of a three-team deal, the Expos flipped the free-agent-to-be Colon to the Chicago White Sox with a minor leaguer for Rocky Biddle, Jeff Liefer, Orlando Hernandez and cash considerations after Hernandez had been traded to Chicago for Antonio Osuna and a minor leaguer. Although Colon would only stay with the White Sox for one season, he did lead the AL in complete games totaling nine in his 34 starts while setting a career-high with 242 innings pitched.

ALDS: New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Game 1
Bartolo Colon would win the AL Cy Young as a member of the Angels in 2005. He would suffer an injury to his rotator cuff in his second post-season start for the team against the New York Yankees that would hamper his career for several seasons.
Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Entering free agency for the first time in his career, Colon headed to Orange County and signed with the Angels. He’s start 34 games for the second consecutive season giving the Halos 208.1 innings in those start but would see his ERA rise to 5.01 leading to a below-average 89 ERA+.

Colon would rebound in a big way in 2005. Making 33 starts for the first-place Angels, providing 222.2 innings in 33 starts with two complete games with a 1.159 WHIP and 122 ERA+ that saw him be named an All-Star for the second time in his career. His biggest honor would come after the season with he would be voted the AL Cy Young Award winner while also picking up MVP votes while leading the league with a career-best 21 wins.

Unfortunately for the Angels and Colon, he suffered a partially torn rotator cuff in the post-season and would make only 10 starts in 2006. Although he did make 18 starts in 2007, his performance would nadir in his last season with the Angels, yielding a ghastly 6.34 ERA and a 71 ERA+.

Colon would sign a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2008 season. He would get called-up by the team and pitch well in seven starts - including picking-up his 150th career win - but would leave the team for personal reasons, going back to his native Dominican Republic, and not return. Boston would place him on the restricted list ending his time with the organization.

After trading starting pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago White Sox signed Colon to a one-year contract in 2009. Colon would again provide above-average performance but would do so in only 12 starts as injuries would again inhibit Colon’s production.

After dealing with multiple injuries to his shoulder, rotator cuff and elbow, Colon would miss the 2010 season. Colon underwent a surgery, one that was heavily scrutinized by MLB due to concerns involving his surgeon being linked to the use of human growth hormones in prior procedures. MLB found no wrongdoing in the case of Colon, and the 38-year-old pitcher would return to form in 2011 after signing a minor league contract with the New York Yankees. He’s start 26 games and give the Bronx Bombers 164.1 inning of 107 ERA+ performance before heading the Oakland as a free agent the following season.

With the Oakland Athletics, Colon would begin a five-season run of effectiveness whose apex was his 2013 season with the A’s. However, Colon’s 2012 season with Oakland would be tainted by a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned synthetic testosterone.

In his return to Oakland in 2013, pitching as a 40-year-old, Colon started 30 games and led the AL with three shutouts while winning 18 games and finishing sixth in the voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Colon would also be named an All-Star while leading the A’s to a first-place finish in the AL West.

Prior to the 2014 season, Colon would return to New York, but this time with the New York Mets, after signing a two-year contract with the club. He would join the 200-win club during the 2014 season while giving the Mets 202.1 innings in 31 starts despite an 84 ERA+.

His regular season performance in 2015 was similar to his prior year - leading the NL in hits but also in fewest walks per nine innings - while starting 31 games and providing the World Series-losing Mets with 194.2 innings during the regular season.

At age 43, Colon would re-up for another year with the Mets and have his best season as a Metropolitan, starting 33 games with a 117 ERA+. The season also saw him be named an All-Star for the fourth-and-final time.

For many, the most memorable moment of the 2016 was Colon - a notoriously poor hitting pitcher - hit his first-and-only career home run - becoming the oldest player in MLB history to hit a home run just 16 days short of his birthday on May 7th. Later that season, he would also pick-up his first career walk as a hitter after 281 plate appearances, another MLB record.

Two weeks after the 2016 World Series ended, the Atlanta Braves gave Colon a one-year deal for a staggering $12.5M contract for the 2017 season. While Atlanta was in full re-build mode - and there is no-such-thing as a bad one-year contract - Colon was disastrous for the Braves in their inaugural season at SunTrust Park going 2-8 in 13 starts with a career-worst 8.14 ERA in 63 innings and an atrocious 54 ERA+.

He was released by Atlanta on July 4th but would quickly find a new home, signing with the Minnesota Twins. He’d make 15 starts for the team - pitching much better than he did in Atlanta - but still slightly below average with an 86 ERA+ in 15 starts.

Colon would sign-on with the Texas Rangers for the 2018 season and would start 24 games as he chased down two records for starting pitchers. First, he would pass Juan Marichal for the most wins by a pitcher from the Dominican Republic in June. Then in August, he would overtake Dennis Martinez for the most wins by a pitcher from Latin America.

The 2018 season would be his last in MLB although there were consistent murmurs that he was looking to return to the mound. In 2020 he signed to pitch in the Mexican League but wouldn’t pitch in a game until 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. After pitching in the winter leagues, Colon announced his retirement on June 2, 2023.

However, in October 2023, Colon was drafted in the second round in the Middle East/Southeast Asia Baseball United league’s draft, marking his return to professional baseball for the 2024 season.

Assuming an unexpected return to MLB as a 51-year-old, Colon will have finished MLB career with a 247-188 record in 565 games including 552 starts. He tossed 38 complete games and 13 shutouts in 3,461.2 innings pitched with a career ERA+ of 106. He also amassed 2,535 strikeouts While Baseball-Reference credits him with 46.2 bWAR, Fangraphs sees his production in a slightly more favorable light with a 51.0 fWAR, including eight seasons with a 3.8-or-better fWAR.

The much-travelled right-hander earned a win for 11 different franchises. He also pitched in seven different post-seasons for four organizations. He’d make his lone World Series appearance in 2015 when he was the losing pitcher for the Mets against the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Colon ranks 30th all-time in career games started as a pitcher and is 36th in strikeouts. His win total puts him at 51st all-time and despite playing in the modern era, his career innings pitched places him 76th in the history of the game.

He was also the oldest player in his respective league from 2016-2018.

This is the first year that Colon has been eligible for consideration for the Hall of Fame. It is unlikely that he will gain election and will likely fall off the ballot, but his career was noteworthy enough that he will likely receive some votes.

Like Dennis Martinez, whose 245 wins was the record for Latin American pitcher prior to Colon surpassing him by two wins, Colon’s career should be appreciated and considered with higher regard that his voting total will suggest, despite his late-career suspension for a banned substance.

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