When Jarrod Parker had a stretch of woeful starts early this season, many fans panicked and called for his removal from the rotation. I was not among them and am rarely one to put stock in 2-3 starts, especially when the pitcher in question has a track record.
The trouble is, Bartolo Colon has a track record and it's longer than you might think.
First off, make no mistake about it: Colon has been terrible not 2, but 3 starts in a row. I was at the game on July 31st against the Blue Jays when he was charged with just 2 runs, 1 ER, in 6 IP but it was after that start when I said "Ruh roh..." Colon sat mostly in the mid-80s with his fastball, occasionally topping out at 90MPH, seemed to pitching away from contact, walked 3, struck out only 1, and needed a lot of fortune to keep the Blue Jays off the board. Once with runners at 2B and 3B, a line drive found Jed Lowrie's glove and another time with runners at 2B and 3B Colon deflected a shot up the middle and re-routed it to Lowrie for a 1-6-3 putout.
Colon was lucky-not-good that afternoon and has been worse since. In 12.2 IP over his last 3 starts he has allowed 21 hits and 11 ER, walking 7 and striking out only 6. His velocity has been down, his pitches more flat, and the hits against him have not been cheap.
However, "3 starts" is not the track record of which I speak. The track record I'm referring to is 8 years.
In 2012, of course, Colon did not pitch the season's final 6 weeks as he served his 50-game suspension for violating MLB's PED policy.
In 2011, with the New York Yankees, he hit a wall mid-August allowing 5 ER or more in 4 of his final 8 starts. Colon's ERAs in August and September, respectively, were 4.85 and 5.96.
Colon did not pitch in 2010.
In 2009, Colon did not pitch after July 24th.
In 2008, Colon made 1 start after June 16th.
In 2007, Colon made 3 starts after July 23rd. (In his 3 July, 2007 starts he posted a 15.75 ERA.)
In 2006, Colon did not make a start after July 26th.
2005 was a good year, though. Colon had a terrific August (1.72 ERA), not so terrific September (4.91 ERA), and sensational season overall: 21-8, 3.48 ERA, 222.2 IP and a Cy Young award. Of course, Colon was also 32 years old and regularly throwing 95-97MPH.
So the last time Colon was actually able to pitch the last 2 months of the season and not completely fall apart was 2005. Now that's a track record.
So you'll forgive me for being alarmed at "3 lousy starts". In a race where the A's don't have the luxury of enduring 3 more bad starts to see what they have, I am absolutely all for punting on Colon as a member of the rotation, 14-5 record and all.
Trouble is, Brett Anderson is not going to be throwing 100 pitches any time soon. Tommy Milone is a definite option, and is even pitching on the same day as Colon right now, but Milone increasingly struggled in his last Oakland starts, hasn't exactly lit it up in his 2 River Cats efforts, and offers little "upside".
What I would do, if I were the A's, is to "roll the dice" with Jesse Chavez, moving Colon to the bullpen to take Chavez' spot. Having thrown 3.2 IP and 59 pitches last night, Chavez is stretched out enough to slip into the rotation Sunday and quickly build up from 80-90 pitches to 100. With a fastball, cutter, curve and changeup, Chavez has a starting pitcher's repertoire and in contrast to Milone his stuff has "upside".
The thing about Chavez is that he has been inconsistent. He can be very good or very mediocre. However, in a rotation that, sans Colon, currently offers more depth than "upside," I think the A's might be better off trying to catch lightning in a bottle with Chavez' good arm than with Milone's steady one or Colon's spent one.
This is not suggest, in any way, that Jesse Chavez is a better pitcher than Bartolo Colon or even Tommy Milone. Compared to them, Chavez is raw and unproven. He is, though, the best arm the A's have right now and while he could be "really good or really bad" I think the A's are in a good position to roll the dice. In order to stay with, catch, and pass Texas, they need a SP to emerge as really good, not one to emerge as "a solid back-of-the-rotation guy". In a 3 start audition, Chavez has the potential to be a disaster but he also has the potential to be a revelation. It's a gamble I would be willing to take.
But whether the A's would opt for the intrigue that is Chavez or the known commodity that is Milone, what I fear is that they will stay too long with Colon. It's shades of Mark Mulder in 2004, when the A's kept thinking about pulling the trigger on him as he sank further and further, but they ultimately stayed the course as Mulder pulled the ship down in the season's final weekend. (Check out the game log to see how much rope the A's gave Mulder for how long, right down to October 1st.)
Let me be clear: I think it makes perfect sense if the A's give Colon at least one more start to try to show he can contribute down the stretch. He has been sensational most of the season, and he has only struggled for 3 starts. I just keep going back to one number: 2005. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 8 times? What a shame.