When Bartolo Colon made his MLB debut on April 4, 1997, I was three years old.
Fast forward 21 years, and I've graduated college while Colon has compiled 243 wins. The accomplishment is a testament to the lovable Dominican's longevity as he's had to adapt to the ever-changing nature of the game. No longer is he the hard-throwing right-handed counterpart to CC Sabathia from his days in Cleveland. At 45 years old, he's become a precision pitcher who's been able to manipulate his fastball to cut and run in whichever direction he so chooses.
So when he joined the company of Juan Marichal as the most winning Dominican pitcher in history, the natural response is to evaluate his resume to determine his chances of joining the greats forever enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He's become one of the most beloved figures in baseball due to an affable smile, a generous gut, and a flair for the theatrics in more ways than one.
But an induction into baseball's greatest honor is more than just a popularity contest. The numbers speak for themselves. So what do they say?
In an era where the win statistic has become increasingly irrelevant, 243 wins is still an achievement that deserves respect.
In 2005, Colon accrued 21 wins on his way to his one and only Cy Young award. It was the second time he eclipsed the 20-win plateau, the first coming in 2002 when he split the season between the Cleveland Indians and the Montreal Expos. He won 18 games on three separate occasions. At 45 years old, a career number of 250 wins is within reach and can be achieved as soon as this season. But at his advanced age (in baseball measurements), anything over 270 career wins seems unlikely.
When all is said and done, however, he will have more wins than some current Hall of Fame pitchers such as Don Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Catfish Hunter (224) and Pedro Martinez (219). That being said, if he were to be inducted with a career ERA of 4.05, it would be the highest mark for a pitcher in the Hall's history.
There is a grading standard implemented by Baseball-Reference to determine a player's likeliness of making the Hall of Fame. According to the Hall of Fame monitor, Colon's score of 90 is just below the average Hall of Famer's score of 100. That number could increase if Colon has a few more years left in that aged arm of his, but there's no denying that he's on the outside looking in all across the board.
Colon's career numbers of over 2,499 strikeouts, over 3,000 innings pitched, and 243 wins and counting, are more of a testament to his longevity than his actual pitching abilities. That's no slight to his ability over the course of a 21-year career but even with a Cy Young, Colon has never led the league in strikeouts, ERA, or innings pitched. This affects his Black Ink test which, according to Baseball Reference, is a test to determine one's Hall of Fame likeliness by how often he's led the league in certain categories. For wins, strikeouts, and ERA, a pitcher earns four points. For saves, innings pitched, and win-loss percentage, a player receives three points. Two points go to a pitcher who leads the league in walks per nine innings, hits per nine innings, and complete games. Appearances, starts, and shutouts only receive one.
The average Hall of Fame pitcher tested a score of 40. Colon has only tested a score of 11.
Colon's career is more favorable to Baseball Reference's Grey Ink test, which measures a pitcher's top 10 placement in those same categories as listed above. Colon as accumulated 140 points in this test while the average Hall of Famer usually scores 185. So while Colon, throughout his career, hasn't been the best, he's found himself in the top ten of the leaderboards more times than not.
Time will tell whether Colon makes it in the Hall of Fame.
His numbers, while impressive, have benefited a long and consistent career. But that still proves that even at an advanced age, in a game that has increasingly gotten younger, Colon has performed extremely well.
It's been a career worth celebrating. Colon's likeable character and humorous antics will make him one of the more popular players in recent memories, and it will be a sad day when he hangs up the cleats. But don't be surprised that, when all is said and done, Colon is left out of Cooperstown.
But stranger things have happened, and I've been wrong before.