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The Twelve Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers: Day Eight, Alex Colomé

On the eighth day of free agent relief pitchers, my true love gave me eight cutters cutting. It’s Alex Colome time!

Alex Colome by Gene Wang is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Twelve Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers: Day Eight, Alex Colomé


Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Alex Colomé doesn’t have a strikeout rate to justify a higher ranking in my prestigious, historic, and holiday-themed Twelve Days of Free Agent Relief Pitchers. But given his career production, it also felt odd to put him any lower.

Plus, for eight maids a-milking, a pitcher who is often low in the zone makes sense. Like say, for example, this cutter (more on this below*):

Alex Colome's cutter
Image from Baseball Savant
*No pun intended. Again, if I make a pun, you will know.

Alex Colomé

Alex Colomé had a spectacular 2020 season, with an eye-popping 0.81 ERA, which was the third-best in all of baseball, with a minimum of 20 innings pitched. Of course, that is a sample size you could pick up with chopsticks. And unfortunately in Colomé’s case, it’s also a mirage, as a glance at his 2.97 FIP and 3.09 xERA will tell you.

First of all, Colomé didn’t give up a single home run in his 22.1 innings pitched, which naturally leads to an unrepeatable 0% home run to fly ball rate. Secondly, his strand rate was about 20% higher than last year’s, at 86.4%, and his low .200 BABIP was clearly lending him a helping hand. But the biggest problem was a truly subpar strikeout rate, at only 17.8%, his lowest mark since becoming a closer. This represents a substantial decline from his high-water mark of a 31.4% K% with the Rays in 2016. Of course, Colomé was a slightly different pitcher at that point, still establishing with his four-seam fastball and occasionally mixing in a changeup, curve, and sinker. Now down to two pitches, Colomé threw his cutter 71.6% of the time in 2020.

What may have been legitimate from Colomé’s 2020 is a career-high ground ball rate at 52.8%, which is excellent, if not elite. Both the fastball and cutter were inducing contact with lower average launch angles. The cutter, specifically, had two more inches of vertical drop, on average, than it had in the previous two years, so that, at least, makes sense. The fastball showed a larger change in launch angle, however, so it could just be the chaotic god of small sample sizes wreaking havoc with us mortals once again.

Well, well, well, if isn’t the track record of my actions

Despite all of this, I’ve always had a semi-rational fondness for Colomé. This may be a backlash-to-the-backlash. Baseball nerds have been less excited about him in the past several years, particularly after he was traded to Seattle to be a set-up man in 2018. But he has put up a solid performance as the White Sox closer for the past two seasons, after two and a half excellent years shutting the door for the Rays.

And at this point, Colomé’s actual ERA has outperformed his xERA and his FIP for the entirety of his career, so though we won’t see 2020’s ERA again, complete regression may not come out, swinging its fists. Importantly, for me and for this ranking, his lackluster K% this year is contradicted by an excellent 15.3% swinging strike rate. Something in the 22-25 K% range feels completely possible for next year.

As for durability, the 31-year-old sat out a few games this season after some issues with back spasms, but he hasn’t actually been on the Injured List since 2016.

Like Treinen, the crowd at FanGraphs projects 2 years and $16 million, and this seems like a good deal for the team that signs him. I can’t deny it: he gets the job done.

And if you’ve been following the Christmas tie-ins discussed in my Blake Treinen piece yesterday, set your heart at rest. The internet and/or America will also provide you with the following:

The only tragedy is the lack of “column A” pun shirts.

Ellen Adair is an actor, probably best known as Janet Bayne in “Homeland,” Bess McTeer in “The Sinner,” and Bridget Saltire in “The Slap,” but has been in a lot of other TV shows, films, and theater that the truly curious can investigate at www.ellenadair.com. As a human being, she is best known for her unhealthy love of baseball. It says so on her business cards. She loves baseball in general, but the Phillies are her life partner. She is the author of "Curtain Speech," from Pen & Anvil Press, and is working on bringing to life a TV series about baseball writers. Connect with her on Twitter at @ellen_adair or Instagram at @ellenadairg.

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