Yep, you read that headline correctly: The portly A’s pitcher has reportedly tested positive for testosterone and been suspended 50-games for violation MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
The A’s released the following statement:
The Oakland Athletics are disappointed to learn of today’s suspension of pitcher Bartolo Colón. The organization fully supports Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game. Per the Basic Agreement, the A’s will have no further comment.
Colon is now the second Bay Area based player to test positive in as many weeks. Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games on August 15th.
In Cabrera’s case, it became all to obvious after the fact that his career numbers were too good to be true. The same can be said with Colon — though his physique appears too inflated to be testosterone “enhanced.”
But this season Colon has been very good. So good, in fact, that he hasn’t had a statistically comparable season since 2005, when he finished with 21 wins with a 3.38 ERA. Between 2006 and 2009, Colon managed to pitch in only 47 games, while setting career highs in WHIP, H/9, W/9, HR/9, and just about everything else. In 2010, Colon sat out the entire season because of shoulder issues — the same issues that had plagued him since 2006.
It was this shoulder problem that provoked Colon into trying a radically new stem-cell procedure. This procedure could be what saved his career and ended his 2012 season.
According to Bill Conlin of the Herald-Review.com, Dr. Joseph R. Purita, an orthopedic surgeon in Boca Raton, Fla., had successfully experimented with a stem-cell procedure that harvested fat and healthy cells from the patient’s bone marrow and then injected them into the damaged joint. The result: Patients were able to regenerate previously damaged joint ligament.
The caveat: Purita’s treatment includes the use of human growth hormone. “The idea of the HGH was not to turn the patient into Barry Bonds,” said Conlin in defense of Purita. “It was to hasten the healing process.”
Colon reached out to Purita via one of Purita’s “Dominican associates,” asking if the surgery could be done without the use of HGH. It could and is used without HGH. According to Purita, more than two dozen athletes — mainly football and baseball players — have undergone the treatment and were not given HGH. “I just won’t give it to these guys,” Purita told the New York Times. “I don’t need the stigma and that kind of reputation.”
After receiving the treatment, Colon flourished. “We had him start working out within the first month,” Purita said. “Then I am hearing that he is starting to pitch, and then I hear that he is starting to tear them up in the Dominican league. But I said with a rotator cuff tear and a bad elbow, I don’t know about him getting back into the majors.”
But Colon did get back into the majors. In 2011, he signed with the New York Yankees. For a 38-year-old who hadn’t pitched more than 100 innings since 2005, Colon’s play was miraculous. He pitched 164 innings, averaging 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings–the most since 2001. What’s more, he was averaging 92 MPH on his fastball, up almost three MPH from his 2009 average.
Colon would continue his miraculous pitching in to 2012. In so doing, Colon would buck every expectation and major trend among aging pitchers.
According to J.C. Bradbury of Baseball Prospectus, pitchers tend to peak at or before age 29, except in walk rate. “Veteran know-how appears to be playing a role in improving performance to compensate for diminishing physical skills,” writes Bradbury. “This is consistent with something that exercise physiologists have documented among golfers who hit more fairways as driving distance begins to fade.”
Further, Nate Silver and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus also found that as an a pitcher’s age increases so does their risk of injury. Though Silver and Carroll caution that the injury risk is not as severe as it appears on the chart below, it does “[rise] gradually throughout the remainder of his career.”
I suppose the question that should have been on our tongues is how: How could a 39-year-old with a history of conditioning and injury problems continue to pitch with such success?
The answer seems obvious now.
Our expectation of PED-abusing players is for large heads and even larger biceps, for awe-inspiring displays of power and speed. And yet, as in the cases of Colon and Cabrera, this expectation has gone unfulfilled. And so, our surprise is understandable.
As drugs change, so to must our understanding of how they alter the player. Both Colon and Cabrera have had careers plagued by problems of conditioning or injury or both. And yet, in this season, both were veritable workhorses. We should have seen these as red flags — especially in Colon’s case.
This season Colon was on pace to pitch well over 180 innings, a feat he has accomplished only nine times over the past 18 years. This would be nearly impossible for any 39-year-old (only eight pitchers have ever pitched more than 180 innings in a season after the age of 39) but for an an overweight one with a history of shoulder and elbow problems, this would be unfathomable.
I suppose if the past two weeks has taught Bay Area fans anything, it is that if something appears to good to be true, it probably is. But shouldn’t we have already learned this lesson?