When I watched Alex Colome pitch last Friday, I was impressed. I talked about how Colome was a complete pitcher again. I talked about how he used all four of his pitches, and how he set up his putaway pitch in several different ways. I talked about how if he could continue to pitch like that, he'd remain a starter, and force other players to move to the bullpen. I thought we were seeing a new Colome.
I was wrong, sort of. Thing is, we saw Colome pitch this way last season. We saw all four of his pitches then. His results were not impressive, and if you blinked you would have missed the 23.2 innings. Apparently I blinked.
When Colome first arrived in the majors, he was mostly fastball-changeup, despite minor league scouting reports that praised his curve. Since then, two things have happened. His cutter (it's called a slider here, but it's a very hard one, and I believe Colome calls it a cutter, although I'm having trouble finding a link on that now) has become his second pitch, and his curve has reappeared. In his first start this season, those gains came at the expense of his fastball.
Also in that first start, while being thrown less, his changeup was better. It was a few miles per hour slower than it had been in the past (84 mph rather than 87 mph average), and it moved a little bit more. To my eyes, the speed differential between Colome's cutter and his curve also acted like a fastball-changeup combination with movement in the other direction. Here's what that all looked like.
I honestly cannot bring to mind one of Colome's starts from last season. I don't know why he produced such poor results (13% strikeout rate, 10% walk rate), but if I had to guess, I'd say it was all about his command. Last Friday, he put the ball wherever he wanted to, but he does have a history of control problems (walk rate) in the minor leagues.
There's been some good work on aging curves recently (and less recently), and the upshot is that you should expect players to get worse over time in the major leagues, not better. But Rays fans have seen something different. We've seen some guys come in to the majors at one level, and then alter the way they pitch to reach a higher one. Some Both David Price and James Shields fit that description, and more recently we've seen real improvement at the major league level from Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, not to mention relievers like Brad Boxberger and Alex Colome before him, who found better control in the majors than they ever had in the minor leagues.
This is all to say that I don't know who Alex Colome is. He's different than he was in 2013. Last year, "different" meant "bad," but in his first start this year, different looked similar to 2014 but meant "good." Usually, reality lies somewhere in the middle of any two disparate small sample sizes, but what if in this case it doesn't? What if El Caballo is the next Rays ace? It's sort of fun not to know.