Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moneyball's Switch-Pitcher

Hey, when GW's eldest went to Central Catholic HS and played a little baseball, his coach was Gene Colamarino. Good guy, and his kid Brant was quite the jock. He was the QB for the football team, and pitched and played second for the Viking nine.

The 5'11" 200-pounder had one striking similarity behind the center and on the hill - he could deliver the ball with either hand! Now in football, that helps you avoid the rush and not much else, Ah, but in baseball...

What happens when a switch pitcher faces a switch hitter? A lotta switching gloves and batter's boxes, that's what. Well, Colamarino wasn't the ace of the CCHS staff, so it never became much more than a time-consuming conversation piece and an irritation to the umps.

He did it not particularly to befuddle opponents, but because he was a natural lefty and wanted to play shortstop as a kid. And baseball has an unwritten rule about lefties in the infield - if you're not at first base, you best be right handed.

So Gene hit Brant a zillion grounders, and he learned to throw naturally with both hands, though he only made a half-hearted effort to switch-hit; he could pound the ball left-handed.

A little switch-pitching got him noticed, but his bat made his name. He played for Shaler's Legion team for five years, and was a West Legion All-Star. Brant was All-Conference at Central in football and baseball, where he was the starting second sacker.

As a senior, Brant finished with a batting average of .520 in 1999. In 50 at-bats, he had 26 hits, 17 runs and 18 RBI with a .900 slugging percentage. Colamarino never struck out that season.

The Etna native made the move from Central across the street to Pitt. As a sophomore 1B/DH, he hit .337. But his 2002 junior year was one for the record books.

Colamarino led the Panthers in batting average (.384), runs (58), home runs (19), walks (40) and slugging percentage (.802). He made All-Big East and All-ECAC at first base.

Brant finished 8th in NCAA Division I in slugging percentage, right ahead of Brad "Big Country" Eldred. He tied Pitt's single-season home run record and set the runs scored standard.

He thought there was a chance he might get a call on draft day. And as Brant sat on the living room floor with his family, he fired up the computer, clicked on to, and read the glad tidings: the Oakland Athletics had drafted him in the seventh round (218th overall). Shortly thereafter the phone rang, confirming the news.

Because of his build (he looked more suited for sumo than baseball), few teams showed much interest in him despite the gaudy numbers. But the A's, in Billy Beane's first "Moneyball" draft, looked instead at his production and grabbed him. It's hard to tell who was happier.

After the A's drafted him, Oakland Assistant GM Paul DePodesta said, "No one else in baseball will agree, but Colamarino might be the best hitter in the country."

The former Pitt star was assigned to the Vancouver Canadians and hit .259/.348/.382 in 67 games. In 2003, Brant batted .259/.350/.426 for the Kane County Cougars with 19 homers and 80 RBI.

In 2004, Colamarino tore it up for the Modesto Athletics with a .355/.450/.601 line in 50 games. Promoted to the Midland RockHounds, he batted .272/.331/.434 in 78 games.

The next year, he split time between AA Midland (.321/.377/.594 in 46 games) and the AAA Sacramento RiverCats (.243/.297/.436 in 74 games). Overall, he hit 21 homers and drove in 92.

His scouting report read: "He will not win any races, but Brant Colamarino possess power potential and knows how to get on base. He likely profiles as a DH, first baseman or below average left fielder."

Back with Midland again in 2006, the then 25-year-old first baseman put up a .285/.364/.491 line with 35 doubles, 8 triples, 17 home runs, and 91 RBI. In 2007, Brant returned to Midland, hitting .241/.319/.377 in a down year.

But the swing was back in the post-season. He rejoined Sacramento for the playoffs and hit a 2-run homer and drove in three in the Bricktown Showdown, a one-game battle between the Pacific Coast League and International League champs.

It wasn't all roses; besides the disappointing 2007, he was blocked at AAA in the A's farm system. Colamarino was still considered a strong hitter with a good eye and some power, and was a plus defensive player at first in spite of being under 6-foot tall.

So the Syracuse Chiefs of the Toronto Blue Jays system picked Colamarino in the AAA phase of the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. "Slick fielding, excellent defense at 1B. Mashes RHP" was their report.

Even if he appeared destined to be a career minor-leaguer, he'd at least provide some capable depth for the organization and maybe land on the bench if needed.

But it wasn't to be. He tore up his shoulder, and missed the season. When you're 27 and hurt in the bushes, well, that's a career killer. And it was for him; Toronto let him go.

The Somerset Patriots of the indie Atlantic League signed him in March as he tried to mount a last hurrah at the age of 28, but he never made it to training camp; his shoulder was still too weak.

So hey, it may be the end of the trail, but he put up some nice numbers in the A's system. He has a .270 career batting average with 665 hits, 141 doubles, 21 triples, 91 home runs, and 427 runs batted in over 655 games. Colamarino finished with a .991 fielding average, with all but seven games at first base.

He's been coaching kids at different baseball facilities in the area as a sideline; guess he'll be looking for a day job, too.

But Brant's got plenty to tell his grandkids. Made it to AAA ball, got some love from Billy Beane, and even struck out a kid or two from both sides of the rubber. Pretty sweet career for switch-pitcher from the poor side of the Allegheny.

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