The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
With 40 days left until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, we're going to start previewing each player on the Tigers' 40-man roster. Naturally, we're starting with #40, left-handed reliever Phil Coke.
What happened last year?
The last time we saw* Phil Coke, he was spiking his glove emphatically onto the infield grass at Comerica Park, and the Tigers were heading to the World Series. Throughout the entire postseason, Coke allowed just one run in 10 2/3 innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks.
Coke was slightly less effective during the regular season, but still posted the highest strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk rate of his career. The 54 innings he pitched were the lowest total since his cup of coffee with the New York Yankees in 2008, but this was largely due to how he was used. Coke had 14 appearances in 2012 where he faced just one batter. By comparison, he only had four such appearances in 2010 (2011 is a bit of a wash since he started for half of the season). This usage was for good reason too; Coke allowed right-handed batters to hit .396/.446/.604 last season, though a .474 BABIP helped immensely. This was compared to just .263/.313/.373 against left-handed hitters.
*I have no recollection of the events for two weeks directly after this incident. I blame the "southern hospitality" that I received in Columbia, SC during Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Any mentions to this (the series, not my vacation) in the comments will be met with a flurry of insults and eventually just ignored.
What needs to happen in 2013?
I hate to start this already, but Coke's success seems to rely largely on how Jim Leyland uses him. Coke's career splits against right- and left-handed hitters aren't as severe as what he posted last season, but they are still pretty significant. Coke's postseason success and a lack of an established closer on the 2013 roster (for now) may lead Leyland to give Coke a larger role in the bullpen. However, the presence of a healthy Al Alburquerque, a more experienced Brayan Villarreal, and savvy veterans Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel leaves me feeling quite a bit like this kid when I try to predict what will happen with this bullpen.
2012 stats and 2013 projections
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does
It seems a bit pointless to make predictions about this team's bullpen so far away from Spring Training, but uniform numbers seemed like a better idea to organize this series than silly ideas like "positional groups" or "likelihood to make the team" (though Coke is in no jeopardy of being left behind in Lakeland). Anyway, Coke will probably be slotted into a similar role that he held during the 2012 regular season, though we may see more save-by-committee situations if a team has a slew of lefties a la the New York Yankees during the 2012 ALCS. Don't be surprised if Coke racks up four or five saves this year, especially if Bruce Rondon struggles early on.