Here’s a little bit of interesting trivia which, if dropped into the proper conversation at just the right time, can help you to impress fans and influence people. Unfortunately, those people don’t run the Detroit Tigers.
But here it is anyway: Phil Coke has all three of his options left. That’s because, once he was called up to the major leagues by the New York Yankees, then traded to the Tigers, he has remained in the major leagues the entire time. In addition to that, Coke had accrued four years and 28 days of service time in the majors as of the beginning of this season, according to Cot’s contracts.
That last bit of information is important because, according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, a player with five years of major league service time can not be sent to the minors on optional assignment without his consent. He also can not be removed from the 40 man roster without his consent and can demand his release, but that’s not the issue here. I'm not suggesting that Coke be released or outrighted off the roster.
To illustrate, let’s go back to two recent cases that were similar. When Brandon Inge was struggling, to say the least, in 2011, the Tigers were prepared to let him go, but instead they obtained his consent to send him to Toledo, with assurances that he’d be recalled in September, at the latest. Inge could not be sent down without his consent, and most players in his situation wouldn't, but there's only one Brandon Inge, and he was a special case.
Another case in point- Ryan Raburn. Last year, your old pal Tigerdog wrote an article right here on this channel, insisting that the Tigers option Ryan Raburn while they could still do so. Sure enough, they did just that. Inexplicably, they called him back up for no good reason and gave him playing time, but that’s beside the point I’m making here.
A season for purposes of service time is defined as 172 days on the major league roster. There are actually about 183 days during a 162 game season, but if a player is on the major league roster for 172 of them, he gets credit for one year of service time. That means that Coke needs 144 days this year before he has five years of service time accrued, and can veto an optional assignment.
If my math is correct, that means that Coke will celebrate his five year anniversary on about July 22nd, which is just over three weeks away.
Now consider this: for the 2013 season, Coke has zero wins, five losses, an ERA of 6.56, a WHIP of 1.46, and a WAR of negative 0.3, meaning that his production is below replacement level. I suggest we find out how good of a replacement player we have.
It’s not all Phil’s fault. Left handed hitters have hit only .200 with an on base pct of .250, and slugged only .257 for an OPS of just .507 against him. In 41 plate appearances, lefties have hit no home runs, no triples, only two doubles, he has walked only three and struck out twelve of them.
But against right handers, Coke has allowed an average of .289, on base percentage of .377 and a slugging pct of .444 for an OPS of .821. In 2012, that OPS for a full season was 1.050. We’re now going on a season and a half of futility.
Seems rather obvious then, that if Coke is going to be on the roster, he should only face left handed hitters and should only face a right handed hitter when we don’t really care about the outcome.
Unfortunately, manager Jim Leyland doesn’t see it that way. He continues to use Coke like a regular late inning reliever, in almost any situation. Leyland was quoted on Wednesday after Coke had taken the loss in the tenth inning against the Angels that "we need Phil Coke, or we’re in trouble". I disagree, and if Leyland is going to be that stubborn about it, then I suggest we test his theory, for the sake of our collective sanity, and take Phil Coke out of the equation for a while.
GWilson posted this analysis in the recap thread after Thursday's ten inning loss to the Angels.
Jim has also used Coke to face one or more right-handed batters in high-leverage PAs in 9 other games this year. In each game he entered with the Tigers leading or tied. Phil has allowed a .556/.636/.944 (23 PAs) batting line over these PAs and the Tigers are 1-8 when he gets these opportunities. The solitary win occurred when he allowed 2 walks and a hit in a third of an inning against the Red Sox but was bailed out by Jhonny’s walkoff.
It’s only fair to point out that Darrin Downs has fared just as poorly against right handed hitters this season, and has pitched well, but not as well as Coke has against lefties. So, since the system isn’t exactly over flowing with left handed relief options, there might be a role for Coke. But as long as Leyland keeps Coke on auto pilot, using him against right handed hitters and in late inning high leverage situations, he is a liability to the team. He should be sent down to work out his issues, and see if he can regain his form.
As for who will replace Coke on the major league roster, I provided a summary of the relievers in Toledo here, in Wednesday’s article. There are several right handed power arms in Toledo. There are no lefties with major league experience other than Jose Alvarez, or Casey Crosby but it would seem that Alvarez is needed as depth for the starting rotation, particularly since Drew Smyly has been one of he few effective relief pitchers in the Tiger bullpen.
Another option, if Leyland must have another lefty- even though that’s not necessary the way that Leyland has been using Coke- is Matt Hoffman, who was on the 40 man roster, then taken off the roster last December. You can read Hoffman’s stats as well as all the Toledo relievers in Wednesday's article.
Maybe there is a better solution in the organization, and maybe not. But one thing we do know- this isn't working, and the Tigers need to try something else.