Phil Coke has been a fixture on the Tiger roster since coming to Detroit with Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and Dan Schlereth in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to New York. Other than the start of the 2011 season, Coke has started each season since his arrival as the primary left hander in the Tiger bullpen. But that's a role that he lost during the 2013 season.
Coke entered the off season as a candidate to be non tendered, as he stood to make close to $2 million if he went to arbitration, and his performance left much to be desired. In the three seasons prior to the 2013 season, Coke has not been particularly effective overall. He had an ERA of 4.52, a WHIP of 1.55, and allowed opponents to hit .294/.358/.420/.778 in that span.
Coke was better against left-handed hitters in those first three years with Detroit, allowing a line of .250/.310/.349/.659. Against right-handers, he allowed an atrocious line of .327/.394/.475/.870. No pitcher should be used in situations where he allows almost a .400 on base percentage. Yet each season, he would reel off streaks of eight to ten games or more without allowing an earned run.
In 2013, all the wheels came off the Coke wagon. In 49 games, he allowed an overall average of .290 with an on-base percentage of .370 and an OPS of .809. He was ineffective against both right handers, who hit .282/.395/.465/.860, and lefties who hit .299/.345/.416/.760 against him. You can't have a lefty specialist who puts lefties on base at a .345 clip.
The Tigers settled on a one year, non-guaranteed contract with Coke prior to the date that they would have had to offer him arbitration. He is to receive $1.9 million if he is still on the roster by opening day. But that's a big if, as the club can let him go 16 days prior to opening day for one sixth of his salary, or prior to opening day for one quarter of that amount. If the team does not like what they see this spring, they could suffer the same fate as Brennan Boesch one year earlier.
The Tigers have much to gain and little to lose by giving Coke another try. With Drew Smyly moving to the rotation, Darin Downs being released after the season, and Jose Alvarez not being effective, they're left with Ian Krol, who was acquired in the deal for Doug Fister as the only reliable left handed reliever in the bullpen heading into spring training.
While Coke's numbers against right handed hitters weren't good last year, surrendering a batting line of .267/.395/.465, fellow lefties Darin Downs (.297/.378/.514) and Jose Alvarez (.276/.368/.505) fared even worse, and right hander Evan Reed (.304/.328/.455) wasn't much better.
Key to Success
Where do we begin? Coke hasn't really been effective for a full season since he was with the Yankees. The role that the Tigers have for him would be a lefty specialist, so he'll have to pitch effectively against lefties to keep his job this spring.
Outlook for 2014
The job is there for the taking, and the Tigers would love nothing better than for Coke to step up and take it. If he is effective this spring, he'll be on the roster. If not, they will likely let him go and look at Crosby, Alvarez, or non roster invitees Duane Below or Blaine Hardy.