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Phil Coke a good reliever, but can he start?

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Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.



Phil Coke served his role well. He struck out enough, didn't walk too many and pitched above-average overall. By no measures was he an elite reliever or anything like that. But hey, he did his job. There's something to be said for that.

You've obviously heard the Tigers view him as a starter next year -- 99% they say. So I'll try to take a look at him from that angle. I'm not letting it effect how I graded 2010. It just feels more useful to do it this way.

B.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

Overall

Year Age ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 27 3.76 74 2 64.2 67 29 27 2 26 53 112 1.438 3.6 7.4 2.04

Splits

Split G PA H 2B 3B BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
vs Righthanders 64 155 37 8 0 18 21 1.17 .276 .355 .358 .713
vs Lefthanders 66 124 30 4 0 8 32 4.00 .273 .344 .336 .681
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/8/2010.

In the past, Coke has had the kind of splits that say he should be facing left-handed batters most of the time and facing right-handers could get him in trouble. This season, the results are not nearly as extreme as in the past. He does allow too many baserunners to right-handers, but at least he limited their ability to hit for extra-base power. However, he also failed to strike out a bunch. Against left-handers, he limited his walks and struck out a higher percentage of them.

Interestingly, his batting average on balls in play really stunk last year (.334) compared to earlier in his career (.2709 total). That resulted in his ERA being about half a run worse than his Fielding Independent Pitching stat. However, his ability to limit home runs was just so incredibly great (2.4%) that it shouldn't be expected to continue when he becomes a starter. So his expected xFIP stat was 4.58.

Now will he do that as a starter? I don't know. I mean, I'd say if you can get a consistent 4.50 or so ERA out of him that has some value to it. Obviously you'd like him to do better, but if he's a fifth starter that's acceptable enough. Still, I feel like he'll be back in the bullpen by the end of the year with Andrew Oliver likely stepping into the rotation midseason. That's no indictment on Coke. Having a young fire-throwing lefty like Oliver in the rotation is a good thing, and having Coke shoring up the bullpen is a good thing too.