We talk a lot about Phil Coke's move to the rotation, and whether or not he can make the transition from reliever to starter successfully.
What we haven't talked about much is how he found more success in 2010 than in the year prior. In short? The change-up.
Like I showed a few days prior with Brad Penny's split-finger pitch, the change-up was a key addition to Coke's routine last season. He increased his use from about 2.6% of the time in 2009 to about 10.0% last year. Those numbers are approximates because with PitchFX, the recognition isn't completely consistent.
It was one of his most valuable pitches by linear weighting, but that's a difficult concept to think about. So here's some easier ones: Coke had the highest whiff rate (12.5%) and lowest in-play rate (also 12.5%) of any of his pitches when he threw it. In 2009, he had one of the lowest whiff rates and highest in-play rates with the pitch.
Coke has said in the past that one of the nice things about joining the Tigers organization is that they allowed him to use the pitch more frequently. Maybe with that additional practice he managed to get the feel of it better and deploy it more fruitfully in games.
These paired graphs created at TexasLeaguers.com show how the results changed from one year to the next.
Here's how the pitch would look from the side for 2009 and 2010:
So you can see if you look closer that the beginning of the flight path is pretty consistent. It was about four feet off the ground in both 2009 and 2010. By the time the ball reached the plate though, the ball appears to have dropped an addition six to 12 inches in 2010 compared to 2009.
Here's our side-by-side look:
So you can see it was getting the corner of the plate much more effectively. The velocity, by the way, is actually about a mile per hour faster in 2010.
When you pair an above-average changeup being used more frequently with what is already an above average four-seamer, and a somewhat effective slider, you get a pitcher with enough stuff to survive at the back of your rotation.
He already proved in 2010 he can get batters out effectively. Heck, a lot of the outcry is that he was a bit too effective in the bullpen, so people want him to remain there. But truly, the most value for a pitcher comes in the starting rotation as long as he can remain there while eating up enough innings.
Coke's not going to "wow" you with an ERA of 3.00 or something, but he should get the job done. The Tigers are making the right move by giving him the opportunity to show he can.