Recently, the Tigers showed interest in a relief pitcher from the Orix Buffaloes out of Japan. That pitcher, Yoshihisa Hirano, would have been a quality closer option for the team, but he was unfortunately snatched up by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost their closer Fernando Rodney to the Twins.
There’s another pitcher from the Buffaloes that Tigers fans will be familiar with, however, who could be an interesting addition to the 2018 roster: Phil Coke.
Now, before you immediately scroll down and start writing your comments, hear me out for a second.
Do I think Phil Coke will be great? No.
Do I think Phil Coke will be good? No.
Do I think Phil Coke might be able to hold a few relief innings without totally imploding? Yes, yes I do.
Do I think it would be hilarious to have him back on the mound? You better believe it.
Coke was actually being used as a starter for the Buffaloes. He started five games for the team, winning two and losing three, with a 4.56 ERA, and a 1.690 WHIP. In 2017 his strikeouts to walks ratio was 1.60, his K/9 was 6.1 (average is 7.7) and his BB/9 was 3.8 (average is 3.8). If you’re keeping track, this means Coke is somewhere between below average and not great at all.
Who was worse?
A huge number of Tigers relievers in 2017 were bitten by a “give up all the walks” bug, and had BB/9 numbers above four: Shane Greene (4.5), Warwick Saupold (4.5), Chad Bell (4.5), Joe Jimenez (4.3), Bruce Rondon (5.7!), Myles Jaye (7.1!!!!), and there were more (including Kyle Ryan’s 11.1).
The strikeout numbers were better for the most part, but there were still plenty of guys who fared worse than Coke in K/9. Saupold and Alex Wilson were close, at 6.3 each, while Myles Jaye (2.8), Artie Lewicki (5.2), and Kyle Ryan (1.6) all performed below Coke’s numbers.
Kyle Ryan got a contract from the Cubs, in spite of a 7.94 ERA and a 2.824 WHIP.
The upside Coke has over these guys, beyond slightly better numbers, is that he’s a known element. Coke is a recognizable face for the bullpen, someone fans used to love. He was a fun guy, a humorous character who made for great interview fodder. Remember his impression of Miguel Cabrera?
And if you were a fan in 2012, you’ll have no problem conjuring up the goosebumps of his final point to the sky/glove spike combo at the end of the ALCS against the Yankees.
Coke pitched some dismal innings in Detroit, and ended up in Japan. But the Tigers bullpen is a nightmare, and has been for a very long time. The team is in a position right now where they can afford the risk of bringing on a guy like Coke just because he’s fun and used to be popular with fans. Also, from an innings-eating perspective, his efforts as a starting pitcher last season indicate he can go more than just an inning or two when needed, something the Tigers desperately need from their relievers.
The bottom line here is, not only could the Tigers do worse than Coke, they did worse than Coke in their bullpen just last season.
Why not bring him back now?