Phil Coke, Starting Pitcher?

Last week, we talked about Kyle Farnsworth, and I applauded the Royals for giving him a chance to see what he can do as a starting pitcher. Kansas City isn’t the only AL Central team considering trying a relief pitcher in the rotation, however, as Jason Beck reports that the Tigers may do the same with newly acquired Phil Coke.

Coke was a starter in the minors, and had a decent amount of success, so Detroit isn’t entirely throwing spaghetti at the wall here. However, unlike Farnsworth, Coke just doesn’t seem to have a starter’s repertoire.

In his limited major league time, Coke has relied heavily on his fastball/slider combination. He’s thrown his four-seamer about 70% of the time, while throwing his strikeout slider about 25% of the time, leaving just 5% of his pitches for a change-up that’s a work-in-progress at best. Not surprisingly, as a fastball/slider guy, he’s performed like a classic LOOGY. Here are his splits:

Vs Left: 1.22 BB/9, 8.32 K/9, 36% GB%, 3.23 xFIP
Vs Right: 4.75 BB/9, 6.53 K/9, 40% GB%, 4.91 xFIP

He’s a terrific LOOGY, but hasn’t shown any ability to get right-handed hitters out. And, remember, he was selectively used to avoid good right-handed bats. Of the 290 batters he’s faced in the majors, 56 percent have been left-handed. As a starter, that number would fall to between 20 and 25 percent.

Unless the Tigers know something about the development of Coke’s change-up, this doesn’t seem like a very good use of resources. Coke is terrific against left-handers, but moving him into a starting role will guarantee that he won’t get to face many of those. I wouldn’t expect this experiment to go very well or last very long. Coke belongs in the bullpen, where his stuff can be leveraged against good left-handed bats, and I’d guess that the Tigers will quickly come to the same conclusion.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

15 Responses to “Phil Coke, Starting Pitcher?”

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  1. MattC says:

    Even though he hasn’t shown the ability to get righties out and those numbers aren’t good I think the Tigers philosophy is “Who do we have that’s better?”. Right now the other options are Galarraga, Nate Robertson, or the De-railed train Dontrelle Willis. Looking at those options I can see how a team would atleast be tempted to give him a shot.

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  2. Steve says:

    Makes total sense to give Coke a shot at the rotation given the junk we are planning on throwing out there at the bottom of the rotation right now.

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  3. Chris says:

    Coke’s minor league career, when he was mostly a starter, shows a very small platoon split: 464 career IP, 3.46 FIP v LHB, 3.74 v RHB.

    This seems more relevant to the question of “can he hack it as a starter” than his pitch selection and platoon splits in a small sample while being used in a completely different role, no?

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    • Jeff says:

      I agree… Maybe since his changeup wasnt so great he didnt use it alot in the majors…

      He was a LOOGY so that means he was used mostly in high leverage situations against LHB’s…. SO he probably didnt need his change… and the whole 150 RHB he faced is a very small sample size…

      And hasnt everything concerning splits that has been posted the last 2 weeks suggeted that they regress toward the mean, and that a players true talent lies somewhere in between???

      Seams strange that after 2 weeks of articles like that, this article comes out suggesting the Tigers move is wrong based on a Small SS split…

      But as I always notice, Dave Cameron hates every move the Tigers make, and will never give them any credit… I am still waiting for him to admit he was wrong on the E Jackson/Joyce deal, but it will never happen…

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    • delv says:

      Exactly. The Yankees had also considered him a potential starter in the spring of 09 because he doesn’t really have severe splits and does have the pitches to do well against batters on both sides of the plate, regardless of the actual pitches that he employed when pitching out of the pen. Of course, this is true of most starters who get put into the pen—they use less of their repertoire.

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    • Rob in CT says:


      Also, I’m not sure I’d say Coke is a “terrific” LOOGY. He might be, if he could keep the ball in the park. If you believe his HR/FB rate was flukey high, maybe you could squint and see a “terrific” LOOGY. I saw an ok one last year.

      He’s still relatively young, he throws hard and with his left hand. Sure, the experiment will likely fail, but it’s worth trying if you’re the Tigers.

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  4. Omar says:

    What a horrible idea.

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    • Steve says:

      Why? What’s the worst case scenario, you move him back to the bullpen?

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      • Kris says:

        …and rename him Phil Coke-Classic: Hell, it worked for Coca Cola. Mind you, the original resentment towards New-Coke and claims that the Tigers ruined Coke, may result in a rather large uproar in Tigers’ country.

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  5. R M says:

    I despise the term LOOGY. It just looks disgusting.

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    • rea says:

      It gets even better–the Tigers have too many left handed relievers, and need offer some of them around the league to try to make a trade. Yeah, that’s right–Dombrowski will have to hawk a LOOGY. ;)

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  6. Jimmy says:


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  7. the fume says:

    Yeah, 127 MLB PA against RHB is not really something you should be drawing conclusions from. Neither is 163 MLB PA against LHB for that matter.

    All things being equal, the pecking order is Willis (ha!), Robertson, Galarraga. If any of those 3 shows something in the spring they’ll be #5. Coke will be in the next group with Bonine and maybe Figaro.

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  8. rea says:

    It’s not like they need Coke as a lefty in the bullpen, where they have Seay, Ni, Thomas, and Scherleth as well as Coke. Unless the bullpen is going to be 5 lefties, a ROOGY and the closer, they have to either trade somebody or convert somebody to a starter; maybe both.

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  9. Rudy says:

    A friend of mine who played in the minors told me once that lefties shouldn’t throw lefties change-ups. It’s just not wise. Perhaps this explains his pitch selection vs. ML left handed batters.

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