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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.