Phil Coke, the Real MVP of the ALCS

When I walked into the Comerica Park press box this morning, the first person I encountered was longtime Detroit Free Press baseball scribe John Lowe. I asked him who the series MVP has been thus far. His response was, “How about Phil Coke?”

Lowe went on to note that Delmon Young had driven in the go-ahead run in all three contests [which he proceeded to do again in Game 4], but his initial suggestion is in accord with my opinion. The Detroit bullpen has been in disarray, and Coke stepped up to literally save the day. Following a Game 1 hold that preceded Jose Valverde’s implosion, he shut the door in the next two and was on the mound for the final six outs of Game 4. The slider he threw to Raul Ibanez on Tuesday night may be the most important pitch of the Tigers season.

It wasn’t to be expected. The colorful left-hander had an inconsistent campaign that included a .324 BAA and just one save in three opportunities. In four regular-season appearances against the Yankees, he gave up hits to six of the 12 batters he faced.

In the ALCS, he was nails. In closing out Games 2 and 3, Coke became first reliever to have two post-season saves after having one or less during the regular season. Vida Blue [1972] and Bob McClure [1982] each had two, but were regular-season starters working out of the bullpen.

Coke’s Game 3 strikeout of Raul Ibanez was likely the tipping point of the series. The southpaw had a huge advantage in regard to their lefty-lefty splits, but Ibanez had been having an October for the ages. Were he to come through yet again, the Yankees would have put themselves in a position to have their best pitcher on the mound for Game 4, trailing two games to one.

Coke had retired Ibanez in each of the first two games, but he obviously knew how hot he had been. Their history also went back to the days Coke wore pinstripes and Ibanez played for the Phillies.

“He’s killing everybody,” said Coke, after the game. “He’s done things that nobody has ever done in the game of baseball, so my hat is off to Raul. He took me deep in the World Series, in 2009, about 460 [feet] into the gap, if I recall correctly.”

What he’ll recall from Tuesday night is that he fanned Ibanez with a 3-2 slider that catcher Alex Avila called the best he’s ever thrown. He might be right. The vertical break of Coke’s slider averages just over two inches and the one he threw to Ibanez dove more than five inches.

“He made some tough pitches in tough situations,” agreed outfielder Austin Jackson. “That last pitch definitely proved that he is able to make a tough pitch in a tough situation.”

It was a pitch — and pitches — made with confidence. Tigers fans have often found themselves reaching for a antacid bottle when Coke toes the rubber, but the left-hander relishes big moments. It was a point brought up by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who opined that Coke looks like he wants to be out there in big situations.

Coke, who rarely lacks for a good quotes, explained it this way.

“On a 3-2 count, [the hitter] can choose to stand there and watch it, or he can choose to swing out of his shoes. I can choose to be scared and throw a ball, and load the bases and possibly get yanked out of the game, and we could possibly end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Or, I can make my pitch and have him swing and miss and we’re all happy.”

Tigers fans have a lot to be happy about right now, and their new, at least for now, closer is one of them. He wasn’t named ALCS MVP — Young got the nod — but be maybe deserved the honor, if only for one pitch — the slider that helped carry the Detroit Tigers to the World Series.

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

43 Responses to “Phil Coke, the Real MVP of the ALCS”

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  1. Ben says:

    Delmon Young: -.7 WAR on the season. I’m guessing Jim Leyland was wrong to play him during the playoffs.

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    • Ian R. says:

      It’s worth noting that Young put up a putrid .513 OPS in the ALDS and put up a hat trick in the second game of the ALCS. Anyone can have three good games out of four.

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    • Jon L. says:

      As a Yankee fan, I can say yes, Leyland was definitely wrong to play him during the playoffs.

      So I don’t really understand, what happens now that the Yankees have lost? Are the playoffs over, or do they keep playing, only with the non-Yankees in place of the Yankees? Would the games still be on TV?

      +34 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom B says:

        One of the largest TV markets exits the postseason, and MLB’s plan to keep one in it until the end by adding more wild cards fails miserably?

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  2. Mike says:

    If anyone missed out on the MVP presentation, Jackie Autry (president of the American League) called Delmon Young a class act.

    That might be a bigger joke than the Yankees offense.

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    • Ben says:

      She clearly didn’t know what was going on. She forgot Jim Leyland’s name too.

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    • Bhaakon says:

      I’d thought they they eliminated the league presidents. I know from my foul ball collection that their signatures no longer grace official MLB baseballs (previously official NL and AL balls).

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      • kds says:

        Jackie Autry is the Honorary AL President. I goggled at her description of Young, too. She didn’t look quite as old and senile as the Tiger’s owner. I would have given the MVP jointly to the Tiger’s starters.

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  3. marlins12 says:

    I doubt Coke does the same thing in the World Series.

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    • Kevin says:

      Baseball is a funny game. One never knows. Nobody figured Peralta and Young would have an OPS of around 1.2 for this series either, but they did.

      As a Detroit fan, I’m glad we are going to the World Series. But seriously, it’s gonna be awfully tough to convince people Peralta has to go to make the team better next year :p

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      • The Nicker says:

        In your last sentence, by “Peralta” do you mean “Young?” Because at $6 million for next season, Peralta definitely does NOT have to go.

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      • byron says:

        Yeah, you’re crazy if you think we need to get rid of Peralta. There are NO SS’s available in free agency, and Andrus would take at least Castellanos, and probably a decent pitching prospect too. So who are you replacing Peralta with?

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    • Jason B says:

      “I doubt Coke does the same thing in the World Series.”

      Which matters why exactly…?

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  4. marlins12 says:

    The owner said the team has no hot dogs; he must’ve been watching Coke pitch and forgot about Valverde.

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    • Big George says:

      They didn’t have any hot dogs – we traded them some fermented chicken twists that we got in a trade w/ Tyler Chicken…

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  5. Slats says:

    Justin Verlander.

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  6. Rippers says:

    Alex Rodriguez…

    Hang on, this is 2012.

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  7. danny says:

    I just got home thinking, Phil Coke is the real MVP of this series. Thank you for the validation.

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  8. Prime says:

    Jhonny Peralta. Defense and ended up with the hitting stats too. Delmon…ugh

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  9. Tom says:

    How does one “literally” save the day?

    Or is this just another person who thinks “literally” means “I really want to emphasize the importance of this”

    (sorry a pet peeve of mine)

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    • steex says:

      I think that’s supposed to be read more like “literally save the day” – as in Coke was used as the final pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in games that allowed him to be rewarded with the statistic known as a “save.”

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      • Tom says:

        It still would be wrong.(unless “day” has an alternate definition that means “”game” that I’m not aware of)

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      • steex says:

        I think any given day goes as that day’s game goes during the postseason, so there’s probably an argument to be made that game=day.

        Personally, I knew what David was going for and therefore only attributed the word “literally” as a modifier of the word “save,” not as a modifier for the entire phrase “save the day.” It’s not nearly as egregious as sportscasters who say things like “he literally ripped his head off on that play!”

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      • Ton says:

        1. Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words.
        2. Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation.
        3. Avoiding exaggeration, metaphor, or embellishment; factual; prosaic

        Literally speaking: day =/= game. You could argue it, but I have no idea why you would attempt to do so… unless you don’t understand the difference between being figurative and being literal?

        Save the game = save the day?
        Figuratively? Sure
        Literally? Ummm…

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      • kds says:

        If game = day then the Nationals beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, since all the 9th inning runs scored after midnight. Literally speaking.

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    • Dave K says:

      A pet peeve of mine is when people literally comment on every post the author uses the word literally.

      C’mon…it’s a free site and you understood what he was going for. If anything, the phrasing is colloquial. Get over it.

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  10. Doug Dirt says:

    I really like how Detroit plays so well without really without any range or speed. Proves how little value Billy Hamilton has to a major league team down the road.

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    • Doug Gray says:

      Although that is not me and I am super angry at what you are doing. I just want to say I agree. Just a great point. Billy Hamilton never going to make it into the bigs. Phil Coke could strike him out with his right hand. I do however think that every other Reds prospect will make the major leagues and that every veteran player needs to be benched to make it happen (unless they were developed by the Reds farm system), except for Billy Hamilton because he is a talentless hack that gets by consistently on nothing but luck.

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    • jim says:

      i don’t get this meme at all

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  11. Rob Tyner says:

    Worst. Fangraphs. Thread. Ever.

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  12. filihok says:

    Series WPA

    Delmon .560
    Verlander .480
    Anibal .468
    Fister .351
    Coke .298

    Valverde -.517

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  13. JG says:

    Thank you for not writing about how the Yankees lost this series and that the Tigers didn’t do anything but not-lose more (I’m sure there will be plenty of that tomorrow, perhaps even on this site) and instead *shocker* about how a player for the Tigers made a great pitch and tipped the scales for Detroit.

    On a semi-related note, good riddance, awful TBS crew. I never thought I would prefer Buck/McCarver over any broadcasting team that doesn’t have Joe Morgan. It’s almost blasphemous.

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  14. snoop LION says:

    Ron Washington definitely thinks he is the real MVP

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  15. jose says:

    Peralta is my choice for Series MVP. He made some very important defensive plays throughout the series and provided a lot of offense too. Those plays he made in the first two games in NY changed the complextion of the series. Had AROD hard hit grounder in the hole found the outfield, NY would have taken early control. And Peralta made other important stops.

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  16. wjylaw says:

    You’re all wrong. The ALCS MVP is clearly Mike Trout.


    Dave Cameron

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  17. Bonzo says:

    There were a few MVPs this series. Phil & Delmon, sure but don’t forget Johnny, with the glove and the stick, he was lights out when many thought he was out of gas.

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    • JG says:

      Most Tiger fans (including myself) that know what UZR is have laughed at his ratings over the last two years, thinking that they’re ridiculously overrating him. Four games doesn’t change all the times I watched him have mediocre range, but he lived up to his reputation at a great time.

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  18. KCDaveInLA says:

    Nice to see all these Fangraph fans high on Coke.

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