This may seem odd, but Todd Coffey is one of my favorite relievers in baseball. I have this thing for middling, fringe-y relief pitcher — Casey Fossum has stolen my heart — and there’s just so much of Coffey to love. How can you not love a teddy bear like him, especially considering he’s an underrated asset?
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 3, 2012
We tend to complain and moan about the large, guaranteed salaries that relief pitchers receive, but this deal looks excellent for the Dodgers. Coffey has a checkered history, seemingly oscillating between success (3.62 ERA, 3.41 FIP in 2011) and mediocrity (4.76 ERA, 4.20 FIP in 2010), but his peripherals paint him as a reliever with more upside than downside. His strikeout rate (17 percent career) and walk rate (7 percent) are both average to above average, and Coffey’s one weakness over his career has been homers (12 percent HR/FB rate). But in the pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium, Coffey should be in a perfect position to succeed.
The one caveat is that Coffey has wide platoon splits. He’s solely a two-pitch pitcher — four-seam fastball, slider — and his fastball is below-average while his slider is excellent. As a result, Coffey is much more effective against same-handed hitters (righties) than he is against opposite-handed hitters (lefties). He throws his slider 51 percent of the time against righties and gets swinging strikes on 38 percent of them, but he throws his slider less often against lefties (22 percent) and receives considerably fewer swinging strikes (21 percent).
Coffey struck out 21% of the right-handed batters he faced last season, compared with only 13% of left-handed hitters. He also held righties to weaker contact (.219 BABIP) than lefties (.388 BABIP), which all suggests that Coffey should be used primarily as a right-handed specialist.
Despite having this limitation, Coffey can be a valuable asset to the Dodgers if they use him well. Dan Wheeler is a similar pitcher to Coffey — wide platoon splits; home run issues; much better against righties — and the Rays were able to leverage his appearances so that his 3.35 ERA in 2010 was his worst in Tampa Bay. So the question remains: will the Dodgers be smart enough not to use Coffey against lefties? If so, they may have gotten one of the better deals of the off-season.