Can Phil Coke Be Fixed?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

After failing to get the lefty he was called in to face, Jim Leyland took the ball from Phil Coke. He had seen enough. Coke, who struggles mightily against RHH, has to be able to get lefties out or he doesn’t have a whole lot of on field value. He’s always a good interview, but they pay you to perform on the field and not for the cameras. After last night, the Tigers had seen enough and sent Coke to Toledo to work on his issues while the big club calls on the services of Jose Alvarez to be the second lefty out of the pen.

Coke has had a bit of an up and down career with the Tigers. He’s been worth 3.8 WAR (what’s WAR?) over his four seasons with the club which included 14 starts in 2011. He’s generally had a FIP (what’s FIP?) between 3.20 and 3.80, but his ERA has consistently been worse, topping out at 5.00 in 2013. In the bullpen, Coke has consistently hovered around 7.3-7.5 K/9 and somewhere between 3.0-4.0 BB/9 with a high-ish BABIP and no real issue with the long ball.

That isn’t a stud reliever, but it’s definitely a big league reliever, especially if you throw with your left hand. Worse pitchers have survived longer with worse numbers. Coke has always had issues with RHH however and this year is no different. Let’s just talk about wOBA (What’s wOBA?) against to get a basic idea of the problem.

Season wOBA v L wOBA v R
2010 0.309 0.315
2011 0.267 0.351
2012 0.298 0.441
2013 0.298 0.345

Coke did fine work against RHH in 2010 and has never had trouble with lefties. He’s not a lockdown arm, but he’s solid. This year, he’s actually back on pace with his 2011 numbers. He’s better against RHH this year but the overall results are worse. The strikeout and walk numbers tell the same story. His batted ball profile isn’t that different. His pitch mix is a bit interesting. He’s throwing more changeups this season and fewer breaking balls. His velocity is also not a problem.

One thing that stands out to me is that batters aren’t chasing pitches out of the zone against him nearly as much (down almost 6%) and they are swinging more often at his strikes (up 5%), according to BIS data on FanGraphs. What is interesting about those numbers is that Pitch F/X, which doesn’t include the human corrections from BIS show much smaller year to year differences. To me, that says hitters are swinging at a lot of pitches on the edges of the zone. The people reading the data don’t think these are strikes, but the system does.

If you look at his zone profile, you should be able to see a difference from last year.



When he leaves the strikezone, he’s leaving by a lot less. He chase pitches are too close. This is a location problem. The actual pitches don’t look much different. Velocity is fine. His release point has moved ever so slightly toward the center of the diamond. He’s getting the same bite on his pitches and they are moving at the same speed. He’s just not putting them in the right spot.

And that’s much easier to fix. He’s healthy and isn’t losing his stuff. He’s just missing his spots. If anything, his slider looks better, he’s just not putting it in the right place and for a reliever, a few bad misses is all you need to go from very good to very bad.

So yes, I think Phil Coke can be fixed and I don’t think it will be that hard. He’s a hard working guy and open to instruction. It shouldn’t be long before he’s back in the big leagues sprinting out of the pen and pointing at anything that moves.


2 responses

  1. […] struggled with command this season and has become a LOOGY for the most part since returning from Toledo. Last month, I looked into his […]

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