You know what the deal is by now. We’re projecting the Tigers starting lineup and pitching rotation (and the occasional reliever) for the upcoming 2012 season. Let’s see how Phil Coke is going to fare in his third season in a Detroit Tigers uniform.
Why he may exceed projection:
This will be the big one, since in my opinion Phil Coke is far likelier to do better than that projection than the other way ’round. The simple fact is that projection systems don’t pick up on things like the difference in performance in different roles or in platoons, etc… His starts in relief appearances are projected independently of his peripheral stats, ERA and FIP. Phil Coke is truthfully unlikely to make a single start next year, but all of the projection systems predict that he will for the simple reason that he did in 2011. We should treat him as a pure reliever at this point – however Coke himself might feel about that. And though he struggled as a starter, he has done quite well in relief including last year. Projection systems are based on age, career numbers and regression to the mean (and maybe a sprinkling of minor league performance, park and league adjustment, etc…) but the player’s numbers last year have the heaviest weight and last years numbers look bad for Coke: because he made 14 starts.
Why he may do worse than projection:
Phil Coke did start striking out a lot more guys after moving back to the ‘pen last year, but he was getting hit even harder than before – with a .358 BABIP in relief. Coke’s BABIP and HR/FB numbers have been all over the place over his 4 years in the majors, though his career BABIP is almost precisely league average and his HR/FB rate a bit better. Coke’s projections call for moderation in both – but that could easily not be the case. If Coke winds up with a HR/9 of a bit over 1 (as Steamer projects) without a lucky BABIP things could get ugly. Coke has also, over the course of his career, not pitched particularly well in high-leverage situations or against right-handed hitters. If he winds up in a defined inning role or as the option of choice to enter the game with men on base, he might struggle.
In spite of what all these algorithms predict – I have a hard time not expecting Phil Coke to do exactly what he has done (as a reliever) throughout his career. On average: 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB.9, an average BABIP and a 3.63 ERA. If anything, those HR/FB and HR/9 projections seem to pessimistic to me: he’s been great in that respect the past two years, but wasn’t as a Yankee. 4 home runs in 81 2/3 in Comerica, 8 home runs in 39 1/3 in Yankee stadium, 5 homers in 127 innings everywhere else. Hmm. The explanation seems pretty simple: Big Stadium vs. Small Stadium.