Coke Gives Up 4 In 5, Could’ve Been Worse


As you may have already come to realize, Coors Field is a tough place to pitch and an easy place to hit. It inflates everything, including your ability to drop singles into the outfield or shoot them between infielders. The Tigers haven’t yet won a game there, but they are batting .329 as a team these past two games. One thing it shouldn’t affect is a pitcher’s ability to throw strikes (if anything it makes your pitches break less) – though it might increase the damage wildness would do. In that sense Phil Coke, with his 7 walks in 5 innings, got more than a little lucky to only allow 4 runs and give the Tigers a real shot to win the game – which ultimately came down to a single throw, in time, to the plate. Adam Wilk managed to allow 4 runs in 4 innings despite avoiding free passes due to 6 hits including a home run. I don’t think Phil Coke has any magical ability to keep the ball in the yard or to spread hits and strand runners. The damage control worked for him yesterday – can he keep that up?

12 starts in, I’m still not convinced when it comes to Phil Coke the starter. This isn’t about his W-L record, well maybe partly about his W-L record. Coke’s ERA of 3.95 is perfectly acceptable, he’s put up 1.1 WAR already and should easily exceed the 2.0 WAR required to deserve a rotation spot somewhere. I’m concerned with two things, the first is Coke’s apparent inconsistency and low ceiling: when he’s awful the Tigers will need a lot of luck just to have a shot (as was the case yesterday). The second is some really disconcerting peripherals. What Coke has excelled at so far this year, giving him that plus ERA, is a low HR/FB rate of 3.3% and a low BABIP of .282. Now I believe he may really have BABIP skills, but he’s one of those guys who has already had very good and very bad years as far as BABIP are concerned which make it pretty hard to put faith in his career .278. The HR/FB rate is a little harder to stomach. The reason those flaky peripherals matter so much is that Coke isn’t striking anyone out – only 4.6 per 9 innings, which is worse than Rick Porcello and Coke doesn’t have Porcello’s control. Part of this is probably due to the righty-loaded lineups Coke is facing – far more righties than he ever faced as a reliever. His K rate is much more respectable against lefties. If Coke doesn’t start missing bats like he did in relief or in the minors, I can only expect that ERA to rise.

A similar story can be told about fellow back-ender Brad Penny – except that Penny’s ERA looks much less impressive than Coke’s. Penny isn’t striking anyone out at all, a measly 3.9 K/9. He’s still doing some good things, getting ground balls and eating innings and still providing some value to the team. 1.1 WAR from Coke and 0.6 WAR from Penny project to 3.9 WAR combined over a 162 game season – and that is far, far better than the Tigers got from Bonderman + Galarraga last year. Still, it doesn’t lead me to believe that either one has a future in the Tigers rotation – particularly with management that strongly prefers hard throwers to smoke and mirrors. Do you see any chance that either Coke or Penny will still be starting for Detroit come next April? And if they don’t, would the Tigers be better off moving them now? Remember, the do have value.