Detroit Tigers: Phil Coke’s gotta go

For the Detroit Tigers, in a year of roster transition, it is paramount to have players on the roster that are of a ‘winning’ caliber. This sounds so obvious, yet somehow Phil Coke has masterfully eluded being cut from the Tigers for years.

It’s actually somewhat hard to believe that this is Coke’s 5th season with the team. And in those five years he has had exactly one significant run of productivity and that came during the 2012 postseason when he took the closer’s gig from Jose Valverde and ran with it.

Paging this guy!

Paging this guy!

Don’t believe me? Then believe the numbers. For a reliever, you’d like to see an ERA below 4.00 at all times and preferably under 3.00. As for a reliever’s WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched), a mark below 1.30 is a nice target and under 1.20 highly recommended.

Using those numbers as a baseline, Phil Coke has stunk as a Tiger, flat out. His best season in both ERA and WHIP since coming to Detroit was in his first year when he posted a 3.76 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. In 2011 he managed 4.47/1.45 numbers followed by 4.00/1.65 in ’12 and 5.40/1.67 a season ago.

In summary, he is well below the track record of a guy who has stuck around with a team for what is now his 5th season. How has he done it? Over the weekend I asked my Twitter friends if anyone had the exact date on when his magic spell over the organization was set to expire as this would make things a lot easier on all of us. Nobody had a good answer.

With Coke it has always been about ‘stuff’. Finding power-armed lefties with a good curveball isn’t exactly an easy chore. The problem is, the power is slowly eroding along with the sharpness of his breaking ball.

In 2010, Coke’s 4-seam fastball averaged 93.6 MPH. That dropped to 92 in 2011 and 92.9 in ’12 before he ramped it back up with terrible command issues in ’13 (21 walks in 38.1 innings) to 93.4 MPH. The trend appears to be that the harder he throws, the less command he has. And the slower he throws, the less ‘stuff’ he maintains.

The reason Coke was so effective in the 2012 playoffs was because he found another gear, ramping his fastball up to 95-96 MPH and somehow controlling it. He hasn’t since.

This past offseason the Tigers gave Coke one last chance on a non-guaranteed deal. And against all rational sense, he released a few more droplets of his potion and made the team out of camp once again.

Coke’s season got off to a lousy start on Saturday against the Orioles. In 1/3 of an inning he gave up two hits, a walk, and three earned runs. Nothing like an ERA of 81.00 to start things off! Sure, it’s just one game, but with Coke it’s merely more of the same.

It used to be that Coke could get lefties out with ease but struggled against righties. As recently as 2011 he held lefties to a .215 batting average against (righties hit .314). In ’12 the splits ballooned to .263/.396 and last year he quieted the storm against righties a bit but continued to regress against lefties (.299/.282).

In order to recap: he has lost all command, even now at lower velocities. The equalizer, which used to be his sharp breaking curveball, has become loopy and ineffective. He has never gotten righties out and now lefties have mastered him as well. His ERA’s, WHIP’s, and K to walk ratios have been virtually laughable since he joined up in 2010.

His track record speaks for itself, yet here he remains. His fate was certainly made easier by a shaky bullpen. Maybe if Bruce Rondon doesn’t get hurt this spring the Tigers would’ve parted ways. Maybe not.

None of this is personal by the way. Coke has always been a likeable guy and a fun presence on the team but eventually a baseball decision has to be made. And the point is this, there are two guys on the current 25-man roster that I see the Tigers having a hard time getting any type of productivity from. One is Bryan Holaday, the backup catcher, and the other is Coke.

Marinating down at AAA are the likes of Blaine Hardy, Melvin Mercedes, Jhan Marinez, Casey Crosby, Justin Miller, and even Mr. Gum Time himself, Nate Robertson. Hardy, Crosby, and Robertson are all left-handed and they’d be hard-pressed to do worse than Phil Coke at the major league level. After a good spring and a nice start at Toledo, Hardy seems like the best bet at this point.

Question: Does anybody know what a baseball player with no results and no identifiable ‘stuff’ is called???

Answer: A free agent.

[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]

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  • Joe White

    Thanks for the comments guys. At least we can all agree on one thing!

  • Tony Martin

    Get Smyly back in there NOW!!! He’s going to be soo much more valuable in the 7th and 8th innings. Phil Joke has got to go. HEY HEY! HO HO!

  • happygo_1

    Coke is a no-brainer (remember that?). The Tigs haven’t been too lucky in the bullpen dept last couple seasons or more. And the start of this season is looking shaky, too.

  • Hector Camacho

    No mention of the wild pitch into the stands while warming up the other night. Took some chick out, blood everywhere.

  • tommylaughter

    Should have been gone at the end of ’12.

  • burrwick

    Lefty relief pitchers are like left handed hitting catchers, there’s always a team somewhere willing to give them a job, even the less than mediocre ones. Phil Coke gets paid 1.7 mil a year to pitch about 40 to 60 innings of bad baseball. Ain’t America great?

  • Jim Rohlman

    Dombo needs to get off the Coke and into rehab…Give Hardy a chance

  • Al

    Agree on Coke going. He’s going to hurt the team! And they better take a long look at Avila.

  • Vince in MN

    Although I put absolutely no stock in the ERA stat in relationship to relievers, the WHIP is very indicative of effectiveness and Coke certainly doesn’t pass the smell test in that regard. I’ve been complaining about this guy for most of his tenure with the Tigers, so you are preaching to the choir here. The Tigers have a predeliction for sticking with “veterans” that don’t produce or a downright drag on the team – Delmon Young, Jose Valverde and Phil Coke are three of the most recent examples of this myopic tendency. I used to give the bulk of of this responsibility to Leyland, but we don’t have JL to kick around anymore, so I am beginning to think this fault is as much due to short sightedness on Dombrowski’s part.

  • jeff s

    Might have to make it a package deal along with Avila. Real shame, they both seems like good guys. Avila has youth on his side but how long can you carry a guy(s)?

  • Jamie

    I hear ya, Joe. For the life of me I can’t figure out why we hang on to Coke. A you said, he’s a real likeable guy from the interviews I’ve seen, but wow, I’m pretty sure there are
    many nice and also talented pitchers out there. It’s cringe and heavy sigh time whenever he walks out to the plate. By the way, love your Tigers blogs.