Phil Coke pitches Sunday during the seventh inning of the Tigers' loss to the Mariners. (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images)
Phil Coke doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon, and that makes no sense at all.
Recently, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski told Steve Kominski of the Grand Rapids Press that Coke isn’t the Tigers’ issue at this point.
“I think people have a tendency to jump on situations and focus on individuals, and that’s pretty much the way it goes nowadays,” Dombrowski told Kominski. “But Phil Coke has had some struggles where he struggled early, but lately he has done a pretty good job for us. He has settled into a longer role, throws the ball hard. We will just wait and see what happens.”
Dombrowski has a terrific track record, especially when it comes to pitchers, and you disagree with his assertions at your own risk. This time seeing things different doesn’t seem like much of a risk.
We’ve long passed the point where Coke is still a useful reliever. Why do the Tigers continue to keep him around?
It’s not just that Coke is bad. It’s also that he’s getting worse.
ERA really tells the story for most people, but Coke’s ills go way beyond that. For the record, his ERA is up 6.50 from 5.40 last season, which itself was up from the 4.00 of two seasons ago.
If Coke’s only problem was ERA, we might be able to forgive him. After all, a bad performance or two can take a long time to counter. ERAs climb fast and fall slow for a relief pitcher.
To go along with the climbing ERA, Coke struggles to strike out batters -- the percentage has fallen from 21 percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2014. Not only that, but opposing batters have worked even more walks off him, the rate climbing from 7.4 percent in 2012 to 10 percent today.
Batters are offering at pitches less and making contact more.
This year he’s stranding runners on the bases at a career-low 57 percent and allowing a career-worst 13 percent of fly balls to become home runs.
In May alone, opposing teams scored in four of Coke’s eight appearances and reached bases by hit in seven of the games.
You could probably have skipped the preceding paragraphs though, right? You didn’t really need anyone to build a case against Coke. Your stomach lurches when the words “Coke is warming up in the bullpen” are spoken.
Your stomach knows what it’s talking about.
Dombrowski may back his stumbling left-handed reliever in public, but you have to hope he harbors doubts in private.
Sometimes it’s instructive to dig a bit deeper when “everyone knows” something should happen. For instance, Dombrowski claimed Coke is best in multi-inning situations.
Coke blew a lead in one game, lost in another, and allowed both a walk and a single in the back half of his most recent multi-inning appearance. Just once did he pitch without allowing any batters to reach base.
Coke does do a good job of taking up an inning or two in blowout wins or losses, anyway, but that’s hardly reason to keep him on the club.
This time, what everyone knows is true.
This isn’t a blip. It’s a multi-year slide that just keeps getting worse. It’s long past time for the Tigers to cut ties with Coke.
But, then who will we blame next?
Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.