The bullpen blues
If you’re a Tigers fan, you’ve probably found yourself wondering what’s going on with our late-inning relievers. No, I’m not necessarily talking about Jose Valverde, but two other important relievers: Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit.
There’s no denying that Coke and Benoit have been struggling in recent weeks. It’s been an especially bizarre stretch for Benoit. Since July 1st, Benoit has allowed only eight hits in the last 13 and a third innings he’s pitched. Of those eight hits, six have been home runs. Is it bad luck? Is it a result of poor mechanics, or is he injured?
Simply put, I don’t have the answer. It’s no secret that Benoit has been nursing an aching shoulder, so I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with it. A trip to the disabled list would certainly seem likely, but that’s merely just speculation.
Benoit struggled in the early parts of the 2011 season, so there’s still hope that he’ll be able to find a way to turn his season around. On the year, he’s pitched fairly well, posting a 3.40 ERA, while striking out just over a batter per inning.
Coke hasn’t had much consistency during the 2012 season, and hasn’t shown any clear indication that he’s closer to figuring it out. There’s no denying that Coke is a crucial piece of the Tigers bullpen, as he’s always been reliable to get left-handed batters out in the later innings of the game.
Although he’s done an okay job of keeping lefties in check (he’s holding them to a .263 batting average this year), right-handed hitters have been hitting him hard all year long. Righties are batting .393 against Coke in 89 at bats this year. It’s not exactly a small sample size, especially for someone who is expected to pitch only an inning at a time.
One would think that would lead to Coke having a terrible year, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, his ERA on the year (3.97) is lower than his career ERA (4.05). Perhaps we’re just starting to see that Coke simply is not as effective of a pitcher as Detroit fans had hope.
For what it’s worth, his 2011 WAR (wins above replacement) was -.1, meaning that he was determined to be worse than the average player at the same position.
With Duane Below and Darin Downs pitching well (both left-handed relief pitchers), and Drew Smyly likely to return from the disabled list, it wouldn’t shock me to see either Coke getting traded, optioned to Toledo or released. Is it likely? Probably not, but it’s something I’m sure the Tigers will be considering.