Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Phil Coke Is Now Throwing a Cutter

Last night the Tigers took a big lead into the 9th inning, leading the White Sox 8 to 3.  Manager Brad Ausmus thought this was a good time to get struggling pitcher Phil Coke some work as he had a little cushion.  It looked like Coke would get through the inning unscathed, striking out the first 2 batters.  But then he gave up a double, single and finally a home run to lefty Adam Dunn, surrendering 3 ER to an already bloated ERA.  His ERA went from 8.10 to 13.50 and his WHIP went from 1.80 to 2.25.  Even though he went 4 appearances without an ER to his name, Twitter exploded:

And there were many more just like that, some were not that nice.  

Curious on what pitch he threw, I went to Brooks Baseball and saw that it was a cutter.  In fact, he has thrown 17 cutters this year.   Now I don't remember Phil Coke ever throwing a cutter before, so I went back to his previous years and saw that he has only thrown 3 cutters before this year, all in 2010.  Pitch f/x data was still in in the early days then, so it is reasonable to assume that those pitches were merely misclassified.  

Over at Bless You Boys, a fanpost was made by J_the_Man suggesting that Coke throw less of his fastballs or even abandoning his sinker altogether.  Coke has evidently taken this a step further and switched to throwing a cutter instead.  Coke has thrown 15 of his 17 cutters in his last 3 appearances, so it's a fairly recent switch.  He still threw his sinker, but much less frequently.

Altogether, his cutter has resulted in 8 at bats being ended.  2 were strikeouts, 1 was a single and then the home run.  That's a batting average against of .250, but a slugging against of .625.  We're dealing with small samples for sure.  Looking deeper, both of the strikeouts from the cutter were from last night's game, so he obviously felt good throwing it.  It just didn't work on Adam Dunn.

Coke has thrown 13 of the 17 cutters to left-handed batters and only 5 sinkers to left-handed batters.  7 of the 8 at bats that have ended on the result of the cutter have come against left-handed batters.  This is where the transition is taking place, using the cutter instead of the sinker to get left-handed batters out.  Adam Dunn is a left-handed batter.  The pitch selection shouldn't be in question here, if it can indeed be a successful pitch to get them out (however his curveball has bee historically good against left-handed batters, so maybe it was a bad pitch selection).  The only at bat that ended on a cutter to a right-handed batter was a strikeout, though, so maybe it can be a decent pitch to right-handed batters too.

Here is a chart of his pitch location in/out of the strike zone from the cutter:

The home run he gave up was in the middle right of the strike zone, so it was a bad location as he did hang it.

And here's a chart of the whiff rate of his cutter:

As expected, the best results come from when he's keeping it down (and away from left-handed batters).  

Part of me wants to keep Coke around for little while longer to see how his cutter develops.  It is a new pitch for him, so some struggles should be expected.  Although I am also in the same boat as everyone else in that I'm about done with Coke.  His primary job is to get left-handed batters out and he simply did not do that last night.  Then I go back to small sample sizes and it was just one pitch on an attempt to correct something that hasn't worked the last couple of years.  I'm just very confused right now.  

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