Though the list of potential bullpen candidates has thinned some over the past few weeks (especially late inning options) there are still plenty of names that make sense for the Rays. In addition to the names we’ve already covered and ones we’ve mentioned in passing (Jon Rauch!), there are some we haven’t touched on.
One of the names that caught my eye early on this offseason was Todd Coffey. I almost forgot about this until Steve Slowinski reminded me that I had circled Coffey’s name on the free agent list earlier.
Coffey, 30, has six years of major league experience – all in the National League Central as a member of the Cincinnati Reds and then the Milwaukee Brewers. His career numbers aren’t eye-popping (4.15 ERA/4.30 FIP/3.97xFIP), but still serviceable. In addition to the league average numbers, Coffey has been rather reliable averaging over 60 appearances a season.
Though he features a fastball that averages near 94 miles per hour, and decent whiff rate of 9.5% (career), his career strikeout rate of 6.63 per nine innings (K/9) is below average. That said, his bumped his K/9 to a career-best 8.09 in 2010 thanks to a change in pitch selection.
Before 2010, Coffey lived off his fastball; throwing the heater more than 70% of the time. It produced favorable groundball rates (over 50% career), but was far from being considered a primary weapon. In 2010, Coffey scaled back his fastball usage to 59.2% while throwing his slider a career-high 40.3% of the time.
This resulted in more strikeouts and more whiffs because the slider induced a swing and a miss more than 20% of the time it was thrown. Normally, his K/9 being more than a strikeout higher than his career number would look like a potential regression category, but the change in selection could mean the change in results is more permanent. In addition to the strikeouts, his walk rate has always lived in the neighborhood of 3.0 per nine which is manageable.
The one glaring flaw in Coffey’s game is home runs allowed. Though he does most of his work on the ground, he has given up more than a home run per nine innings in his career. His home run-to-fly ball rate of 13.3% is well above the normal rate which is why his xFIP is lower than his ERA or standard FIP.
On top of the big fly issues, Coffey does show a bit of a platoon split. The big righty has had more success against batters of the same hand similar to Joel Peralta or Dan Wheeler. With Peralta already on the roster the need for two right-handed specialists might be unnecessary; however, Coffey is also a groundball guy where Peralta lives in the sky.
Bill James’ system projects Coffey with a 4.22 FIP over 64 innings in 2011. That seems like a very reasonable expectation. It would also make him worth a little more than half a win above replacement level.
In a market with sexier names and bigger dollars, Coffey’s cost in years and salary should be much less than some of the other available options. If the success of his slider can be repeated, and his durability continues, he will be a bargain to his next employer. The home run rates may scare some off, but the Rays have not been afraid of home run issues in the past since they are rather unstable. We’ll see if they agree on this one…
*On a side note, Mike Axisa tell us Coffey runs out of the bullpen like the Ultimate Warrior which is worth at least one win over replacement level entrances