Louis Coleman was drafted twice before landing with the Royals in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. He was selected by the Braves in 2005 in the 28th round (a Dayton Moore connection that is often overlooked) but turned down a contract to play for LSU. He was then picked by the Nationals in the 14th round in 2008, but decided to stick in Baton Rouge for his senior year. I’d say that decision paid off as he was on the mound for the final out of LSU’s National Championship (a swinging strikeout) and improved his draft status.
Throwing four years in college, sped up his minor league timetable, and Coleman was one of 12 Royals to make his major league debut last summer, and he didn’t waste much time. He opened the 2011 season in Triple-A, but after dominating hitters – striking out 16 of the 30 batters he faced in his first six games – Coleman earned his call-up to KC.
Once in Kansas City, Coleman had himself a fine – if perhaps unappreciated – rookie season. He inherited 39 runners last year, but allowed only five to come around to score. While it may not have been readily obvious, Ned Yost quickly decided he could trust his young reliever. His average leverage index was around 1.23, which was the fourth highest on the team.
Basically, in 2011, Coleman was the best reliever on the team that wasn’t named Greg Holland.
Coleman brings a sidearm delivery, dropping down and slinging his pitch in a crossfire motion. With that low arm angle, Coleman doesn’t feature an overpowering fastball – averaging just a tick under 90 mph – but his slider has a venomous bite. The result is a high strikeout rate of 9.7 SO/9, second only to Greg Holland and his 11.1 SO/9. The interesting thing (to me, at least) is that an overwhelming majority of the batters Coleman punches out, go down swinging. Last summer, over 83% of all his strikeouts came where the hitter offered at strike three. Compare that to the league average of around 75%. As you would expect from this information, Coleman misses bats. According to numbers compiled by Baseball Reference, 22% of his strikes are when the batter swings and misses. Again, that outpaces the league average of 15% by a large margin. If you pool all the relievers in the American League who appeared in at least 40 innings, Coleman’s swing and miss rate ranks him 10th. (Holland ranked third.)
While he sacrifices some velocity with the sidearm release, he comes at right handed hitters with plenty of deception. The slider moves away and off the plate from the right handed hitter. And it’s released at roughly the same point as his fastball. I’ve looked at a ton of charts from Texas Leaguers, but I’ve rarely seen one with a release this extreme.
With just a 10 mph difference – on average – between his fastball and his slider, and with it coming from basically behind the right handed batter, I’d imagine Coleman gives hitters fits. On the other hand, he loses that deception against left handed hitters. As a result, he throws fewer sliders against lefties and will instead mix in a change-up – a pitch he almost never features to right-handers. He attempts to keep the change away from lefties, but it’s not what we would consider to be a good pitch.
From Texas Leaguers, here’s how his pitch movement looks from the top.
As far as the deception against the right handed hitters, the numbers back this up.
Vs. RHB: .180/.260/.360
Vs. LHB: .257/.371/.432
Even more interesting are his strikeout and walk splits. Against right handed batters, Coleman owns a 4:1 SO/BB ratio. Extremely impressive. But flip the hitter to the other side and Coleman becomes mortal, with a SO/BB ratio around 1. Right-handed batters have a disadvantage against Coleman because they can’t pick up the ball early in the delivery and it comes across their body. Left-handers have the advantage because they see the ball early in the delivery and it’s coming toward them. The pitcher’s “Catch-22.”
Coleman is certainly a factor in the Royals bullpen as we head into 2012. He lacks the overpowering stuff that would make him closer material, but he definitely has a role in whatever size bullpen GMDM crafts. Good thing, too. Because if Coleman and Holland can be the rarity among major league relievers and establish some consistency, the Royals have a foundation to build what could be one of the top bullpens in the majors.