Yesterday, I opened with Tim Collins. Today, I turn the spotlight on Louis Coleman.
Coleman is the other bullpen arm eligible for arbitration the Royals settled with just prior to the deadline for parties to exchange figures. MLB Trade Rumors figured him to earn $700,000 in 2015. His actual salary will be $725,000.
Coleman made his major league debut in 2011, has made 148 appearances for the Royals, throwing a total of 174 innings, yet has never survived a full year in the majors. Still, he’s been a semi-valuable short man in the bullpen for the Royals.
The best way to show you would be to just throw some raw numbers out there.
I know, I know… ERA isn’t the best measure. But for a reliever, I don’t mind so much. The small sample size and all of that. What I do like is the left on base percentage that’s represented in the final column. By that number alone, we can see some of the reasons of Coleman’s success in the past. He’s generally been difficult to hit. Except last year, he lost some of that mojo. Like his bullpen mate I profiled yesterday, Coleman missed fewer bats in all situations in 2014 and the averages went up.
Now I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of saber metrics and look at batting average against. Again, this isn’t meant to break any new ground, simply an attempt to understand what happened to Coleman last year.
As I alluded to earlier, his whiff rate was down to 10 percent last summer, compared to 17 percent the year before. His contact rate increased from 65 percent in 2013 to 77 percent in 2014. That’s huge. And that’s why his batting average allowed increased. Further, the more hits he allowed means he’s not going to strand those baserunners. What we basically saw was a nasty correction for Coleman. He isn’t as good as his 2013. Jeez, he’s no Wade Davis. But is he as mediocre as his 2014?
Coleman is strictly a fastball/slider pitcher, though he will feature a two-seamer with some solid sink. The right-hander throws with a low arm slot, making his pitches extremely difficult to track for right-handed batters. Against lefties, he’s less effective. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Last year, same-side batters tuned up Coleman with a .315/.400/.571 slash line. Lefties hit him for a line of .233/.327/.302. That goes completely against his career M.O. where he’s tougher on right-handed batters.
What was different? He relied on his sinker a little more, but not really enough to make a difference. His slider was his “go-to” pitch when he was ahead in the count to both lefties and right-handed batters, just the same as he used the pitch in the past. But hitters posted a .422 batting average and a whopping .867 slugging percentage against his four-seamer in 2014. And right-handed batters crushed him to the tune of a .469 batting average and 1.067 slugging percentage on fastballs. Yikes.
Sometimes, regression happens in a manner that will make your head spin like a top. And I’ll be damned if I can’t find an underlying reason why Coleman plummeted to Earth and smashed right through to the inner core.
If I were to speculate (we’re all friends, right? I can speculate) I would say it had something to do with his arm slot. As a pitcher with a crossfire delivery, he’s been inconsistent with his release point throughout his career. From Texas Leaguers, here is how his arm slot looked in his exceptional 2013 season:
Compare that to last summer:
The same cluster exists, but the 2014 release point actually goes off the chart. The difference in mechanics when delivering his four-seamer meant his average pitch drifted further to the outside to the right-handed batter. That gave same-side hitters just a fraction more time to get the barrel out ahead to get the sweetspot of the bat on the ball. If Coleman had been able to keep the ball inside on the hands of right-handed hitters, he wouldn’t have experienced such misery.
Here’s the frustrating thing: The data from Texas Leaguers backs my hypothesis. It looks like Coleman’s fastball ran away from right-handed hitters more in 2014 than it has before. However, the data at Brooks Baseball has the difference as negligible. Damn.
Coleman is a sidearming enigma. He wasn’t good last year and there’s nothing obvious that jumps out as the underlying cause of his struggles. So if you don’t know what’s broken, how do you fix it?
If Coleman has lost his effectiveness against right-handed bats for good, he’s of no use to the Royals. The gamble is to see if he can rediscover his past success. Anyway, with the stacked bullpen, it’s not like he’s going to be counted on in high-leverage situations. Although he could team up with Collins to form some sort of short-man combo (unintended pun using Collins there and Coleman stands 6’4″) in games where the Royals have to go to their bullpen after five innings or Ned Yost needs to keep a deficit manageable in the later innings. Basically, we have a question as to which Coleman will appear this season. The luxury of the current bullpen is, it’s a low-risk, moderate-reward proposition.
As mentioned at the top of this post, Coleman will make $725,000 next summer. Major league minimum will be above $510,000. We’ve seen Coleman be effective before. While it would be a stretch to expect something along his 2013 numbers, it’s worth the extra quarter of a million to see if he can up the strikeout rate, tinker with his arm slot, rediscover the effectiveness of his four-seamer and recover to something along his 2012 performance.