In a season marked by multiple Major League debuts, Louis Coleman was one of the first in town.
After a consistent rise through the Royals farm system after signing as a 5th round pick in 2009 out of LSU, Coleman took his 2.16 career minor league ERA to Kansas City with him and produced a successful rookie season.
In 59.2 innings in the big leagues, Coleman’s efforts resulted in a 2.76 ERA and 9.65 K/9. If not for Greg Holland, he may have been the most consistent arm out of the Royals bullpen in 2011.
In profiling Coleman last year, I admitted that I thought he was among my favorite prospects, though he’s rarely mentioned in the same sentences as other touted prospects. That being said, his performance in the minors and majors suggest that he could have continued success at this level.
The question, then, is what will his role be?
Last February, Baseball America projected him as a seventh inning reliever. As it turns out, he recorded 67 outs in seventh inning, the most of any other inning in which he made an appearance. Most likely, that will be his normal role, with the option to keep him in into the eighth inning or bring him in earlier.
The Royals brought him into high leverage situations (defined by Baseball-Reference as a leverage index of greater than 1.5 when the pitcher faces his first batter in relief) 20 times. He also made 16 appearances in low leverage situations with 11 in medium leverage situations. What I take away from that is that he’s likely to see time in all sorts of scenarios. In a way, that may give him some hidden value, because it means more innings, and without the restrictions of the “set up role” and “closer role” in play, he can just go out and pitch 1.2 innings here and there when necessary.
If called upon, though, his strikeout rates in the minors and last season could sustain a run as a closer. His 3.9 BB/9 isn’t ideal for that role, but walks were never an issue in the minors, as he walked just 2.5 per nine innings on his way up the ladder.
There has been some talk about Coleman being looked at as a starter this spring, but that’s more of a contingency at this point. Coleman has started one game as a professional, despite starting regularly in college. His stuff is more of a reliever’s two-pitch repertoire anyway. His fastball isn’t big, but he can put some movement on it while it reaches 91-93 mph. His slider is effective and enhanced by his awkward delivery, which has him lined up on the rubber at an angle and stepping towards the right-handed side of the batter’s box and throwing back across his body.
That makes him particularly effective against right-handed hitters, who hit only .180 with a .619 OPS against Coleman. Lefties hit .257 but walked more often and slugged better against him, with an OPS of .803. Three fourths of Coleman’s 64 strikeouts came against righties where he had a 4/1 K/BB ratio. That ratio fell to 1.14/1 against lefties.
Also, while his 2011 numbers look good, Coleman was fortunate. While only inducing grounders on 30.4% of batted balls against him, he stranded nearly 90% of runners who were on base while he was on the mound. As a result, his FIP finished at 4.30. Most seasons, he’s probably closer to a 4.00 ERA than a 3.00 ERA like in 2011.
Anything in the 3.50 range is still very good as long as his walkrate returns to his minor league levels. If not, the combination of flyball tendencies and free runners could be dangerous.
Next season, expect to see Coleman in front of Holland while both set up Joakim Soria.