A couple years ago, using the baseball management sim Out of the Park Baseball, I showed that a team of 25 Phil Cokes would be absolutely terrible if they played a full season in the major leagues. That’s not exactly surprising. Coke was an average relief pitcher during his time in the majors, and he struck out in all three of his plate appearances. The Philadelphia Coke went 2-160; clearly, the team was in over its head. But what if we gave them a playing field where they could be more competitive?
The Pecos League is the lowest level of independent baseball in America. Located in the Southwest, it is a place where players only go if they have no other options. In my most recent article, Mike Trout became an unholy hitting machine after being transplanted there. Any major leaguer who joined the Pecos League would instantly become the best player that league has ever seen. But what about an entire terrible team of major leaguers? Could a squad of 25 Phil Cokes be competitive in the Pecos League? Clearly, the pitching would be dominant, even in the high-offense environment of this league. Can that make up for how bad the team’s hitting would be? Let’s find out.
I went back into OOTP and created 25 identical clones of Phil Coke and placed them all on the Bakersfield Train Robbers, the team with the most neutral-seeming ballpark. Phil Coke has not pitched in the majors since 2016, and it’s likely that the Coke of today would have an unfair disadvantage in this league. Instead, I used the Phil Coke from 2010, his best season in the majors. I want to give this team the best chance possible to become league champions, while also retaining what little integrity this type of thing has.
Here is the Philadelphia Coke team photo.
Clearly, some of the players are more excited than others to be on the team. This picture is mostly here to show off the fresh new uniforms I made for the Coke. It’s unclear if the team is any good, but we know they’ll look great in the process. And who knows? Maybe they (or I) have a corporate sponsorship on the horizon with these classy uniforms.
One more thing. The Pecos League season is 72 games. To put all of the numbers into a familiar context, I upped that to 162. The season will begin on June 1st and end in November.
Phil Coke and his 24 twins are ready to begin the season. Let’s take a look at the preseason predictions to see where this team stands. As I type this, I have absolutely no clue what these projections are going to show for this team, so we’re all in for a surprise.
This is a little disappointing. The Coke are projected to win a few games, and they won’t even be the worst team in the league! That distinction belongs to the Ruidoso Osos, whose 35-127 record would set all kinds of records. However, 52-110 for the Coke would be a miserable season by any definition. The pitching is projected to be among the best in the league, but the hitting is predictably awful. Let’s see how the season turns out!
The Philadelphia Coke is a bad team, but not a historically bad team yet. Somehow, the team’s pitching is only 6th out of 12 in ERA. I have no idea how this is possible, but I decided to change the team’s ballpark and move them to the pitcher-friendliest park in the league: historic Kokernot Field in Alpine, TX. Hopefully this change will play to the strengths of this team.
Despite the poor record, the Coke are a major draw. Their attendance is just over 400 per game. While that doesn’t seem like much, it is by far the highest in the league. The Santa Fe Fuego are last with 235 fans per game.
Notable Win: 1-0 vs Garden City, June 9
This win pushed the Coke above .500 for the only time all season, to a staggering 2-1. They won this game despite managing only two hits. Shortstop Phil Coke doubled in the 8th inning, then, after advancing on a groundout, scored on an error by Garden City’s first baseman. It was the only run of the game.
Notable Loss: 10-1 vs White Sands, June 18
If it wasn’t for the 9 unearned runs the Pupfish scored in the 4th inning, this game could have gone the Coke’s way. Unfortunately, they managed only two hits, both by catcher Phil Coke, whose -0.3 WAR is the best among all starters on the team. It was the 7th game the Coke lost in a row, and the second straight by a 10-1 score.
The change in venue didn’t help the Coke at all. Their 16-35 record is the worst in the Pecos League, and their .147 batting average is last in the league. Surprisingly, the team ERA is still 6th despite moving to a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark. The team’s opening day starter, Phil Coke, is 0-7 with a 6.75 ERA. The pitching should be the strength of this team, but it certainly has not shown itself to be. While the bullpen is 1st in ERA by a wide margin, the starting pitching is 8th out of 12. My guess is that the starters are wearing themselves out. It seems that Coke is most effective in small doses. I decided to make a few changes to the team, maxing out the starters at 50 pitches, and converting 2 backup position players to relievers. Hopefully this can win a few games for the Coke.
Remember the Ruidoso Osos? Before the season, they were projected for 35 wins. Well, two months into the season, they already have 30 wins, and they’re tied for first in their division thanks to pitcher Luis “Not that Luis Valbuena” Valbuena and his 2.08 ERA. Maybe the preseason predictions don’t mean anything after all.
Notable Win: 11-3 at Garden City, July 13
The offense came out of nowhere this game, scoring a season-high 11 runs thanks to 13 hits. Left fielder Phil Coke hit a three-run homer to cap off a six run 8th inning against the Wind (seriously). The team’s 11 runs equaled the number of runs they scored in the previous 10 games.
Notable Loss: 2-0 at California City, July 6th
This was the 4th consecutive game for the Coke in which they failed to score a run, and this one took 12 innings. They only managed 3 hits, all of them doubles. But the first 5 Cokes were able to keep California City scoreless until Mike McClellan (a real player!) hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th.
It was the Coke’s best month thus far by winning percentage, but they remain the worst team in the Pecos League by three and a half games. The team ERA has improved to 4th in the league, but it’s impossible to win games when you bat .139 as a team. The team’s top two starting pitchers, Phil Coke and Phil Coke, are a combined 0-21. Of the team’s 26 wins, 23 have come from the bullpen, an unsurprising fact given that their starters rarely go the required five innings. In games in which the starter managed a no-decision, the Coke are 23-13. I’ve decided to lower the pitch limit to 35 and ride with the bullpen. It’s time to go full Tampa Bay Rays.
Notable Win: 2-1 vs Garden City, August 19
The Coke managed to score two runs and win this game, despite only having one hit. It came on a go-ahead home run in the 6th inning by center fielder Phil Coke, his 6th of the year. Four days later, he would hit two homers in an 11-6 win in Santa Fe. The Coke’s other run in this game came after a thrilling sequence of two consecutive HBPs followed by two consecutive sacrifice flies. They were the only other baserunners for the team all game.
Notable Loss: 1-0 vs Tucson, August 7
Another 1-0 heartbreaker in extras, this time in 11 innings. This was also one of the only times all year that the Coke managed to outhit their opponents, managing five hits to just four for the Saguaros. The lone run of the game came in the top of the 11th when center fielder Jaquese Moore (another real player!) hit a two-out home run after falling into an 0-2 hole. In 2017, his senior season at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Moore didn’t hit a single homer. In the bottom of the 11th, the Coke loaded the bases with no outs, but unfortunately were not able to score pinch hitter Phil Coke from third.
The Coke picked up 10 more wins in the month of September, but they unfortunately have not been able to gain any ground in the standings. Team ERA is now up to second in the league, but it doesn’t matter; the team was shut out 15 times this month. Amazingly, the team has not been no-hit all season. The shorter workloads have seemed to help the starting pitching, though, as #1 starter Phil Coke had an ERA of 0.55 during the month.
The most surprising and strange thing about the Pecos League is the absurd number of players getting hit by pitches. Due to the lack of command these pitchers have, batters are getting plunked at a rate unheard of at the major league level. The 2008 Indians hold the distinction for most times getting hit in the modern era, with 103. With 2 months remaining, half of the league’s 12 teams have eclipsed that mark, including the Coke with 120.
No player has been hit by more pitches than Kenneth Fudge, best known for this amazing bat flip in 2016. In just 106 games, Fudge has been hit 61 times, over twice as many as any other player. His high rating in the category comes from his 2017 season in the Pecos League, in which Fudge was hit by 47 pitches in just 56 games (sidebar, The Baseball Cube and the Pecos League website list Fudge as having been hit by 47 pitches in 2017, whereas Baseball-Reference only lists 10. While I have no idea where the discrepancy comes from, I choose to use the one that better fits my narrative.) In a Pecos League where the headlines have been dominated by Phil Coke, Kenneth Fudge has become a superstar, or at the very least an oddity, thanks to his one unique skill.
Speaking of Phil Coke,
Notable Win: 1-0 vs Alpine, September 10
Finally, the Coke were able to win a marathon game. This one lasted 13 innings and had a total of nine hits before the team was able to pull it out. The Coke finally won the game on an error by Cowboys first baseman Brian Fortier following a single and two HBPs. Six pitchers combined for the shutout, with none throwing more than 40 pitches.
Notable Loss: 1-0 at Trinidad, September 7
One of four 1-0 losses for the Coke in September, it took 12 innings for the Triggers to come out on top. The Coke managed to outhit Trinidad 6-5, but the game was decided on a walk-off home run by Mark Krueger. Trinidad pitcher Dallas Gibson struck out 15 Coke batters in 11 shutout innings.
The Coke struggled in the month of October, winning only a quarter of their games. The team’s on-base percentage is a lowly .220, and they were shut out 15 more times this month. Their best hitter has been right fielder Phil Coke, whose 11 home runs and 50 OPS+ lead the team. The team’s fielding has been similarly miserable. Ultimate zone rating, or UZR, is a measure of how many runs above or below average a player or team is on defense. Through five months, the Coke have a UZR of -187. Their atrocious fielding brings the average down so much that all 11 other teams in the league have positive UZR.
Notable Win: 1-0 vs California City, October 22
It was the first of two consecutive 1-0 wins for the Coke against the first-place Whiptails. In both games, the Coke were outhit by their opponent 4-3 but were still able to come away with the win. The only run of the game came on a solo home run by shortstop Phil Coke, who also made a pair of errors that were nearly costly.
Notable Loss: 11-0 at Roswell, October 25th
This was the worst loss the Coke suffered all season. Starting pitcher Phil Coke dropped to 0-13 after allowing six runs in the second inning. Second baseman Phil Coke had two doubles and a single in the game, but they were his team’s only three hits. The fine performance raised his season batting average to .131. Following the game, manager Phil Coke remarked to the press, “Everyone’s trying too hard. If we learn to relax, everything will be fine.” I’m not in the clubhouse, but I can guarantee that the problem with this team isn’t too much effort.
The Coke finished the season in a slump, closing the season on a 13-game losing streak. It was a disappointing end to a season that once had so much promise. They went 46-116, the worst record in the league, but a 44-win improvement over what they were able to accomplish in the MLB.
Elsewhere in the league, Trinidad Triggers star Kenneth Fudge finished the season with 89 HBPs, shattering Ron Hunt’s single-season record of 50. Fudge had only 110 hits and 59 walks all season. The Ruidoso Osos finished their season in second place at 85-77, beating their projection by a staggering 50 wins.
Notable Win: 3-2 vs Ruidoso, November 14
It was the final game the Coke won all year, and it took some late-game heroics. With his team down 2-1 in the 7th inning, catcher Phil Coke hit a two-run homer to right field to put his team on top. Two innings later, closer Phil Coke nailed down his league-leading 30th and final save of the season. It was the last thing the fans had to cheer for all season.
Notable Loss: 3-0 @ California City, November 27
Coming into the month of November, the one thing the Coke could hang their hat on was the fact that they hadn’t been no-hit all season. Despite their .128 batting average, they had managed to get a hit in every single one of their games. That changed in the last month, however, as the Coke were no-hit three times. The team’s third and final no-hitter came on the penultimate day of the season at the hands of Jordan Cummings and the league champion Whiptails. Cummings pitched brilliantly, striking out 12 batters and only walking one. But what’s most impressive about this game? It was the only one Cummings started all season! He pitched 106 times out of the bullpen, striking out a league-leading 335 batters in 226.2 innings. And the one game he did start was the best-pitched game by any pitcher all season. The previous night, Cummings had pitched two perfect innings of relief against the Coke, picking up the win in that game as well.
The only pitcher in history to pitch 200 innings while making 1 or fewer starts was Mike Marshall in 1974. And Marshall’s ERA+ that year was 141, compared to Cummings’ below-average 97. It was a bizarre and incredible season culminating in a night to remember for Cummings, and a night to forget for the floundering Philadelphia Coke.
So now we know a team of 25 Phil Cokes would be absolutely terrible, even in the worst professional baseball league in America. Here is a recap of the season for the team.
Runs Scored: 228
Games With 0 Runs: 74
Batting Average: .128
Slugging Percentage: .219
Home Runs: 77 (Not last in the league)
Stolen Bases: 2
Intentional Walks: 1
Opponent OPS: .596
HR Allowed: 72
Batter WAR: -47.8
Pitcher WAR: 42.1
Attendance/Game: 373 (1st)