In Chris Coghlan, Cubs Show One Team’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

Chris Coghlan has been a nice story for the Cubs. He is further proof of this front office’s ability to find value off the scrap heap as they did in Boston, San Diego and here in Chicago. He is also an example of some flawed thinking on my part.

First, let me pat myself on the back here since I argued that Coghlan should have made the roster at the start of 2014 before his breakout last year. My argument hinged on his injury history and I used batted-ball distance to show one area in which Coghlan had been affected. Those numbers did not dramatically improve for Coghlan in 2014 with a 271.5-foot average that was just a touch longer than his average in 2011, an absolutely awful year for him. But that wasn’t why I thought he was poised for massive regression.

Human beings look for patterns, and we often find them in places where there are none. Again, some bias crept in with suspicions of position player breakouts in their late twenties or later. Add into it the fact that the story matched up so nicely with Nate Schierholtz.

The Cubs land a player who’s been tossed aside following injury-riddled down seasons. Both players experienced a nice boost in power moving from extremely (or at least solidly) pitcher-friendly ballparks to Wrigley (usually about neutral by the time the season is done). Schierholtz, of course, fell flat on his face in 2014 after his solid 2013, which helped open the door for Coghlan’s emergence last year. My mind began to equate the two and I just had a sinking feeling of “here we go again,” counting on Coghlan to repeat his surprise 2014.

This kind of thinking is inherently flawed, of course, because Nate Schierholtz has nothing to do with how Chris Coghlan is going to perform in 2015. Instead, it is possible that health and a new approach have made Coghlan a new player, or perhaps the old player that won Rookie of the Year in 2009.

A combination of finally being healthy and the move to a more hitter-friendly environment could have been the cause of a career-high ISO of  .169 in 2014 (and a ridiculous .391 right now). He also had a higher HR/FB% than ever in his career at 9.4% in 2014. That is sometimes considered a luck indicator for hitters, but since it was not out of line with the 7.1% he put up in 2009 and 2011 while playing in Miami it seems like a reasonable rate (compared to his current 20% in 2015).

A change in approach might also be at play. Chris Coghlan is hitting more flyballs compared to groundballs as a member of the Chicago Cubs than he ever did as Marlin.  His GB/FB ratio was 1.36 which was the lowest rate of his career (not counting his current 0.60 in a ridiculously small sample size). He also had a career best LD% of 25.6 and it is pretty easy to see why Coghlan experienced a relative statistically power surge. Another interesting change in approach has been his swing rates.

Last year Coghlan swung at more pitches than he ever has in career. The good in this was that the increase was almost entirely at pitches in the strike zone. Coghlan’s walk and strikeout rates remained on the high end for his career, which, combined with a BABIP that increased to .337 (closer to his true talent level), produced Coghlan’s (re?)breakout season of 2014.

At this point in the season, Coghlan has swung less than he did in 2014 and has what would be career-best (and conveniently matching) 11.1% in K and BB rates. This is something to keep an eye on, because if he can keep those rates up with his power surge in Wrigley, Coghlan might be here longer than we initially thought.

Chris Coghlan has surprised me this year, and perhaps he shouldn’t have. It is a nice story to see a talented player who has suffered numerous injuries reemerge. And if he is taking another step forward the Cubs might have hit the lottery again with a late-20’s breakout player.


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