Warning: This is not a prognostication piece by me. This is more of a history lesson than anything else. Do not take it as anything more than that.
Chris Coghlan’s top comps by PECOTA are Alex Ochoa (ick), Brent Brede (who?), Tommy Dunbar (who again?), and John Kruk (I guess that’s a good thing, if he doesn’t turn to broadcasting later on). But recently, as I was thinking about comps for the current season struggles of Coghlan, a name popped into my head that I don’t think anyone wants to see. This comp does not imply that Coghlan’s career will go the same way, but rather serves as yet another cautionary tale: even young players who get off to great starts don’t necessarily pan out.
Coghlan, 2009 (age 24): 565 PA, .321/.390/.460, .372 wOBA
Jeremy Hermida, 2007 (age 23): 484 PA, .296/.369/.501, .372 wOBA
Coghlan, 2010: 171 PA, .210/.260/.268, .246 wOBA
Hermida, 2008: 171 PA, .269/.316/.450, .332 wOBA
I know, even uttering the comparison between Coghlan and former top prospect Hermida seems sacrilegeous. But of course, we know that even a guy who can reach a .372 wOBA in his age 23 season can falter in the big leagues. So is there anything that those two have in common that we should be concerned about?
One major difference between Hermida and Coghlan is their tendency to strike out. Even in Hermida’s excellent 2007 season, he struck out 21.8% of the time. In 2009, Coghlan struck out in just 13.7% of his PA. However, in 2010, Coghlan’s strikeout rates have jumped up to Hermida-level:
Coghlan, 2010: 22.2%
Hermida, career: 22.3%
Admittedly, Coghlan’s “change” has come in just over 170 PA, so there is a small sample size caveat. However, strikeout rates can stabilize fairly quickly; I believe Pizza Cutter’s old MVN study had strikeout rates being stable as early as 200 or 250 PA.
The reasoning behind Coghlan’s strikeouts are fairly different than the one for Hermida. While Hermida was a patient hitter who swung at fewer pitches and was struggling with contact, Coghlan’s 2010 strikeouts are likely a result of more hacking outside the zone.
Coghlan, 2010: 30.0% O-Swing%, 47.0% Swing%, 82.6% Contact%
Hermida, career: 23.6% O-Swing%, 42.8% Swing%, 78.7% Contact%
In that respect, the two players have varied skillsets leading to similar problems. You have to figure that Coghlan’s plate discipline should return to normal, as he was always known as a patient hitter in the minors. His better contact capabilities, combined with that regression, should leave him less susceptible to the strikeout problems Hermida has.
The strikeout issue does affect some other differences between the two. Hermida needed a career .319 BABIP just to manager a meager .263 batting average. If Coghlan can avoid the strikeout issues, he can keep his average closer to .300, which is a must given his lack of power. Hermida never displayed great power, but his edge over Coghlan is in routinely reaching double-digit home runs and posting an ISO around .150. Coghlan is more of a line drive hitter with mediocre gap power and poor home run power, so it is not likely that he’ll put up more than a .140 ISO often in his career.
Both players have generally been known as patient in their minor league careers, and their walk rates have reflected that so far at the big league level. Coghlan has struggled early this year to put up an effective walk rate due to his aforementioned hacking problems, but in 2009 he walked unintentionally in 9.1% of his PA, right around the league average. Hermida has always displayed patience, but patience at the plate alone cannot bring enough value to make up for a lack of power or average at the corner outfield positions.
The other major similarity that we’ve seen so far is actually a downside. Neither player has impressed initially in the outfield. Neither Coghlan nor Hermida are capable of playing center field, and both players have come off poor using advanced defensive metrics. The one benefit here for Coghlan is that his only season in the outfield was his first year in a long time playing the position, so it is expected that he would struggle to start. The struggles were visible, as Coghlan often took bad jumps and allowed balls to fall because of these jumps. However, Hermida did this constantly and did not have Coghlan’s speed and athleticism to make up for these poor reads. Hermida is what he is now on defense, a below average defender at an easier position. Coghlan may yet improve, and going forward it is likely that he will be moved to second base, a defensive premium position.
Should we be worried?
The only concern I have about Coghlan right now is the strikeouts. If he can stop hacking at pitches out of the zone, those will fall back down to a normal level and, accompanied by a regression in BABIP, put Coghlan’s offensive value back close to his preseason projection from CHONE (.357 wOBA). However, if he cannot overcome this early-season problem, Coghlan could be a weaker version of Hermida, and that’s something no Marlins fan wants to see.