Coghlan making Maybin decision look worse


The following two players put up these numbers during their time as Florida Marlins through 2010 (numbers courtesy of Baseball-Reference). The numbers involved are runs above average components of Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement (rWAR). Can you guess which one is which?

Player Bat* Baserunning Def Pos rWAR
Player 1 +16 +2 -3 -10 3.1
Player 2 -6 +4 +4 +2 2.0

*Batting runs include runs involved with avoiding double plays and reaching on error

Knowing that the two players involved were Chris Coghlan and Cameron Maybin, it should be obvious that Player 1 is Coghlan and Player 2 is Maybin. What should not be obvious via from an initial look is the slight difference between the two players; according to rWAR, Coghlan rated as only one win better than Maybin through the 2010 season. This is especially interesting when you consider the following additional numbers.

Player PA Replacement
Coghlan 965 26
Maybin 557 16

What do these numbers mean? It essentially said that the Marlins got only one more win above replacement out of Coghlan, but that win almost entirely tied to playing time and not performance. When you take a look at both players, they produced WAR at very similar rates; through 2010, Coghlan averaged 1.9 WAR per 600 PA, while Maybin averaged 2.1 WAR per that same time period. It’s worth noting also that FanGraphs’ WAR shows a similar difference primarily based on replacement runs and playing time, not performance.

This comparison does make you ponder one question: why were the Marlins so willing to trade Maybin and so willing to dub Coghlan the center fielder of the future when both players apparently were similar?

The RoY Effect

Clearly part of the reason why the Marlins preferred Coghlan over Maybin is the fact that Coghlan had done something before, whereas Maybin had been largely unproven over parts of three seasons. The biggest reason why the Fish were so patient with Coghlan was that his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009 was still fresh in their minds. Neither player distinguished himself from the other during their early season slumps.

Player PA AVG OBP SLG
Coghlan 201 .227 .276 .292
Maybin 183 .230 .301 .352

Even among those two awful numbers, Maybin was performing slightly better than Coghlan. Yet another week passed and it was Maybin who was demoted. Coghlan had had a .520/.571/.800 start to his June, a torrid start to what would end up being a torrid month for him before an average July and the knee injury put him out for the rest of the season.

If the Marlins were planning on demoting one of the two players, it would be understandable that the guy on the hot streak would continue on in the majors. But part of the reason why the Fish were likely patient enough to watch Coghlan struggle so much was that they saw him hit so well the season before. This is totally understandable; in certain situations, you have to go with the known quantity, even if you know (as I and many other Marlins fans knew) that Coghlan could not maintain the ridiculous pace he put up in late 2009.

Defense and other intangible effects

One of the other reasons why the Marlins ignored the production of Maybin was that his work was far more intangible. Both players were decent on the basepaths, but Maybin clearly outshined Coghlan with his aggressive playstyle. Whenever he was on base and Hanley Ramirez or another one of the middle-of-the-lineup players got a base hit, you almost could feel that Maybin was going to stretch his advancement out to third base with his speed. Coghlan’s play on the bases was more subtle, but still visible, as prior to this season he had proven himself to be a pretty smart baserunner.

Perhaps the biggest “intangible” (not easily visible by statistics) that Maybin had over Coghlan was his defense. The Fans thought otherwise about Maybin’s defensive play, but I think the majority of us would agree that Cameron Maybin was a significant defensive upgrade over Chris Coghlan. TotalZone had him as a +4 run defender in his time in Florida, whereas Coghlan was rated as a -3 defender before 2011. Keep in mind that not only did Maybin rate better as a defender, but he did so at a more difficult and valuable position.

Why, then, did the Marlins still give up on Maybin and hold such confidence in Coghlan? Well, it is clear that the Marlins brass in the front office have great faith in Coghlan’s ability to adapt defensively based on his on-the-fly work in left field. The stats and the eyes of many casual observers saw a player who slowly improving but still had much to learn about playing the outfield, while looking at Maybin would easily tell the story of a player who had the tools to be a great defender but did not yet have the instincts to do so. The Marlins perhaps did not consider the extent of the gap between the two defenders to start with, but were confident that Coghlan could close said gap quickly. Many others disagreed, especially given that Coghlan was coming off a knee injury.

The skillset

The most obvious aspect of the difference between the two was their hitting, and in particular the major problem Maybin had with strikeouts. That was perhaps the most visible aspect of his game, and it may have been a strong indicator for the Marlins of future problems at the plate. This may have ultimately been the best reason for the Marlins to give up on Maybin, as his strikeout problems are significant enough that they may keep him from ever being an effective player in the majors. His alarming strikeout rate, combined with his average at best power and walk rates, make him too dependent on balls in play to be consistently successful in the majors.

Coghlan, on the other hand, displyed the sort of strong skillset that a power-light player had to show. He had a relatively low strikeout rate combined with a solid walk rate to go along with his unsustainable BABIP. If you had to choose a plate approach, it would be his. Unfortunately, that walk rate has dropped as a result of an ever-increasing swing rate, something that has marginalized his ability to get on base.

Not gloom and doom yet

Before you start thinking that I am insinuating that Coghlan is done as a major leaguer, take a look at these numbers.

Coghlan K% BB% XB/H ISO BABIP
2011 16.4 7.4 0.597 .138 .263
Career 16.6 8.6 0.463 .131 .332

Right now, it’s clear Coghlan has a simple problem with BABIP. Sure, it could appear as if he “fixed” the issue in the minors, but it’s much more likely that he simply is experiencing a slump and will regress in due time. A lot can happen even within 300 PA, and Coghlan probably just needs his luck to go up. The only negative peripheral is his declining walk rate, but everything else can be solidly explained by the fact that he just isn’t getting singles like he used to. He may yet turn out just fine, but the Marlins may ultimately never get the player they thought they had after his Rookie of the Year season.

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Tags: Cameron Maybin Chris Coghlan Miami Marlins

  • http://www.thajackal.com Angel Espino

    Maybin sucked while here, and sucks in a padres uniform… The guy isn’t a real major leaguer, and never will be.

    Coghlan I feel bad for the front office has ruined this kid, and I mean that… It’s their fault his got hurt again this year, and was struggling…. Who’s dumb idea was it to put him in CF after knee surgery? I mean seriously fire that asshole who made that call.

    • Michael Jong

      Angel,

      But look at the numbers I posted in my blog post. Say what you will about what you think Maybin provided, but Coghlan so far has been just as good, even with the Rookie of the Year season. Remember, Coghlan’s bad defense in left field at the start of his career still counts too, whether or not it was more the fault of the team’s management.

      As for this year, I’m fairly certain Coghlan’s just had an extended run of bad luck, but he also isn’t the same guy we saw in 2009, when he was extremely lucky too. But for his defense, I agree with you that putting absolute faith in a player coming off of knee surgery to handle a tougher position when he never handled his old position particularly well was a bad idea. If the knee hindered Coghlan’s offense as well, the egg will only further be on the face of the front office and the coaches.

  • http://www.thajackal.com Angel Espino

    Chris is a very talented 2b, and it’s his natural position… This front office is in danger of actually destroying this kids career with how they are handling him. If I was him I would never have agreed to move to CF after he just had knee surgery. But being he’s young, and trying to impress the boss I’m sure he said SURE right away. Now look he’s hurt again. I’m telling you they don’t need infante because infante is terrible! Next year move Chris to 2b, and allow him to fully heal I would shut him down until he’s fully healed, and ready to play 2b. NOT CF.

    I mean no more butcher jobs with these kids please!
    Chris is a fine hitter he just needs a position which isn’t going to kill his knee, and I’m telling you the reason for his slump was he was running to much in CF, and his knee wasn’t there.

    A Healthy Knee, and hips are very important in a hitters being able to have success. You mess up his knee, and he’s never going to be the same.

    • Michael Jong

      Angel,

      You have to wonder, however, why the Marlins are so adamant about keeping him out of the infield. I have wondered this myself; it’s as if the team has labeled him an outfielder for whatever reason. Maybe there’s something that we don’t know about his ability to play in the infield. I’m in agreement with you, I thought the right move was to plug Coghlan at second base and have him re-learn the position after a few seasons in the outfield, but the front office made the odd move of making a career middle infielder who wasn’t more than an average corner outfielder move to the tougher center field.

      I’m not sure how much the knee inflammation is affecting his hitting. I imagine it might be, but his peripherals aren’t all that different than his career numbers. You’d think he would be striking out more or something with his knee problems, but that K% is exactly the same as his career mark. He may just have some bad luck on him, something that more time at the plate would have fixed. The knee right now is a concern, but I think he’ll be fine at the plate in the end, but he’ll never be the 2009 Coghlan. That was way over his head.