Two sides of Chris Coghlan’s career


I find this comparison between two completely different players very intriguing.

Chris Coghlan, 2009565.321.390.460.372
Chris Coghlan, 2010-11586.259.326.384.315

Chris Coghlan is a completely different player now than he was two seasons ago, when he won the Rookie of the Year award. In almost the exact same sample size, Coghlan has displayed almost different “halves” of himself, and Marlins fans can only be left wondering which side of the two is real.

However, if we look into Coghlan further, we can seen the definite differences, and perhaps more importantly the similarities, between his Rookie of the Year self and his current incarnation and see whether there is hope for improvement. Where has Coghlan been consistent and where has he been different than before? Let’s start with some peripherals.

Coghlan, 200913.69.40.432.139.365
Coghlan, 2010-1120.18.40.485.125.316

There are two obvious areas of problem that you can see from these peripherals. The one that sticks out the most perhaps is the BABIP; Coghlan’s amazing rookie season, and in particular his two-month stretch of excellence late in the season, was fueled by an abnormally high BABIP. Of course, one might also say that Coghlan’s current two-year BABIP is low, seeing as if he was projected before the season to hit .335 on balls in play by ZiPS prior to this season. ZiPS’s rest-of-season projection has him hitting .321 on balls in play for the rest of the year, while PECOTA sees a .328 mark the rest of the way. His in-season batted ball profile suggests a BABIP of .331 based on xBABIP.

Oddly enough, these numbers seem to be ones that best fit his minor league profile. Much like Gaby Sanchez, Coghlan never hit absurdly well on balls in play in the minors, depending more on his skilled plate discipline to attain his career .298/.388/.451 minor league slash line. Coghlan owns a career minor league BABIP of .324, and in neither his 2007 (.308 BABIP) nor his 2008 (.332) full seasons did he really vary greatly from that total. Only in his short 2009 season in Triple-A (.344/.418/.552, .357 BABIP in 110 PA) did he do particularly well on balls in play. So a BABIP closer to the .320 to .330 range is what we should be expecting from Coghlan anyway.

We have an idea of what Coghlan’s BABIP should be, and it should trend a bit more upwards in the near future. What is concerning about Coghlan’s play after his rookie season is the noticeable increase in strikeouts since then. Why has Coghlan been whiffing more often in recent seasons? Let’s take a look at some plate discipline results based on MLB Gameday data provided by StatCorner.

CoghlanPitches/PASwing%Whiff%Called Strike%

The clear problem as far as I can see is Coghlan’s problem with making contact. He is swinging more often but seeing the same number of pitches per plate appearance, but the problem is that he is making contact on three percent fewer pitches than in his 2009 season. It seems self-evident that if Coghlan is swinging more often and making contact on fewer pitches, he is more than making up for the drop in called strikes as a result of these extra swings, which could contribute to his increase in strikeouts.

As we’ve mentioned countless times with regards to Emilio Bonifacio, a lack of contact for a player like Coghlan is very detrimental to his game. Strikeouts and walks hold far more importance for a player with as little power as Coghlan has. The lack of power means that his plate discipline and AVG/OBP Will Carry his offensive value, and at his current level of production, it will be increasingly difficult to manage keeping him in the lineup, particularly at the top of the order.

Defense: the wild card

The one thing Coghlan currently has going for him is that his defense has rated well in center field so far by the statistics. I don’t need to tell you that the stats this early into the season are not going to be all that telling of Coghlan’s true talent of even his current performance. However, this sign is, if anything, a positive. The Marlins have to be happy that the early returns, not only from the stats but from the fans’ eyes, are positive on Coghlan’s defense in center field. If he can continue to put up above average or average numbers in center field, the Marlins would accept production at the level we have seen from the last two years from him. If, however, he turns out to be a problem in center field as we initially expected, he will have nothing to fall back on. If his offense does not improve, his defense will have to stick for him to remain a major league starter.