2015 Stats: 148 G, 503 PA, .250/.341/.443, .279 TAv, 2.3 WARP
What Happened in 2015: Chris Coghlan has qualified for the batting title twice in his seven-year career. The first time, in 2009, he won the Rookie of the Year award. The second time, in 2015, he was probably a better hitter and player—but he got promptly replaced.
Coghlan had been a pretty consistently dreadful defensive corner outfielder throughout his career, but was a perfectly competent one in 2015. He has only average speed, and isn’t great at reading fly balls or playing tough angles, but he has a good arm and learned to play more aggressively in 2015. Under Joe Maddon and his very aggressive baserunning paradigm, Coghlan also became a weapon on the bases, stealing 11 bags, getting caught just twice, and taking an extra 90 feet on teammates’ hits at a tremendous rate.
The most interesting changes Coghlan made, though, were at the plate. He continued a slow metamorphosis from the singles-hitting, hyper-aggressive 24-year-old who won that award as a rookie into a patient, powerful one with heretofore unexplored upside.
Coghlan swung at the first pitch at the lowest rate (given significant playing time) and saw his highest number of pitches per plate appearance since 2010. He chased pitches outside the strike zone at the lowest rate of his career. He also notched the highest fly-ball rate of his career, and (by far) the highest hard-hit rate, too. The combination led to 16 home runs, nearly double his previous career high. (Admittedly, the fact that he played so much more than he usually does helped, too.)
Maddon protected Coghlan from left-handers, which certainly helped, since Coghlan has a .210 True Average against them over the last three years. Still, Coghlan’s devotion to growing into a selective slugger was impressive, and the fact that it mostly worked is more impressive still.
The Year Ahead: Barring an injury to one of the incumbents, it seems clear that Coghlan won’t have a starting role on the 2016 Cubs. Instead, he has a chance to be something otherwise extinct in modern MLB: an above-average hitter off the bench. Coghlan should continue to be a versatile, effective asset, despite needing to find playing time in multiple places and at odd times.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Coghlan again plays some second base, as he did late in 2015. If he works a bit over the winter at first base, he could be the guy who spells Anthony Rizzo (who needs to play less often in 2016). Most of the time, though, he’ll be taking playing time from Jorge Soler against tough right-handed pitchers. The more Soler’s issues with pitch recognition against same-handed hurlers flare up, and the better Coghlan holds onto the positive changes he made in 2015, the more he’ll contribute to a team that appears ready to return to the playoffs.
There is, of course, some chance that Soler is dealt before spring training, opening a path to full-time work for Coghlan. There’s also a chance, rarely mentioned but real nonetheless, that Coghlan is traded. He’s due to make somewhere around $4 million in 2016, which provides little immediate impetus for the Cubs to move him, but he’s a very good value at such a small salary. That might make him appealing to a team with a constricted budget and a hole in the outfield. It’s unlikely anyone will offer enough to make moving Coghlan worth the Cubs’ time, but it’s worth keeping in mind. For the player, if not for the team, the best possibility is that Coghlan will land somewhere else soon, and get a chance to prove that his emergence over the last two years is a real indicator of things to come.
Lead photo courtesy of Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports