Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

chris coghlan cubsComing into the season, one could have argued that Chris Coghlan might have been the easiest player to replace on the Cubs’ roster.

ZiPS projected Coghlan as a 0.0 WAR player with a .247/.318/.380/.698 slash line in 430 plate appearances.

Steamer pegged him for a .249/.319/.371/.691 slash in 433 PA and a 0.2 WAR.

Coghlan entered today slashing .278/.347/.451/.798, with a .350 wOBA and a 122 wRC+ in 480 career PA since joining the Cubs on May 4, 2014. That’s a quality slash line for a player trying to hold on to a starting job while prospects try to push for call-ups with their play at the minor league levels.

Coghlan, who will turn 30 on June 18, was great as a rookie in 2009, but was pretty much a non-factor with the Marlins from 2010 to 2013. He racked up 1,017 plate appearances in those four years and slashed .242/.307/.352/.659 with a subpar .293 wOBA and a 79 wRC+.

Beyond that, what stands out during Coghlan’s years of struggling were his batted ball rates. During those seasons, 51.5 percent of the balls he hit were ground balls. His line drive rate was 20.8 percent and his fly ball rate was 27.7 percent.

Ground balls turn into outs with more frequency than line drives, and they don’t turn into extra bases at nearly the same rate as fly balls. Coghlan was making plenty of outs in those seasons, and wasn’t hitting for much power.

Things have changed for Coghlan — especially in regard to batted ball rates — since joining the Cubs, albeit in 480 plate appearances.

Coghlan’s ground ball percentage has dipped 9.1 percentage points to 42.4 percent. His line drive rate climbed 4.1 percentage points to 24.9 percent. And his fly ball rate has inched upward 4.9 percent to 32.6 percent.

The change in batted ball results, as well as some better fortune, have helped Coghlan’s BABIP go from .289 during that rough stretch in Miami to .329 in Chicago.

(You can check out a primer on batted ball rates here, via FanGraphs, and in a two-part series here and here from Michael.)

It is easy to dismiss Coghlan re-establishing himself as a respectable hitter as a blip. And it might be just that.

However, it is fair to ask whether or not Coghlan is re-discovering something what helped him win the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year award, especially now that he’s over the many injuries he suffered in the intervening years.

His Rookie of the Year season featured a .321/.390/.460/.850 slash line, a 9.4 percent walk rate and a 13.6 percent strikeout rate and a career-best .365 BABIP. His line drive rate was a respectable 22.5 percent. His fly ball rate was 29.9 percent and his ground ball rate was 47.6 percent over the course of a 565 plate appearance season.

Over at BP Wrigleyville, Sahadev Sharma got some interesting quotes from Coghlan in an informative piece.

Among the many interesting nuggets was this from Cubs hitting coach John Mallee on Coghlan working on his swing path.

‘They were able get Chris back to the feel of what he had when he was younger and the success that he had,’ Mallee said. ‘He wanted to be able to get more lift on balls down and try to drive the balls there. He’s always handled balls up very well and now he handles the ones that are down too.’

You can read the rest here.

So, while Coghlan has 1,017 plate appearances in which he was a subpar offensive player from 2010-13, he also has 1,028 plate appearances in which he has shown he can be a more than serviceable outfielder.

So, which guy are we getting moving forward?

Maybe we’ll find out if Coghlan can piece together his first season with at least 500 plate appearances since 2009.

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