The Chicago Cubs' True All-Star: Is Chris Coghlan For Real?

The Chicago Cubs' True All-Star: Is Chris Coghlan For Real?

First, let's establish how good Chris Coghlan has been for the Cubs this season.

  • He is hitting .302/.382/.498 for the year.
  • That's AFTER an absolutely dreadful May, during which time he hit .147/.194/.147 over 37 plate appearances in 19 games.
  • Since June 1, he's hit .333/.416/.567 across nearly 200 PA in 56 games.
  • Since July 1, he's hit .402/.479/.667.
  • Yes. You read that right. Chris Coghlan is hitting over .400 in his last 120 plate appearances, going all the way back to July 1.
  • He is handsome.
  • He fills a need for this team: outfield.
  • And at age 29, he's an experienced veteran. Should the Cubs choose to retain him long-term, perhaps he could tell the new guys what it's like to win Rookie of the Year at age 24, then fall off the map completely, then be picked back up again.

So okay, hopefully I've convinced you that the dude is better than bad this year.

Question number next is, can he keep this up or is this bubble soon to burst?

As is often the case with questions like these, the appropriate answer in my view is, "kind of." Coghlan won't hit .300/.400/.500 for the next year, but I do think he's effectively reestablished himself as a useful major league player, and perhaps even a guy worthy of a spot in a starting lineup on a competitive team.

There are, however, reasons for doubt and the first one is the easiest to spot: Coghlan is sporting an elevated .346 BABIP so far this season. That said, there's evidence that Coghlan can actually sustain a high BABIP; before this season his BABIP was .317, and in his first three years with the league it was .332.

But even if we take that rate from earlier in his career to be his true talent, we have to shave 10 to 15 points off his line items right now. If you think his overall career rate is his true talent, shave off another 10 to 15 points.

Next, let's talk about power -- which I have to admit is a statistic of his that confuses me. On the one hand, Coghlan has never really hit for power before, making me think this ain't for real. Dude has an ISO of .195 right now, which is highly good; before this season, his career ISO had been .120.

But we all know that power is the last tool a hitter realizes. And while three of Coghlan's home runs this season have been deemed by Hit Tracker to have been hit "just enough," the other three each traveled more than 400 feet. So while I don't think Coghlan goes all the way back to his powerless hitting days, I don't think a .195 ISO is sustainable for him either.

Finally, let's talk about plate approach. Coghlan has struck out in about 16 percent of his plate appearances so far this season, which is actually right in line with his career rate. His walk rate, however, is higher than before -- up to 11 percent so far this year, a very nice number.

I think that's more than a blip of randomness; since Coghlan is showing more power, pitchers are more likely to nibble around the edges of the strike zone when facing him. And he's able to take advantage, given his proven eye at the plate.

So how do we put this all together? The two hitting projection systems at FanGraphs have Coghlan for about .260/.330/.400 the rest of the way. I'm willing to go a little higher than that: I think Coghlan will hit around .280/.345/.445 for the next year. For a team needing some stopgap solutions in the outfield, this former Rookie of the Year is turning out to be a perfect fit.

@ajwalsh08

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