Chris Coghlan is a former Rookie of the Year. That probably surprises some of you now that you remember he won it back in 2009 ahead of several at least equally deserving and most likely much more deserving players such as Randy Wells (3.2 WAR in 165.3 IP), J.A. Happ (2.93 ERA in 166 IP), TommyHanson (2.7 WAR in 127.7 IP), and of course Andrew McCutchen, who enjoyed a 3.4 WAR season that year, easily eclipsing Coghlan's 2.7 WAR in 72 fewer plate appearances.
Coghlan rode a .321 AVG to the award and honestly, no one really cares. He has failed to live up to whatever expectations that award bestows upon a guy with a whopping -1.4 WAR in the subsequent four seasons before a solid 2.3 WAR with the Cubs last year. His presence back on the radar is due at least in part to last year's flourish, but mostly due to the fact that with eight home runs he is just one away from tying his career-high.
He set that career-high back in the Rookie of the Year campaign and did so in 565 PA, he tied it last year in 432 PA. His eight homers this year have come in just 211 PA. Coghlan has experienced a shift in his approach that is no doubt contributing to the relative power surge. His 9% HR/FB rate last year was his first time north of 7%. This year he's up at 14%, well above the 11% league average, but far from egregious, especially when accompanied by a change in the batted ball profile.
Coghlan has become an extreme pull hitter for the first time in his career with a 45% pull rate. He's been north of 40% just two other times in his career (2011, 2013). Additionally, his 38% flyball rate is also a career-high, surpassing his previous high of 32%, set in 2011 and reached against last year. He hasn't just sold out for power, either, as his 17% strikeout rate is a three-year low.
Initially I was thinking Coghlan might have taken the Marlon Byrd route to this power surge, but I was pleased to see his strikeout rate was right in line with his career mark. Byrd, you may recall, drastically altered his approach to sell out for power which has netted him back-to-back 20+ HR seasons and 10 already this year.
Through the first 11 seasons of his career, Byrd had 82 HRs in 4234 PA (11 per 600 PA) with a 17% K rate. Since the start of 2013, he has 49 HRs in 1220 PA (24 per 600 PA) with a 27% K rate. His flyball rate jumped from 32% to 38% and his HR/FB rate doubled from 8% to 16%. There is nothing wrong with this approach as it has continued to deliver the power, but it has started to take its toll on Byrd's batting average. He hit .291 in 2013, but he's down to .253 since the start of 2014 (and just .212 this year).
Coghlan has been a .271 hitter for his career and even with the added flyballs in his profile, he can maintain that level even with the newly discovered power. He hit .283 in 432 PA last year. He is down to .251 this year, but he has a .217 BABIP on grounders, well off the .233 league mark and .235 career mark for Coghlan himself.
Our rest of season projections only give him another 5 HRs in another 218 PA with a .267 AVG. I think the power projection is light by a couple of homers and the .267 AVG is conservative. I think he could realistically log another 8 HRs if he gets another 210-225 PA with a .280 AVG. The real question for me is that playing time piece.
He and Chris Denorfia are a perfect platoon pair and Coghlan is on the strong side, but the Cubs are so flush with talent that both could be out some playing time if these prospects continue to deliver upon arrival. It's not impossible imagine Javier Baez clicking the second time around and jumbling the infield with Kris Bryant moving to the outfield as a result and joining Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler.
On the other hand, Baez still strikes out a lot (though he deserves credit for cutting it from 30% to 25%), Soler is already on the DL with an injury, and Fowler has not been a model of health throughout his career (128 gms/season in his six full seasons). In other words, we'll worry about a playing time loss for Coghlan when it actually comes to fruition. Until then, enjoy the production.