Despite posting nearly 6 combined wins above replacement for the Cubs in 2014 and ’15, Chris Coghlan always seemed to be underappreciated. Sure, his defense was never great and his traditional metrics didn’t jump out at you, but Cogs was a really good fourth outfielder — maybe the best in baseball — during his first go-round in Chicago.
I’m sure his struggles in Miami poisoned the waters and maybe there something about his attitude that fans didn’t like. Which is weird, because he’s pretty much the archetypal fan favorite when it comes to Cubs players. You know, kinda grindy and gutty without being too flashy. Those guys are normally viewed as way better than they actually are. Coghlan, though, he never reached the level of irrational loyalty afforded Mike Fontenot, Tony Campana, or Ryan Theriot.
Whatever the reason, no one seemed to mind when a guy with a .266/.343/.447 slash line, a .343 wOBA, and a 118 wRC+ (both of those latter marks fall in the “above average” category) was traded to Oakland during spring training to make room for Dexter Fowler on the roster. Surprised, yes, but mostly because of the turn of events that had brought the center fielder back to the Cubs after he had reportedly signed in Baltimore.
Surprise would also describe the reaction to the Cubs’ re-acquisition of Coghlan back in June when a rash of injuries left them thin in both the outfield and the left side of the plate. At the time, he was hitting .146/.215/.272 and his -1.7 fWAR was the worst in MLB. The Cubs had already polished this turd once, many reasoned, there’s no way they can get it to shine again.
For a while, that looked to be the case. In his first 19 appearances (9 starts) back in Chicago, Coghlan slashed .194/.356/.306 and was striking out in one-third of his plate appearances. The overall line had improved a little, but the strikeouts were definitely troubling. The walk rate was way up though, more than double what it had been in Oakland, which meant that the OBP was solid despite the anemic batting average.
Still, it didn’t seem that there’d be room on the roster once Fowler, Jorge Soler, and Tommy La Stella all returned to action. La Stella’s presence was particularly detrimental to Coghlan’s future, what with them both being lefties. It didn’t help that TLS played mostly second base, a position Coghlan had occupied when Joe Maddon was feeling particularly saucy and wanted to put more than three outfielders in the lineup.
When Coghlan himself was bitten by the injury bug, it was largely assumed that his days in Chicago were numbered. Until, that is, the Cubs activated him from the DL and optioned La Stella to the minors. Initial reaction to the move involved a lot of head-scratching, though it made perfect sense from a roster construction standpoint. La Stella had minor-league options while Coghlan did not. And while the former was performing better than the latter, neither individual was going to make or break the Cubs season in August.
La Stella’s demotion and subsequent three-week hiatus has obviously garnered a bulk of the attention, which means Coghlan’s recent production has once again been overlooked. It’s like the dueling magicians in The Prestige or something. Not that either of these guys is actually out to one-up or get back at the other, it’s just interesting how their career paths have been intertwined over the last few months.[beautifulquote align=”right”]Coghlan is slashing .278/.417/.389 with a .358 wOBA and 123 wRC+ since coming off the DL.[/beautifulquote]
Since returning from the DL on July 29 (John Baker Day!), Coghlan is slashing .278/.417/.389 with a .358 wOBA and 123 wRC+ in 8 games (6 starts). I know that’s a small sample and it’s dangerous to draw conclusions from only 24 plate appearances, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. What’s more, Coghlan’s strikeout rate (16.7%) during that time is half of what it was prior to the injury. And wouldn’t you know it, his 16.7% walk rate forms the matching set.
If there is a cause for concern, it’s that Coghlan has displayed a decided lack of power this season. He hasn’t gone yard for the Cubs yet and hasn’t homered at all since May 15, which had been his first in three weeks for the A’s. That’s after hitting four dingers in the first three weeks of the season. Then again, it’s not as if this is a guy from whom a great deal of power is expected. And as long as he can keep emergency-hacking his way to RBI singles, I don’t think anyone minds if he’s not leaving the yard.
The moral of the story here is that Chris Coghlan can still be a solid piece of the Cubs roster moving forward, maybe even into October. It’s hard to imagine him getting the nod over either La Stella — who’s back with the organization now, in case you missed it — or Matt Szczur when the playoff roster is determined, particularly now that he’s on the DL again with a right rib contusion. But if he can keep it up when he returns…
We’ve got a few weeks to worry about that, though. In the meantime, maybe cut Cogs a little slack and look beyond the numbers that still include a forgettable run in Oakland put up by a guy who was unexpectedly shipped out there in March.