The Breaks: Heyward’s Walking, Coghlan and Montero are Raking
Has there ever been a more maligned trio of lefty hitters holding down the bottom of the order for a (probable) 100-win team than the one currently employed by the Cubs? All season long, they’ve formed a Bermuda Triangle of disappointment out of which only the hottest takes are able to escape. Heyward gets paid too much, you have to fast-forward the DVR’ed version of a game to see Miggy moving at even regular speed, and Cogs is the first grindy white dude in history to draw the ire of the fanbase at large.
Over the last month or so, though, this barely tolerable triumvirate has actually managed to navigate into fair-to-middling territory. Their season numbers might not reflect the bump, but these guys have turned their respective production around in a big way.
Coghlan has had quite the odyssey in 2016, from the spring training trade necessitated by the re-signing of Dexter Fowler to becoming the worst hitter in the majors in Oakland to providing the impetus for Tommy La Stella’s assignment and subsequent leave of absence. Don’t let the smooth taste fool ya, Cobra was broke as a joke. Until he came back from injury, that is.
Since he returned on John Baker Day after nearly a month on the shelf, Cogs has been slashing .286/.379/.429, each figure at least 130 points higher than what he’d been putting up to that point in the season. His wRC+ went from 41 prior to July 29 to 115 since. Even a second trip to the DL in August couldn’t slow him, as he’s maintained solid numbers over the last three weeks.
While we’re on the topic of slow and solid, how ’bout Miggy Montero? Over the last two months, the rusty backstop has been hitting .278/.367/.418 with a 114 wRC+ that’s nearly identical to what we saw from Coghlan above. If we pare that down to the last month or so, and I’m cheating a little by including his 3-hit game on August 20, Miggy is slashing .364/.429/.568 with a wRC+ of 169. Nice.
Is it reasonable to expect him to maintain a .438 BABIP moving foward? Not at all, but it certainly looks as though a diminished role has been chicken soup for his game’s soul. So Coghlan sits due to injury and comes back raking. Miggy sits due to Willson Contreras being younger and more dynamic and rakes when he’s in there. Which brings us to Heyward, a man whose struggles I’ve chronicled rather exhaustively all season.
After quieting his swing and being given a few games off to clear his head, Heyward seems to be establishing some new habits. He hit only .227 over his first 450 plate appearances, a number that has risen to .250 in 111 PA’s since. That jumps to .260 in his last 1o3 trips to the plate. Hey, even small improvements are still improvements, and I think a lot of people would be really pleased if Heyward hits in the .250’s through October.
What strikes me the most isn’t just the improved hitting, though, it’s the more complete approach and general comfort level Heyward is displaying. To wit, he’s walked as many times (6) in the last eight games as he had in the previous 50 — yes, 5-0. Okay, so that’s not really saying much. He’s also seen his strikeout rate drop from 16.8% to 11.7% and isn’t benefiting from an aberrant BABIP — it’s only gone from .265 prior to the brief benching to .280 after — either.
We can make all the requisite concessions for small samples and whatnot, but I’m taking heart in the idea that these results are examples of positive regression rather than just a series of fortunate events. I guess we’ll find out in October.