The Chicago Cubs will head into the end of August and into September in prime position to return to the playoffs in a year when they were expected to marginally improve, rather than legitimately contend for a spot. If they’re able to do so, the buzz will continue to surround the sensational rookies that make up the majority of this starting lineup, with the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell all making a tremendous impact, as well as NL Most Valuable Player candidate Anthony Rizzo.
But as far as what the position players have achieved during the 2015 season, there’s at least one offensive piece that shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest: Chris Coghlan.
Coghlan gained notoriety during the 2009 season in which he was awarded the National League Rookie of the Year award playing left field for the then-Florida Marlins. He edged out a thin crop of rookies that featured J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson immediately behind him, with Andrew McCutchen the only legitimate star that has emerged from that bunch.
In the years that followed, though, it looked like Coghlan was destined to be more bust than boom. He bounced back and forth between the Marlins big league roster and the minor league ranks, before back problems limited him to 70 Major League games in 2013 closed the book on his career in South Beach. He caught on with the Cubs the following year, though, and that is really where our story begins.
Signed to a minor league deal, Coghlan was able to make an impact in 2014, finishing the year with a 2.4 WAR and a very nice wRC+ of 125 that had him as a well above average hitter. He made solid contact with regularity, as his 29.8 Hard% was the highest of his career to that point. He maintained a line drive rate of 25.6%, also a career mark, which certainly helped his .337 BABIP, which many labeled as part of the reason for his success.
With the 2015 season arriving and the Cubs shifting into the phase of their rebuild that saw expectations evolve from merely acquiring assets to legitimate contention, some wondered if there was still a place for Chris Coghlan on the roster. Yet, even with the influx of young, incredibly high upside talent, Coghlan has represented a crucial piece for the Cubs throughout the 2015 campaign.
On the surface, Coghlan’s numbers might not seem as impressive, let alone have him being pegged as a guy that deserves to regularly get into the lineup in the no. 3 spot. Coming into Saturday, he was hitting .254 with a .338 OBP. His wRC+ still has him as above average, though it’s a bit of a drop from last season, at 116. A .278 BABIP obviously doesn’t help much. But Coghlan has succeeded in a variety of areas that make him far more of an asset this year than he was in his first season on the North Side.
For one, Coghlan is striking out less (17.6%) than he did last year, while walking more (10.6%). For another, his .202 ISO is the highest mark of his career. He has 15 home runs thus far, easily eclipsing his career high of nine, while adding 18 doubles, and three triples. His approach has been quality overall, with 3.93 pitches per plate appearance on the year. On a Cubs team that has also shown an increased propensity for stealing bases, Coghlan has added 11 for the year, which also represents a career best.
A lot of it goes back to his ability to make exceptionally hard contact. He’s at a 33.1 Hard% for the year, which ranks 20th among Major League outfielders. Imagine where his numbers could be if he hadn’t spent the majority of the year running into the exceptionally bad luck that he’s faced all season. Either way, it all culminates in a 2.8 WAR, which has him ahead of his first season with the Cubs (2.4) and that 2009 season, when he took home the Rookie of the Year award (2.7).
We’ve discussed the versatility of Chris Coghlan as an element of his value to this Cubs team. Since that point, he’s only continued to log innings at second base and fare quite well. But while becoming a new Ben Zobrist for the Cubs is something that will draw attention if he continues to bounce around the field, it’s important not to overlook the offensive value that he’s brought to an already high upside team with the sticks. He’s showcasing the best offensive play of his career, and should continue to be an important element down the stretch for the very dangerous Chicago Cubs.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is the managing editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.