In addition to having an embarrassment of prospect-riches populating the lineup card every night, the Chicago Cubs have enjoyed significant contributions from previously middling veterans acquired immediately before a sustained breakout.
Emerging ace Jake Arrieta was previously half of the return from the Orioles for Scott Feldman at the 2013 trade deadline. Consistent mid-rotation starter Jason Hammel was inexpensively signed after posting a 4.93 FIP with the 2013 Orioles in an injury-affected season. Setup man Pedro Strop? He was acquired at the trade deadline after posting an ugly 5.51 FIP for half a season with the ...2013 Orioles.
However, not all of these contributions come from pitching (or the 2013 Orioles). Outfielder Chris Coghlan has gained some notoriety of late for his almost two-season stretch of above-average hitting. After spending parts of five seasons with the Marlins (including a 2009 Rookie of the Year campaign), Coghlan signed a minor league deal with an invitation for Spring Training with the Cubs in 2014.
The results since then have been striking, with his 120 wRC+ over the last two seasons being a dramatic improvement over his 96 wRC+ as seen from 2009-2013. His approach at the plate has changed dramatically since his final season with the Marlins (data from Fangraphs).
Chris Coghlan has spent the last two years focusing on swinging at, and making contact with, strikes. He is whiffing less often (and by extension, striking out less often), and taking more walks each season as well. His jump in ISO each year is large, and he has become a power threat, ranking among the top third of all qualifying 2015 batters in the stat.
However, it might seem a bit strange that wRC+ rates his total production as nine percentage points worse than in 2014, despite a 33 point boost in ISO. One might expect that to mean that the batter is selling out for power - see Luis Valbuena's line this season. That is not necessarily the case here, and in fact Coghlan has actually swung significantly less at pitches outside the zone in 2015 (23.7 percent versus 28.0 percent, per Fangraphs) in addition to the above improvements.
An obvious negative difference between the two seasons is his lower batting average. After hitting a healthy .283 with a high .337 BABIP in 2014, his numbers have gone in the other direction this year, in which he is hitting .254 with a .278 BABIP. While both metrics fluctuate due to all manner of reasons (including luck), Coghlan has begun pulling more ground balls than at any point prior in his career.
Per Fangraphs, He has a career 51.6 percent ground ball pull rate and is currently pulling them at a 61.0 percent rate. Coghlan is also producing weaker contact on grounders, with the highest soft-hit percentage of his career. Like a lot of batters, anything down and away will likely produce weak contact.
However, leave anything over the plate and he is spraying line drives and fly balls to all fields with authority. Even though he may be shift-susceptible when a finesse pitcher hits his spots, Chris Coghlan's combination of power and discipline make him a valuable player, justifying not only his roster spot but also the preference he's been shown over Starlin Castro in the lineup over the last two weeks.
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Spencer Bingol is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.