Last week, I wrote about Chris Coghlan unlocking even more power than he displayed during his second breakout of 2014. After receiving a request to go more in-depth on his changes, I'm going to focus a bit more on his changed approach in this piece.
As mentioned last week, his sudden ability to hit to all fields with authority has lead to the highest power numbers of his career (.195 ISO). However, despite a 17.4 percent strikeout rate being his lowest in years, he's not hitting for average and running an abnormally low batting average on balls in play. Instead of presuming luck was the reason, the article's hypothesis was that pulling more ground balls than usual (60.6 percent) on pitches down and away was leading Coghlan to be more shift-vulnerable than in the past.
The results are pretty telling, as the year-over-year numbers show (data per FanGraphs). In 2015, he sports an ISO above .200 to all fields, while last season he was far more effective at hitting to the pull-side. However, his .222 pull-side BABIP indicates he's converting batted balls to outs at a high rate, aside from the power.
These results are indicative of something Coghlan's been doing since he signed with the Cubs on a minor league deal in 2014: his swing rates have shifted.
Since joining the Cubs, Chris Coghlan has successfully swung at more pitches within every part of the strike zone. That is obviously a positive change, but what also has happened is that his swing rates have shifted to be down-and-away. Simply, outside of the zone he's swinging a lot less often at up-and-in pitches, and swinging noticeably more at down-and-away pitches. His whiff rates along the bottom of the zone are up since joining the Cubs, and that is where a lot of the weak ground-ball contact is being generated.
In total, Coghlan has still been an above-average hitter for two seasons, and there is a positive result of shifting towards swing away. When anything is in the zone, he's crushing strikes on the left-half of the plate (from the catcher's perspective).
Conclusion: Hitting a .275 ISO in the highest-away segment of the zone is difficult, and Chris Coghlan is a strong human being. Additionally, with the results he is seeing when he swings in the bottom-away third of the zone, it is easy to understand swinging too often at pitches that break a bit more than he can identify out of the pitcher's hand. Based on data from Brooks Baseball, he's performing against all pitches but sliders and curves.
|Marlins (2009 - 2013)||Cubs (2014 - 2015)|
Even though he is hitting sliders for a bit more power, he's mostly hitting mistakes that stay in the zone. In total, pitchers appear to be targeting his weakness by throwing more breaking balls, and throwing them down and away.
While he is demonstrating a lot more power by hitting the ball to all fields and attacking all areas of the strike zone, Chris Coghlan is still only hitting mistakes against breaking balls. No hitter is without a weakness, and Coghlan's happens to be low movement.
However, adjustments made in the past two seasons have made Coghlan more than just a role player and he is performing at a high enough level to both compensate for that flaw, and more than justify the increased playing time he has been given.
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Spencer Bingol is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.