The Miami Marlins gave yesterday's Opening Day start in center field to Chris Coghlan, the 27-year-old former Rookie of the Year. If that were all of Coghlan's history with the Marlins, this would not seem like an egregious move, especially when you consider that the alternative is a former Quad-A slugger who could not break the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system and was on the Houston Astros Triple-A team before being acquired.
Of course, that is not all of Coghlan's history with the team, and that Quad-A slugger just finished a 2012 season in which he hit .313/.374/.535 (.390 wOBA). According to manager Mike Redmond, the Marlins will start the year platooning Coghlan and Ruggiano until one of them grabs hold of the job with his performance.
"We'll see how it goes," Redmond said. "I would say, right now, Ruggiano will probably play against Gio in Game 2. Those guys, we'll probably platoon them for now, and see who steps up."
"If one of them, obviously, takes off, then they are going to get the bulk of the playing time," Redmond said. "That's where we're at. We're looking for somebody to spark our offense, and that's one position where we need some offense."
Last season, I discussed how the Marlins seemed all too willing to give Coghlan every opportunity to reprise himself thanks to his Rookie of the Year status. While that was a year ago and this is a new managerial staff under Mike Redmond, this move still reeks of favoritism for a player who, at this point, deserves no unfair advantages. Over the last three seasons, Coghlan has amassed 803 plate appearances and hit .238/.305/.351 (.291 wOBA). Among players with at least 800 plate appearances in those three seasons, Coghlan has the 24th-worst batting line in baseball, right alongside Brandon Inge and Adam Kennedy. If you switch to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), you will see Coghlan as the fifth-worst player in baseball, ahead of only Chone Figgins, Lucas Duda, Matt LaPorta, and the venerable Greg Dobbs.
The true history of Chris Coghlan has very little to do now with his amazing Rookie of the Year season. Most of his history now lies with a terrible three-year stretch that involved a difficult position change and multiple offensive and defensive struggles. Yet somehow the Marlins continue to find ways to include him in starting lineups despite him proving time and again that he does not belong as a starter.
This would not be an issue if the Marlins had no alternative, but Justin Ruggiano just came off a spectacular season and needs to be tested full-time to see if he can become a supporting member of this team or at least viable trade bait for other teams. Ruggiano hit .305/.354/.452 (.352 wOBA) versus righties, but he got mighty lucky with a .425 BABIP against them. The Marlins need to find out if he is a player who can regularly face right-handers or if he is a perennial platoon option, and there is no way the team will figure that out unless it plays Ruggiano against righties regularly. Rather than protecting and limiting a 31-year-old potential starter, the Marlins should unleash him this season and see what they have in him.
Even if the Fish are not showing favoritism and simply trying to determine who is the better player, the club is making a clearly incorrect choice. We showed some of the Marlins' platoon splits in when we optimized the Marlins lineup, and it showed that we expect Ruggiano to hit a respectable .314 wOBA versus righties. Yesterday, I displayed Coghlan's righty projection in the game thread, and the projection was a .313 wOBA. As currently projected, the two players are essentially the same versus righties, and Ruggiano is expected to be the better player overall. Why would the Marlins not simply start Ruggiano the entire time given this knowledge?
The Fish are either showing undue favoritism or just being foolish in having Coghlan take the majority of playing time by being the big half of a platoon. One figures that this situation would not even be happening had Ruggiano stayed healthy in spring training, but if that is the reasoning, then the Marlins are being irrational for making a personnel decision based off of such little playing time. Any way you look at it, startng Coghlan over Ruggiano in 2013, against either side, is not the right decision.