Have you heard? Chris Coghlan is going through a career resurgence!
Yes, the 2009 Rookie of the Year is having the best month he has had in a long time, currently hitting .348/.423/.609 (.433 wOBA) in 52 plate appearances in the month of May. Last night, Coghlan hit his first home run of the season and banged out a triple as well, leading to three RBIs. The hot month he put up has brought his batting line for the season up to a surprisingly respectable .260/.330/.417 (.323 wOBA).
It did not take long for talk of a Chris Coghlan resurgence to surface, especially since the Miami Marlins have invested a lot of time and effort trying to make the former Rookie of the Year work after his stellar first season. Coghlan has hit just .240/.308/.359 with a .288 BABIP since 2009, but the team has given him chance after chance to prove himself. With this new-found success, you can bet the Fish are banking on the soon-to-be 28-year-old Coghlan to be a contributor.
But history is obviously not on Coghlan's side. The last time he had a month this hot was 2010, when he hit .377/.463/.642 (.473 wOBA) just to bring his terrible season numbers up to respectable before suffering a meniscus tear and losing his season. Since then, he has been given enough playing time to try and stick on the roster. In 2011, he started 64 games in center field before proving too inadequate to play.
Even with the sporadic playing time past 2010, it is hard to justify this month as nothing but another Coghlan hot streak. It has all of the typical features, including an unsustainable BABIP (.455) and an unexpected power burst (.262 ISO). But any hot streak will include that, so I will not rag on Coghlan's future chances just because he cannot maintain that sort of production.
The problem is that Coghlan's peripheral statistics, particularly his plate discipline, have shriveled as the years have passed. It is a very small sample size, but Coghlan has posted his highest strikeout rate in his career thus far at 23.6 percent. His hot month has not changed that either, as he has whiffed on 23.1 percent of his plate appearances thus far in May. When looking at his plate discipline numbers, he is making far less contact than before, particularly on pitches inside the zone. This has offset his slightly improved plate patience and avoidance of pitches out of the zone. Essentially, Coghlan is taking more pitches inside the strike zone and swinging and missing at more of them in the zone as well.
The strikeout numbers are alarming because Coghlan is not a power hitter and he needs to prevent strikeouts and draw walks in order to maintain good batting value. Because of his lack of power, he will always be a little vulnerable to BABIP fluctuations, so he needs to minimize the impact that will have on his game by putting the ball in play and drawing walks when he can. So far in 2013, he has not done this.
Despite this, Coghlan has looked good enough to earn some playing time in the outfield as of right now. Juan Pierre has been a disaster thus far, and the younger Coghlan should get a shot at this point. But as we noted before, the Marlins' outfield situation will soon be crowded, and there may not be room for Coghlan once Giancarlo Stanton returns to the lineup.
Of course, there is one out-of-the-box option: return Coghlan to the infield. As we mentioned before the season, the Marlins can play Coghlan in the infield and try him out at his more natural position rather than continuing to try working him out in the outfield. By advanced defensive statistics, Coghlan has been awful roaming the outfield, and even with the eyes he rates at best as slightly below average. The Fish do not need to sacrifice Coghlan's playing time if they do not want to, as they can simply play him more often at third base once Stanton returns. Like Pierre, Placido Polanco has struggled mightily, so a Coghlan / Polanco platoon may not be a bad idea to try in an otherwise lost season.
Chris Coghlan is still running out of time in the majors, even with this so-called resurgence. His latest performance at least bought him another month or two on the roster, potentially in starting roles. But if the Marlins are serious about trying him out, they will have to get creative to fit him in a roster that will soon be overflowing with outfielders.