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2011 Marlins Season Review: Center Field

Going into the 2011 season, there were two positions that were labeled with major question marks. One was third base, and it turned out to be as big a question mark as most fans expected going into the year. The other position was center field, and the fact that the Marlins still have a major question mark at the position at the end of the 2011 season only shows how poorly players at the position did.

The Marlins had planned to man the position with a certain former Rookie of the Year, but their misguided evaluatiom of his lingering knee injury and offensive skill limited his use at the position. As a result, the Marlins then had to make due with a mediocre veteran option and a young player who may yet prove to have some use.

2011 - Chris Coghlan 65 298 .230 .296 .368 .286 75 -0.3 -0.1

The Good

Simply put, there was little good to come out of Chris Coghlan's 2011 season. He hit well at the start of the season (.287/.352/.521 by the end of April) but struggled throughout the rest of the year before his knee injury left him off the major league roster for the rest of the season. The power he displayed in 2009, limited as it may have been, returned to a degree in 2011.

Coghlan XB/H ISO GB% HR/FB%
2011 0.432 .139 47.9 7.1
2009 0.597 .138 48.6 7.1

This is in stark contrast to his mostly popless 2010 season that ended in the first injury. While this may not be great news, it is important that Coghlan scratch out any benefit from his offensive game, as much of the rest of it seems to be deteriorating. 

The Bad

There were numerous bad things in Coghlan's 2011 campaign. The first major problem was a simple drop in BABIP; it went down to .263 from a previous career .354 mark. Part of this is likely attributed to bad luck, part of it also to regression from an inflated mark so far in his career. However, there was also likely involvement with his ongoing knee problems; the fact that he had those problems for most of the season and kept them hidden in order to continue playing likely played a factor in his diminished offensive output.

But let us not blame everything on the bum knee. One disappointing aspect of Coghlan's game is his rapidly diminishing plate discipline.

Coghlan Swing% Contact% Zone Swing% Outside Swing% Zone Contact% Outside Contact$
2011 45 83 60 29 91 67
2010 44 82 58 29 87 70
2009 41 85 57 24 91 69

The primary difference in discipline between his fluky but successful 2009 season and his subsequent 2010 and 2011 years is a significant increase in swings taken. As you can see from the breakdown of inside and outside of strike zone swings, Coghlan's increase in swings has primarily come on pitches outside of the zone, meaning that his selectivity has dropped a good deal. Rather than being more patient, Coghlan is swinging more and at worse pitches. His contact capabilities remain very strong, and this is why he has been able to avoid striking out at too high a rate. However, swinging at bad pitches is never a good thing, and this increase has subsequently led to a decrease in walks over the past two years.

The biggest question mark about Coghlan going into 2011 was his defense, as he was moving to center field after never playing professionally at the position. Those questions remain mostly unanswered. Coghlan was rated as an overall below average defender in the Fans Scouting Report, but in terms of center fielders, he ranked among the worst in the game. In fact, Coghlan's 46 rating (on a 0 to 100 scale) ranked above only Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera, and Alex Rios among starting center fielders. Clearly the fans had little confidence in Coghlan's defensive skills in 2011, and these ratings generally match what they saw in 2009 ans 2010 as well. The defensive stats did not fare much better, though at such small samples, they are not very reliable. All in all, it was likely a poor defensive season for Coghlan as well.

Marlins fans expected this to some degree. After all, Coghlan was moving to a more difficult position on the defensive spectrum and he was recovering from a knee injury that took him out of the 2010 season. It was all but elementary to expect Coghlan to struggle, and this was compounded by the fact that, sure enough, the knee had yet to heal entirely and Coghlan suffered from inflammation perhaps in part because the knee was taxed much more in center field.

The Rest

Once Coghlan was injured, the Marlins went to two different options. One was veteran center fielder Mike Cameron, who was acquired for essentially nothing from the Boston Red Sox. Cameron was serviceable in 164 PA for the Fish; he hit .233/.331/.420 and displayed his classic plate discipline and decent power even at the advanced age of 39 years old. The fans thought Cameron was decent enough in center field, though he certainly has lost a few steps from his Gold Glove heyday. The only real question was why the team even acquired him in the first place, as the Marlins were at that point out of contention due to a horrific month of June.

The other player the Marlins sent out there in 2011 was Bryan Petersen, and his name is one that Marlins fans should keep an eye on. In the minors, Petersen was well-known for being a light-hitting tweener outfielder with strong plate discipline who played a somewhat capable center field. In 2011, Petersen showed much of that skillset, batting .265/.357/.387. He walked in 10.3 percent of his plate appearances, inpart because he swung at only 39 percent of the pitches he saw. He did strike out a little too much for a player without power, but one might suspect his contact and discipline to improve as he adjusts to major league pitching. The important thing for his major league future is his defense, and in 2011 the fans saw it as capable, rating him as a 62 defender in the Fans Scouting Report. That rating put him alongside the likes of Grady Sizemore, Adam Jones, and Nyjer Morgan defensively.

What do you Fish Stripers think? How did Coghlan's 2011 season compare to what you expected before the year began? What were your first impressions of Bryan Petersen?