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Did Chris Coghlan have a 'historic' rookie year?

Oct 27, 2009, 11:46 AM EDT

Juan C. Rodriguez covers the Marlins for the Florida Sun Sentinel and apparently believes that Chris Coghlan had an absolutely spectacular rookie season.
Last week Rodriguez criticized the Baseball Bloggers Alliance for ranking Coghlan fourth in their Rookie of the Year balloting despite “the historic nature of Coghlan’s offensive season.” This week Rodriguez criticized the Players Association for choosing J.A. Happ as their Rookie of the Year despite Coghlan’s “multitude of historic achievements.”
In reality the basis for Coghlan’s supposed “historic” rookie season was notching 50 hits in back-to-back months, which while very impressive merely contributed to his batting .321/.390/.460 in 128 games overall. Don’t get me wrong, those are strong numbers for a rookie. However, there’s nothing “historic” about an .850 OPS from a left fielder, nor is there anything “historic” about a poor defensive player totaling nine homers, 47 RBIs, and 84 runs in 565 plate appearances.
Fellow rookie Andrew McCutchen hit .286/.365/.471 in 108 games to nearly match Coghlan with an .836 OPS, and he did so while swiping 22 bases and playing an excellent center field. According to Fan Graphs the sum of Coghlan’s offensive and defensive contributions were worth 23.9 runs above replacement level, which tied for 60th among NL position players. McCutchen was 34.0 runs above replacement level, which ranked 28th. Who had the historic rookie season, again?
And there were some good rookie pitchers too. Happ was 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings. Tommy Hanson went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA 128 innings. Randy Wells went 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA in 165 innings. McCutchen and all three pitchers have strong arguments for being more valuable than a left fielder with an .850 OPS. Coghlan played very well and deserves consideration for Rookie of the Year awards, but there’s nothing “historic” about his rookie season no matter how much Rodriguez enjoyed covering him.

  1. Reality Fan - Oct 27, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    So, consecutive 47+ hits in a month for a rookie is not historic?
    How many had done so before him? Who knows. But he is the first rookie since Wally moon in 1954(!) to get 47 or more hits in a month. He didn’t play to start the season, yet he outhit McCutchen.
    .321 average? First for rookies.
    162 hits in 128 games? First for rookies.
    Breaking franchise records for hits in a month, TWICE, and for consecutive multihit games? Historic.
    When you have to pull up obscure stats to justify another player as better because his batting average is over 10% worse. Or maybe Coughlan should suffer for having ONE less walk than McCutchen, even though he has 6 less strikeouts.

  2. Grant - Oct 27, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    Pot, meet Kettle.
    Seriously, 47 hits? How is that not obscure and arbitrary? It’s not even a round number!
    Batting average? please. Strikeouts? essentially meaningless.
    Runs above replacement is not obscure in 2009. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

  3. Ron - Oct 27, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    The thing is, after the all-star break, Coghlan hit .372, which is better than Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki or Albert Pujols. He also averaged nearly 1 extra base hit per 2 games, so his second half OPS wasn’t even very far off of Mauer or Pujols, and it was over 100 points ahead of Ichiro. I don’t live in Florida and I’m not a Marlins fan, but Chris Coghlan is absolutely the NL rookie of the year.

  4. David - Oct 27, 2009 at 2:48 PM

    He didn’t play to start the season, yet he outhit McCutchen.
    McCutcheon played in 20 fewer games – 108 McCutchen, 128 Coghlan. So, with 20 extra games, Coghlan managed to outhit McCutchen by 38 hits, which is somewhat impressive, but it’s not like “not playing to start the season” handicapped him at all in out-hitting McCutchen.
    after the all-star break, Coghlan hit .372, which is better than Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki or Albert Pujols. He also averaged nearly 1 extra base hit per 2 games, so his second half OPS wasn’t even very far off of Mauer or Pujols, and it was over 100 points ahead of Ichiro.
    It’s not Rookie of the half-year, it’s Rookie of the Year, so despite Coghlan’s impressive second half, you have to look at the entire year’s production. McCutchen’s OPS was .836, Coghlan’s was .850. McCutchen played slightly below average defense at a premium defensive position (-.9 UZR/150), whereas Coghlan played poor defense at a non-premium position (-9.3 UZR/150). All this adds up to McCutchen being a 3.4 WAR player, and Coghlan being a 2.4 WAR player. It is no contest – McCutchen was the better rookie.

  5. Ron - Oct 27, 2009 at 4:50 PM

    McCutchen was fading down the stretch as the Pirates were losing meaningless game after meaningless game. Coghlan was getting those two 47+ hit months in the stretch drive, keeping his similarly salaried ballclub in a playoff chase. There is more to life than UZR/150.

  6. gary - Oct 27, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    I think its worth mentioning that McCutchen was playing his natural position while Coghlan was playing OF for the first time. Remember he was a full time 2nd/3rd baseman right before his call up. So lets cut him some slack on the poor defense!

  7. DansofSoFla - Oct 28, 2009 at 12:10 AM

    There are now nine players in major league history who have had a minimum of 550 plate appearances, a minimum of a .320 BA and a minimum of a .850 OPS in their rookie year.
    There had only been one such player in the past 70 years, Albert Pujols, before Coghlan did it.
    And, yes, McCutchen sucking his thumb in the minors for an eighth of the season while Coghlan was up means something.
    And, if a ballgame was close, early or late, of if there were two outs, Coghlan was the man:
    2 outs, RISP
    McCutchen: .222 BA, .822 OPS
    Coghlan: .308 BA, .873 OPS
    Late and Close
    McCutchen: .226 BA, .697 OPS
    Coghlan: .269 BA, .743 OPS
    Tie game
    McCutchen: .246 BA, .776 OPS
    Coghlan: .355 BA, .926 OPS
    But, in plate appearances where the score of the game had at least a four-run differential?
    McCutchen: .314 BA, .926 OPS
    Coghlan: .284 BA, .767 OPS
    McCutchen was a classic stat-padder.
    Finally, you HAVE to look at the finish.
    .372 BA for Coghlan after the all-star break.
    Historic? Yes, Mr. Rodriguez is using the same dictionary as everyone other than you, Aaron.
    Inarguable among the sane.

  8. Old Gator - Oct 28, 2009 at 12:13 AM

    I had a good ole time watching Coghlan play this past season, but I’d rather someone else won rookie of the year and suffered through a sophomore jinx than one of our own.
    Anyway, what’s the difference? Our penny pinching ownership down here will have him on a plane to someplace else as soon as he qualifies for arbitration.

  9. Andrew - Oct 28, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    I love the incredibly arbitrary reasonings everyone uses.
    Personally, I would rather have had McCutchen this year. Coghlan’s ROY case certainly had merit, especially while catching fire down the stretch. His offensive performance, however, isn’t enough for me to overlook the huge difference in defensive performance.
    Coghlan was a very poor leftfielder. McCutchen was around an average centerfielder. Coghlan may have outperformed McCutchen offensively, but this difference wasn’t enough to make up for the massive difference in their defensive values. And yes, Gary, I’m willing to cut Coghlan slack for his defensive ineptitude. When I say I’ll cut him slack, though, it means that I won’t write off his defensive potential. It does NOT mean, however, that I’m going to overlook his defensive inefficiency in 2009. If production is the criteria for determining rookie of the year, it seems that completely ignoring one aspect of Coghlan’s game would constitute awful judgment.
    I’m not going to jump into the debate over what constitutes “historic,” as how you define what is historic is subjective, and oftentimes pretty arbitrary.
    DansofSoFla- I’ve got a topical question for you. Prior to this postseason, would you have said that A-rod is simply not “clutch?” It’s pretty amazing how people’s views of A-Rod’s “clutch” ability have changed so much so quickly this year. Like the statistics you cite, though, there is simply not enough data to justify the conclusions you came to.
    I’m simply uncomfortable making broad characterizations about something subjectively and arbitrarily defined based on extremely small samples of data. If I were comfortable, though, I’d point out that Andrew McCutchen had a significantly better clutch score than Chris Coghlan as per Fangraphs’ measurements.

  10. DansofSoFla - Oct 28, 2009 at 12:00 PM

    Let’s end this right now. Coghlan was not “inept” defensively. He was like almost any other left fielder. He never cost the Marlins a game defensively. Barely ever cost them unearned runs. Range? Less than some LFs, better than plenty of them. And, offensively, I’ll take the clutch numbers I posted above… you know, the ones that anyone can tabulate, over mystical leverage ratings handed down from behind the curtain in The Emerald City.
    Re: historic. Piling up 565 plate appearances and hitting .321–by itself, without the other stats that further his case–as a rookie is exceptionally rare. Historic is a fine synonym.

  11. Andrew - Oct 28, 2009 at 5:34 PM

    Interesting that you never answered my A-Rod question.
    If you decide to, please do so honestly (should that go without saying?).
    Like I said, I trust Fangraphs’ Clutch score about as much as I trust the statistics you cited. Neither is based on any reasonable amount of data. It’s cherrypicked out of an extremely small amount of data simply to suit your opinion.
    Since we’re cherrypicking stats with small sample sizes, though, did you know that Andrew McCutchen had a .444/.643/.556 line in OCTOBER???
    His 1.199 OPS > Coghlan’s 1.192 OPS in October.
    You know what that means? If the Pirates would ever make the playoffs, McCutchen would be the best playoff hitter of all-time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

  12. Andrew - Oct 28, 2009 at 5:51 PM

    Also, I want to know what your criteria for judging Coghlan’s defense is.
    Even if you feel UZR is flawed (it is, as well as pretty much any other statistical measure), it at least has an objective definition with statistical validity.
    As a further note, since you like to argue about definitions, the word you’re looking for when you say, “Historic is a fine synonym,” is probably “descriptor.”
    Thus, your sentence would read, “Historic is a fine descriptor.”
    Other words that would work include “adjective,” “description,” and “characterization.”

  13. gary - Oct 28, 2009 at 8:54 PM

    I’m not going to say Coghlan had a “historic” season because that whole concept is an opinion. However, i do think that had Coghlan played his normal position of 2nd base or 3rd base, his defense would have been at least average for the position and therefore the whole argument about McCutchen having the edge because of better OF D would have been nullified. Making Coghlan the better pick for ROY. I peronally think the Marlins will trade either Cantu or more likely Uggla and you will see Coghlan back in 2nd in the near future.I also think he will add more steals as he had 58 stolen bases in the minors in ’07-’08. I will take a 2nd baseman with his stats and potential over an OF like McCutchen ANY day of the week!

  14. Andrew - Oct 28, 2009 at 11:54 PM

    Gary- I agree with almost everything you’re saying. His defense would’ve been a lot better at either of the two infield positions. It would also have been more valuable at (especially at 2B). I even think it’s possible
    I don’t see, however, how that changes the ROY debate. McCutchen played around an average defensive centerfield. Coghlan was below average in left. That will probably change in the future (either Coghlan changes positions or improves his defense;McCutchen will probably improve his defense), but it doesn’t change their 2009 values.
    Personally, I’d still rather have McCutchen for the future.
    Even if Coghlan moves back to 2B, I expect McCutchen to continue to have a good deal more defensive value.
    Offensively, Coghlan looks slightly more advanced to me, but doesn’t have the same physical toolsiness as McCutchen. If McCutchen can continue turning his tools into skills, I think he has a chance to be a better offensive player, in addition to being a more valuable defensive player.

  15. gary - Oct 29, 2009 at 8:56 AM

    Andrew-I think were on the same page. I do agree that McCutchen has the better overall “tools” and he may end up putting up slightly better numbers as a whole. The thing i like so much about Coghlan is his elite patience which is so rare to find in a young hitter(i hope your listening Cameron Maybin). The ONLY reason i would say that i’d rather have Coghlan is because he’s plays(or should be playing soon) a much more valuable position.

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