Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan grew up like any other baseball player, focusing on his batting average and how to improve it. But when he decided it was time to reevaluate his career a few years ago, Coghlan realized it was time to expand his horizons.
Coghlan, 30, began to consider what teams valued in players, specifically when it came to more advanced statistics. He recently explained his evolution as a player and increased understanding of sabermetrics on the Statcast™ podcast with Mike Petriello.
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"OK, what do these teams value? I started realizing and reading and hearing you've got to get on base," Coghlan said. "I just changed my game."
Where he once viewed batting average as the end-all, be-all statistic, Coghlan came to appreciate on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He adjusted his approach at the plate accordingly, swinging more at pitches he could drive and laying off pitches out of the zone. With time, he came to terms with the idea that swinging and missing is often a better outcome than producing weak contact just to put the ball in play.
"When you value [slugging percentage] and on-base, now you swing at pitches that you can slug and you take pitches that you can't slug," Coghlan said. "As a hitter, I've matured enough to know what I can handle and what I don't handle as well."
After being named National League Rookie of the Year with the Marlins in 2009, Coghlan struggled from 2010-13. But he reemerged as a productive player with the Cubs, primarily as a result of his newfound approach. Coghlan has hit .265/.346/.447 and totaled 2.1 Wins Above Replacement over the last two years.
Coghlan has also used advanced statistics to improve defensively. He recalled a conversation in which Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told Coghlan to work on his outfield defense more in 2015. Coghlan was coming off a year in which he was worth negative-14 Defensive Runs Saved.
Coghlan didn't necessarily know what that number meant, but he didn't like the idea he was perceived as a below-average defender. Last season, he turned in an average season defensively, recording zero Defensive Runs Saved.
"I think Statcast™ is going to be better than the other stats, UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. I think Statcast™ will go even farther. I'm excited to see how it turns out, because now you can really measure an outfielder," Coghlan said. "You can see their route efficiency, you can see their top speed, you can see their jump, you can see where they started. That's way more precise than any other stat we have in the game."
Coghlan also discussed manager Joe Maddon's first year with the Cubs. Like many others, Coghlan didn't know how to quantify a manager's impact in terms of wins and losses. But Maddon proved his value last season, Coghlan said, with both his in-game tactics and easygoing attitude.
"I think it was everything. Joe brought a belief more than anything," Coghlan said. "I love his confidence and I love that he allows people to play loose. When they do, they play with confidence; they don't play scared. Then your talent can really come out. We won a lot of games because we had a ton of talent."