Oakland Athletics 2016 Preview: Utility Man Chris Coghlan

Oct 3, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan (8) hits a double in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan (8) hits a double in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Who is Oakland Athletics’ Utility Man Chris Coghlan?

The Oakland Athletics have a new addition to their roster in utility man Chris Coghlan. Much ado has come from his arrival in camp only a week ago. What tools will he provide for Bob Melvin and the A’s?

Coghlan’s competitiveness did get him in headlines last year as he infamously slid into Pittsburgh Pirate Jung-ho Kang using a controversial takeout slide, breaking the latter’s leg and retrospectively changing baseball forever. The new “slide rule,” put in effect this past week, was implemented due to an investigation by MLB stemming from this play and another in which Los Angeles Dodger Chase Utley slid late into New York Met Ruben Tejada, also breaking the latter’s leg. But, what really matters for A’s fans is Coghlan’s most important attributes: his positional versatility and his bat.

Coghlan compares favorably to former A’s player Ben Zobrist, whom essentially replaced Coghlan’s role with the Chicago Cubs. Both players specialize in playing both infield and outfield positions. Zobrist played games at second base, third base, left field, and right field last year for the A’s and the Kansas City Royals. Coghlan played at the same positions with the Cubs, though he did spend five games at first base as well. Both players played with Joe Maddon, who can vouch for both players’ hustle. In August 2015, Maddon, managing the Cubs, was asked about both players, and responded

"The one thing I don’t think [Coghlan] can do what Zo does is play shortstop. I don’t necessarily see that. But then again, CC probably likes to play third and first more than Zo did….I just love that player. I think that’s a natural position. People may argue with me, but I do think a super-utility guy is a position. It really lengthens your bench. In-game, it permits you to do more things because you have this versatility. It’s nice to have."

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Coghlan’s glove itself, however, is not the strongest. He profiles as an average fielder in all categories, but has spent such little time at each position aside from outfield to really evaluate his talents. His single error last year was committed at second base. In 2015, Coghlan spent most innings in left field, playing 99 games there. Nevertheless, his total UZR (ultimate zone rating) and DFS (defensive runs saved) are in the negative numbers. This is not cause for alarm. Though Oakland had a woefully bad defense last year, slotting Coghlan in will certainly not make the A’s any worse defensively. His versatility at playing many positions is more of a boon due to his potent bat.

Coghlan is a star against right-handers. His batting line against right handed pitching is a healthy .264/.355/.476. My colleague, Rylan Edwards, reported that Coghlan has more power than his sixteen homers predict: “his .193 ISO, a more accurate measure of extra-base power than slugging %, ranked in the upper 3rd of all major league hitters last season.” Though Coghlan is a clear pull hitter, as far as homers go, he did hit seven of his sixteen bombs to left or left-center. Coghlan possesses some speed as well, as he swiped 11 bags last season. 

Admittedly, his numbers against left-handers are bad, with a career .232 batting average against them and an awful .116 average against them last year. Those numbers are enough to make anyone’s heart drop. But, with his versatility at nearly every position along with the A’s own flexibility makes him a valuable platoon player. As Bob Melvin said, “Versatility makes for value. We’ll let it play out in the spring.” Plan to see Coghlan at the plate against every right-handed starter the Oakland Athletics play.

Next: 2016 Oakland Athletics Prospect Report

Will Chris Coghlan see significant time in the lineup with Oakland? Or will Bob Melvin use him as a purely situational hitter? Write in the comments below!