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Chris Coghlan, murderer of changeups

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An observation about the A's newest acquisition and a few other thoughts.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Chris Coghlan acquisition caught us all a little off guard as the A's roster seemed set. Coghlan, coming off back to back above average years has slid under the radar in spite of being pretty dang good. You can learn all about Coghlan from Alex's wonderful in depth profile, Joseph's insightful writeup, or Alex Chamberlain's great piece at FanGraphs.

Even with all that information, there's more to be learned on Coghlan. In 2015, Coghlan was one of the best hitters in all of baseball against the changeup, per Fangraphs runs above average.

Name Team wCH
Dee Gordon Marlins 12.8
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 9.5
Nelson Cruz Mariners 8.3
Chris Coghlan Cubs 8.2
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 7.8

Those are some big names! Coghlan isn't of the lofty caliber of the rest of the names on that list, but it's still impressive to see his name that high. It indicates not only that he can mash changeups, but shows his overall worth as if he couldn't hit other pitches, pitchers would just stop using the changeup. Coghlan's final line against changeups was .375/.575/.625 in 40 at bats.

Coghlan hasn't always dominated the change, it was a somewhat new thing in 2015. Changeups are on the far right, I've included other pitch values just for fun.

Season Team wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
2009 Marlins 17.4 3.5 -0.2 4.8 2.6
2010 Marlins 6.1 -2.3 -0.7 4 -0.5
2011 Marlins -4 3.3 -0.4 0.3 -4.3
2012 Marlins -6.4 -1 -2 0.7 -1.9
2013 Marlins 2.2 -0.2 -2 -0.4 0.5
2014 Cubs 10.2 -0.5 2.2 1.3 1.5
2015 Cubs 5.4 3.4 -1.5 -4.4 8.2

How has the league reacted to his two year transformation from meh to changeup killer? They noticed, although the change in usage isn't outrageous. Here are the percentages of each pitch thrown by year along with the average MPH of each pitch.

Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH%
2009 Marlins 63.4% (90.2) 10.2% (82.9) 4.5% (85.0) 8.3% (75.2) 11.2% (81.4)
2010 Marlins 59.6% (90.8) 12.3% (82.1) 5.1% (86.2) 7.4% (76.2) 11.1% (82.4)
2011 Marlins 55.0% (90.5) 13.9% (81.8) 6.1% (87.7) 8.8% (75.1) 12.8% (82.6)
2012 Marlins 56.8% (91.7) 8.7% (83.0) 7.7% (86.9) 8.2% (77.8) 15.7% (82.9)
2013 Marlins 57.0% (91.6) 8.2% (83.4) 7.5% (87.7) 10.4% (78.1) 12.9% (83.6)
2014 Cubs 57.4% (91.6) 10.8% (83.3) 4.9% (86.9) 12.5% (76.9) 12.0% (83.7)
2015 Cubs 58.2% (92.7) 10.9% (84.4) 6.7% (87.6) 12.6% (78.5) 10.7% (84.6)

Can Coghlan keep up the dominance against changeups in 2016? His success in 2015 came in a small sample, so it's possible there's some noise there. Coghlan's BABIP against the changeup was .361 and in spite of making a conscious effort to hit the ball in the air more, Coghlan hit 60% of all changeups in play on the ground, the highest number for any pitch of which he saw a significant amount. Still, his isolated slugging shows that he wasn't just dinking cheap hits, he was making solid contact a good portion of the time. Also, the high groundball percentage probably contributed to the high BABIP. If Coghlan hits more changeups in the air, his batting average/OBP may drop but his slugging could climb even further.

Even if Coghlan does decline against the changeup, he has the ability to mash fastballs, sinkers, and sliders and had a low BABIP against the first two last season. Coghlan isn't a one trick pony and if he loses any success he saw with the change, he's still a damn good hitter.

A few more thoughts on Coghlan

-As I believe King Richard pointed out earlier this offseason, the A's seem to have an increased willingness to judge a player's value based on recent play than an entire body of work. This obviously doesn't hold true for all acquisitions (Billy Butler was coming off of a down year, for example), but Coghlan is only two years removed from a -.4 fWAR season. This probably explains some of why his value was so low, only netting Aaron Brooks in return, and shows a peek of the A's philosophy.

-The A's philosophy, as touched on by JosephTDeClercq, also involves making moves that make sense in a vacuum, even if they don't make perfect sense with your existing roster. Coghlan's acquisition was reminiscent of the Jed Lowrie trade, although Jed's re-acquisition came with the promise of moving Brett Lawrie. At any rate, I love the strategy of making a trade to get better and sorting out the rest of the puzzle later. There are only so many times you can acquire a 3 win player for a guy who isn't even part of your future plans, and I'm glad the A's pulled the trigger even if it means they need to maneuver a roster crunch after. It also shows how competitive the front office is: they always, always want to win and trading for a soon to be free agent doesn't seem to line up with current window. But they didn't give up a key to the future for a chance at a better 2015, so I dig it.

-Speaking of return piece Aaron Brooks, I'm probably higher than anyone on the guy and I still love the trade. For one, the A's weren't counting on Brooks for anything so unlike an Addison Russell, you don't really have to go out and replace him for your future plans. Sure, you need more pitching, but you always need more pitching and losing Brooks doesn't really open a hole since the A's weren't counting on him.

Brooks is often thought of as a sixth starter, a role that is important for all teams and especially ones that are lacking depth. But to me, Brooks is more of a project than sixth starter. In 2015, he had ten chances to pitch long into a game. Of those ten times, he failed to make it more than four innings on four separate occasions. The A's need someone who will reliably eat innings and Brooks has yet to prove he can be that guy.

-The move changes the outlook for the A's around the trade deadline. Especially if a Josh Reddick extension doesn't happen, the A's will have to decide between going for it or selling, which is never any fun for us fans. Coghlan won't be a huge factor in which direction the A's go, especially considering his worth today wasn't a major prospect. Still, there's always a market for hitters and when you consider Coghlan can go to a team that needs someone at first, second, third, left, right, or maybe even center, it's easy to see Coghlan netting a decent return.

Here's to that not happening as the A's cruise in first place at the deadline, standing pat on their way to an AL West crown!