There is nothing I love more than a good baseball debate; that is assuming the other person can actually make a good argument for his side. This season with the Chicago Cubs we have seen a number of them, including: who should play shortstop Starlin Castro or Addison Russell, why is the batting eighth, and why does Joe Maddon continue to have David Ross catch Jon Lester. All are good debates, and they continue every day (or every fifth day in regards to the Ross-Lester question). Last night though, another one came up.
This is actually has the potential to be a good debate, as long as you know how to argue the side you are on. Unfortunately, the person I was having this discussion with last night (let’s call him Bob) was unable to have a logical conversation, and eventually broke down to personal and homophobic insults when he was clearly unable to put forth a logical point.
Despite the small sample size involved (Lake only has 14 at bats) Bob chose to use the fact that Lake is hitting .286 in his brief 2015 season in the Majors as reason why he should be on the 25 man roster and starting over Coghlan who is only hitting .208.
Now, if you throw out everything but the batting averages, then yes, there is good reason to want to start Lake over Coghlan as the average of Lake is far superior. Throw out the idea of Lake having a bad day at the plate (0-4) his average would fall to .222 because that would still be higher than what Coghlan currently has. Good thing that batting average is not the only way to judge how good a player is at the plate, in fact that is one of the lesser important statistics when figuring out who should play over who.
While Lake does have a far better batting average than Lake (sample size aside) their on base percentage is very close. Despite only hitting .208 Coghlan has an impressive OBP of .276 while Lake is at .286. Yup, Lake is still beating Coghlan here too, but the difference here is that if Lake is not hitting, then he is not getting on base. Lake rarely walks and (small sample size aside again) so far this season he has yet to draw a walk.
For his career, Lake draws a walk 4.6% of the time where Coghlan for his career walks 8.6% of the time. But, as Bob pointed out, that is in the past, and does not matter in the now. So let’s stick with the now. Lake is walking 0% of the time and Coghlan is walking 8.5% of time time. In baseball, getting on base is very important because you are not always going to get on base with a hit. This is a game based on failure and even the best hitters make an out seven out of 10 times. As far as strikeouts go, this season Coghlan is striking out 20.8 percent of the time, whereas Lake is striking out 28.6% of the time. If you are not going to get a hit, putting the ball in play is going to help the team far more than making an out at the plate. That is just one area where Coghlan has an edge. But there are more.
But, this is where Bob would likely say that Lake is still better because he still has a better batting average and OBP. Again, he is right. Lake has the edge here as well. So an argument could still be made that Lake should be starting. But then we move on to other important statistics.
When you turn the page to slugging percentage, this is where Coghlan emerges as the better player. Lake is slugging only .357 in his limited time mainly because out of his four hits, only one has been an extra base hit. Coghlan though is slugging .406. Notice how despite his lower batting average he has a higher slugging percentage? That is because half of Coghlan’s hits have been for extra bases. If you are a slap happy hitter who mainly hits singles, you are going to have a low slugging percentage which does not do much to help your team score runs unless you already have players in scoring position.
Their OPS (On Base plus Slugging) is close, but again Coghlan has the edge here as well standing at .682 whereas Lake is at .643. OBP, OPS and SLG are important stats, ones that most teams value much higher than batting average. Batting average alone is not going to impress anyone, unless of course you are Bob and that is the only thing you look at when determining how good or bad a player is.
Now, I am not saying that Coghlan is a great player. Far from that actually, he is serviceable. Coghlan is just better than Lake at the moment. Lake has the talent to be a good player, and maybe a good fourth outfielder for a contending team, but he needs to figure out how to hit in the Majors. Hitting .286 in 14 at bats is not all that impressive. If you want to play the batting average game, then Chris Denorfia
(who is already on the roster) should be starting. In his limited time, Denorfia is hitting .429 with an OBP of .455, a SLG percentage of .476 with a OPS of .931.
No matter who starts for the Cubs this season, whether that is Coghlan, Lake or Denorfia, the result is the same.They are just a stopgap until the Cubs either trade for a left fielder, sign one in free agency or convert Kris Bryant
(yes, there is still a lot of talk of him moving to left field).
In the end, outside of batting average and OBP, at the moment Coghlan is a better player than Lake. There are several more advanced statistics which also show this. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know this, and that is one reason why Lake is in the minors while Coghlan is with the big boys. Sure, he is only hitting .208 going into tonight’s game, but he has been hitting the ball hard. He just has the misfortune of hitting into a lot of bad luck as he hits the ball right at people. Sooner or later (much like last year) his hits are going to start to fall in, and like last year his average will rise up as well.
Unfortunately for Bob, he believes that Coghlan is not long for the Cubs roster. He deems that Coghlan will be sent to the minors or simply cut within two weeks. I hate to tell Bob this (again) but that is simply not going to happen. Unless he gets injured, I cannot see him going anywhere.
Sorry Bob, you are going to have to learn how to live with Coghlan until they find someone better; which should not be too hard. After all, you said you could hit better than him right? Perhaps you should give the Cubs a call.