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2 To Watch: Karns and Coghlan

Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, or are widely available and useful. This week, it's Nate Karns and Chris Coghlan.

Nate Karns is a player to watch this season
Nate Karns is a player to watch this season
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the very first 2 To Watch column! My plan here is to highlight two players that are interesting every week. They might be guys that you could pick up off waivers for a boost. They might be guys on hot streaks that are unsustainable or guys in cold streaks that don't match their talent. They might be in the middle of a career breakout season. No matter what, I hope you will find these useful for your fantasy teams. First up are two widely available guys that are deep leaguers right now, but could become more than that.

Nate Karns

Karns is a promising young starter for the Rays. He has a rotation spot to start the year due to a rash of injuries in Tampa to Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Alex Colome. He's had two starts so far, how's he done?

Date Opponent IP ERA WHIP K/9 FIP xFIP
4/7 Baltimore 5.2 9.5 1.59 6.35 6.5 5.36
4/12 Miami 7 1.23 0.57 7.71 2.11 3.61

One terrible start, one very good one. Baltimore's offense is much better than Miami's, but with Stanton, Yelich, Morse, and Ozuna, Miami isn't the worst offense either. Obviously, we only have a small sample of data to work with, but we can look at some stats that stabilize quickly since they are based on individual pitches. First, his velocity. His fastball has been reliably at just under 93 mph. That's about average for a right-handed starter, which we'll take. He throws a knuckle curve at 82 and a changeup at 86. I'd like to see closer to 10 mph difference between his fastball and changeup.

Speaking of his pitch types, look at his pitch usage in the two starts:

4/7 53.20% 44.30% 2.50%
4/12 61.10% 27.40% 11.60%

That's a pretty high amount of variation in two consecutive starts. He is really mixing up his pitches and changing his strategy. Maybe he felt like what he did against Baltimore wasn't working and decided to change his approach the next time out. He went from barely throwing the changeup at all to throwing it almost 12% of the time. He was probably trying to improve his results against lefties, since the change up has a reverse platoon split. He has allowed a .375 OBP and a .323 wOBA to lefties so far compared to a .185 OBP and a .210 wOBA against righties. Most of the damage in both starts was done by lefties, with Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza, and Ryan Flaherty getting hits for the Orioles and Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich providing the scoring for the Marlins. So, he has a problem with lefties and seems to be working on it by throwing the change more. He did have better results in Miami, so maybe there is something to it.

Finally, let's look at his swinging strike rates for each pitch the last three years (all very short stints in the majors)

Year FA SwStr% KC SwStr% CH SwStr%
2013 8.50% 12.70% 11.50%
2014 8.90% 13.60% 0%
2015 2% 13.10% 23.10%

His fastball is not fooling anyone this year, his curve is holding steady, and his changeup looks very good. The curve and changeup whiff rates are above average for those pitches, so he's got some good weapons there. Add to this the fact that he gets above average groundball rates on all three pitches and he's got a good arsenal. If he can get that fastball swinging strike rate up to 6% or more and hold these other rates while using the changeup more, he could have a breakout season. Right now, he's a matchup play against weaker offenses, but keep an eye on his whiff rates and his changeup usage to see if he can continue to improve. I like what I've seen so far and recommend picking him up in deeper leagues now, before it is too late.

Chris Coghlan

OK, so I'm running out of space here to talk about Coghlan. I just love breaking down pitchers too much and I get carried away. Anyway, I'll keep this short. Coghlan is getting lots of playing time between outfield, second, and third base this season. Obviously, with Kris Bryant on his way to Chicago, his opportunities at third will mostly vanish, but Joe Maddon clearly values his utility and he could potentially be a Zobrist-type player that gets value playing all over the diamond.

Last year, he put up a .283/.352/.452 line with 9 homers, 7 steals, 50 runs and 41 RBI. That's not too bad for only 432 plate appearances as a part-time player. He's off to a torrid start with two homers, a steal, and a .300/.391/.750 line in the short season so far. He doesn't strikeout much and he walks at a good rate, so he won't be prone to slumps like some (*cough* Starling Marte *cough*).

His line drive percentage is actually down from 25 to 17% this year and he is cranking fly balls at a 53% rate, which is ridiculous. He has been lucky with a 22% HR/FB ratio, which will come down, but those fly balls will still lead to more homers if he keeps up this new approach. Look at his plate discipline numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs, like all my stats.

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2009 Marlins 21.50% 60.30% 41.00% 62.70% 91.80% 84.20% 50.30% 56.80% 6.50%
2010 Marlins 26.80% 62.20% 43.20% 65.60% 89.60% 81.60% 46.30% 65.50% 7.90%
2011 Marlins 30.50% 63.00% 45.20% 68.70% 92.00% 83.40% 45.30% 56.40% 7.20%
2012 Marlins 26.30% 59.20% 41.00% 80.00% 92.70% 88.20% 44.70% 56.20% 4.80%
2013 Marlins 26.40% 62.20% 42.90% 62.20% 85.60% 77.80% 46.00% 56.10% 9.20%
2014 Cubs 28.00% 67.00% 45.40% 66.80% 89.60% 81.80% 44.50% 57.90% 8.10%
2015 Cubs 10.30% 77.10% 41.90% 50.00% 92.60% 87.10% 47.30% 50.00% 6.00%

Pay particular attention to his drop in swinging strikes, his increase in contact%, and his decrease in o-swing%. These are all signs of his improved discipline and being more selective at the plate, looking for his pitch. It should be noted that none of the values I have cited so far have enough data to be stabilized yet, so there are zero guarantees that these trends will continue. All this simply means you should keep an eye on him as he may have carved out a regular starting role on the Cubs and he may have changed his approach significantly to get more power.

He still has a little speed to go with that potentially improving power, so deep leaguers should be taking notice. He is best used against righties, since he does have a platoon split, but it's not that big of a gap. As long as he is getting regular playing time, Coghlan is better than you think and makes for a good bench piece or 5th outfielder. Check back next Thursday, same time and place, for two more profiles! Tschus!