There are rarely times when I get to talk positively about a hitter that’s slashing .187/.237/.319 and in the middle of a career-worst season. But, such is baseball, and here we are anyway!
The 2018 season has been a disaster for Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun. Overall on the year, he’s seen a disappearance of power, a decline in plate discipline, and some bad luck.
Only eight hitters in baseball with as many plate appearances as him have been worse by fWAR standards (Jose Pirela, Trey Mancini, Lewis Brinson, Chris Owings, Dexter Fowler, Alcides Escobar, Victor Martinez, Chris Davis) and only four by wRC+ (Brinson, Owings, Escobar, Davis).
The best way to start this would be by figuring out some of the underlying issues that Calhoun has dealt with in 2018. To my surprise though, there wasn’t much on the surface. His exit velocity is slightly up, his hard-hit rate has seen a big jump, and most of the underlying plate discipline numbers seem in line with his career standards. Looking at his results by pitch type, a lot of his issues seem to be stemming from fastballs, something our Chris Anders pointed out back in May.
Pitcher’s aren’t attacking Calhoun in a drastically different way. He’s seeing fewer curveballs more sliders, and more fastballs, but none of those changes are more than three percentage points in either direction. The most dramatic shift in Calhoun’s production has come against four-seam fastballs. Since 2013, Calhoun’s first full major league season, he has never posted a wOBA below .360 or a wRC+ below 140 against four-seamers. This year? His wOBA against the offering is .147 and his wRC+ is -3.
With a minor hamstring injury popping up in early June, Calhoun got a much needed break both physically and mentally. After a three week hiatus, he got a quick rehab stint in triple-A (in which he didn’t strike out once in 20 plate appearances) and was back in the Angels lineup. The improvement has been drastic, as he’s posted a 147 wRC+ since his return. And it seems to be because he found his timing on fastballs again.
- Calhoun vs FB, pre-DL: .214 wOBA, .332 xwOBA, 88.8 MPH EV, 9.1 degree LA
- Calhoun vs FB, post-DL: .404 wOBA, .431 xwOBA, 92.1 MPH EV, 20.6 degree LA
Narrowing that down, let’s see how much improvements there has been against higher velocity.
- Calhoun vs FB >95 MPH, pre-DL: .217 wOBA, .274 xwOBA, 89.0 MPH EV, 3.6 degree LA
- Calhoun vs FB >95 MPH, post-DL: .664 wOBA, .585 xwOBA, 92.8 MPH EV, 14.8 degree LA
Elevating the ball seemed like one of the root issues for Calhoun’s early season struggles. Once the elevation in his swing headed south, so did wOBA. Now that the elevation is back, the results are too.
In the middle of these struggles, the best guess for the source of the problem was an injury. And that might have been the case with the hamstring issue. But related or unrelated to the injury, Calhoun came back from his rehab stint with a brand new set up at the plate. The changes in the stance are extremely glaring.
Calhoun now stands in a more ready position with his arms sticking out and more frontward. He also now stands in more of crouch.
The changes are clearly helping Calhoun elevate the ball more. And the success is correlating right in line with it, which the Angels need badly. Playing in a crowded AL West and deep AL Wild Card field, the playoffs are likely out of reach for them, . But with amazing core pieces in Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and a few intriguing starting pitchers, a good Kole Calhoun would be more than welcomed (and probably needed) to develop a contending lineup.