(Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire)
Over the last couple of years, fantasy owners have relied on Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun as a steady, if unspectacular, outfield option. He’s the kind of guy you have sitting on your bench, ready to play when a regular starter gets the day off or tossing him in against a questionable right-hander knowing he won’t hurt you too bad.
Well for those fantasy owners who own Calhoun in 2018, he is hurting you. Bad. A quick glance at Calhoun’s numbers tells you (almost) all you need to know. He’s currently slashing .174/.200/.228 with one home run and one steal. His wRC+ is 18. An average hitter’s wRC+ is the age of a great-great grandpa. Calhoun’s can barely vote.
But as a fantasy owner, you wouldn’t be doing your due diligence if you didn’t check and see if perhaps his slow start is luck-based, and that a rebound is coming. After all, April numbers tend to be the least representative of a player’s overall season. Maybe Calhoun will rebound and become that steady presence on your roster. After all, his BABIP is just .234 and his hard hit rate is 38.5%, a career-high.
Well unfortunately, Calhoun’s underlying metrics paint the story of a player not destined for much offensive success this year. For starters, his plate discipline numbers have absolutely tanked. For two straight years, Calhoun posted a walk-rate over 10%. That number has plummeted to an abhorrent 3.2%. Included is a 28.4% strikeout rate, the highest of his career by a considerable margin. His o-swing and z-swing rates are both in line with his career norms, so it’s likely his walk and strikeout rates will stabilize, or at least improve as the year goes on.
However, the primary problem for Calhoun is not walks and strikeouts. It’s what is happening when he puts the ball in play. Calhoun’s exit velocity this season is 87.1 miles per hour. That ranks 224th in the league and ties him with Juan Lagares and Cesar Hernandez. He’s averaging 5.3 barrels/plate appearance, falling just behind sluggers James McCann and Guillermo Heredia. Yikes. To put it simply, Calhoun is not striking the ball well at all this season.
As if it could get any worse, Calhoun’s launch angle has taken a nose dive as well. Calhoun’s average launch angle in 2018 is 9.98 degrees, well below the league average. He’s hitting way more ground balls than usual. Here’s a very, very simple chart showing what an impact that has had.
I’m not sure this graphic needs much explaining. Hitting way more ground balls, when your exit velocity is down, is not going to lead to good results with the stick.
So quick recap: Calhoun is walking way less, striking out way more, hitting way more ground balls, and posting a below average exit velocity. To quote an iconic cartoon dog: ruh roh. Perhaps our good, trustworthy friend xStats will give us hope!
Woof. I mean, Calhoun’s xSlash (xAVG/xOBP/xSLG) is at least better than his actual slash line. But it’s not exactly a beacon of hope and confidence that Calhoun should actually be slashing .213/.238/.316. Turns out that’s still bad. Additionally, his VH% of 2.1 is terrible (average is about 7.5%) and his OUTs score of -.186 is poor as well. For reference and an explanation of some of these data points, go here.
If you own Calhoun and haven’t tabbed over to your fantasy team and dropped him already, I’ll give you time to do so now. I know it’s April and the small sample size caveat is still in place, but he’s had 92 at-bats on the year. At this point, it’s hard to envision him bouncing back to anything more than a replacement level fantasy outfielder outside of very deep leagues. Plus, he’s ceding starts to Chris Young against left-handers, and has moved down in the order against right-handers as well.
The Angels have a solid lineup, and Calhoun should continue to get the majority of starts in right field, which is about the most positive note I can provide on him. In AL-only formats he probably can’t be dropped, but it can’t hurt to keep him on the bench. It’s a pretty far fall for the left-hander, but there’s not nearly enough data to suggest that this is going to get better anytime soon.