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AngelsWin.com Today: 2019 Angelswin.com Primer Series: Right Field

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KoleArticle

By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer

Results

Let us start this conversation with a game of blind player comparison using information from FanGraphs. One of the names below is Kole Calhoun. Guess the other two without looking (answer in the Summary below):

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In order to better understand Kole’s 2018 season we need to break it up into the 1st and 2nd half numbers:

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It has been well documented that Calhoun made a significant change to his swing to start the season last year, which resulted in a terrible first half, and then, after a significant disabled list stint, he returned on June 18th, utilizing yet another new stance, which produced far better results.

Clearly whatever he was doing from late June through the end of the season was spot on. His ground ball percentage plummeted 13.4% to 36.1%, his line drive rate shot up to an exceptional 27.1%, and his HR/FB ratio shot up 3% to 16.4%.

The experiment with his swing really appears to have messed with Calhoun’s season as he sought a solution to his inconsistency in 2017. However, the good news is that he finally found the answer when he hit the disabled list and returned a reinvigorated hitter. If he can replicate his 2nd half there will be zero concern about his production in 2019.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

So, at 0 WAR, Kole clearly had the worst offensive season of his career. This brings his running 3-year average WAR to 1.8.

Calhoun, just like Upton, is now on the wrong side of 30 years old (he will be age 31 for the 2019 season). Some feel that his struggles in 2017 and 2018 reflect age-related decline but the peripheral numbers (Hard%, BABIP, LD%, etc.) tell a decidedly different tale. Father time will eventually take his toll on Kole but everything regarding his swing changes and the underlying story with respect to his quality of contact point to a competent player.

Offense (wRC+)

As we touched on above, Kole turned in a really solid 109 wRC+, in the 2nd half, in comparison to the terrible 51 wRC+ from the 1st half.

It is that 2nd swing change, upon Calhoun’s return from the disabled list, that gives a lot of hope that he will prove a very valuable member of the team in 2019. His isolated power jumped 60 points from the 1st to 2nd half, providing a sparkling .192 ISO. His doubles jumped up, in part to the 27.1% LD% rate, from 5 to 13 from the 1st to 2nd half.

Kole pulled the ball a lot but the primary difference, beyond the defensive shifts, was his ability to loft the ball more, primarily by reducing the number of ground balls he hit and his elevated Hard% rate, which made all the difference in driving the ball past the defenders.

Calhoun has a career .293 BABIP and his 1st half number was .206, while his 2nd half BABIP normalized to .282. It should be expected that, barring more swing changes, he should return to his career number which should generate solid offensive results.

Defense (DEF)

As far as Kole’s defense, FanGraphs ‘Def’ score has not favored him as much as Ultimate Zone Rating has.

FanGraphs gave Calhoun a -3.4 score for 2018 which is a fairly big swing from his 2.0 score in 2017. In fact FanGraphs seems to alternate year-to-year between positive and negative scores in regard to his defense.

UZR/150 however likes Kole’s range in particular and has given him consistently solid scores over the last five seasons, although they too have alternated up and down.

Age tends to hit defense first  but there is reason to believe that Calhoun should perform well in the field in 2019, although it may not reach the heights it has in previous seasons. He has always been a hard-working gamer out in right field so the Angels assuredly feel comfortable with his defensive projections for next season.

Of course if Calhoun’s defense begins to noticeably decline, the Angels definitely have other solutions to turn too, in the Minors, such as Jo Adell and Michael Hermosillo, long-term.

Projections

All the projection systems agree that Kole should return to his career norms in 2019. A 20-HR, 70+ RBI/Runs type of season seems quite doable for him, likely running a .250/.320/.420 slash line with an approximate 105 wRC+.

This is partly based on Calhoun retaining the 2018, 2nd half performance level he turned in last year but it really is not a stretch to see him get there, so it feels low-risk for a player that has consistently hit those numbers for five of the last six MLB seasons. Expecting a 2.5 WAR season feels right at this stage in his career.

Contractual Details

Kole is entering the last guaranteed year of his 3-year, $26M deal he signed prior to the start of the 2017 season.

The jury is still out on whether or not it was a good signing, particularly after his abysmal 2018, but Calhoun still has the 2019 season to redeem himself and if he performs even moderately well, he will have been worth the money paid.

Kole was signed to that deal with the explicit knowledge that the Angels would pivot in a different direction once his guaranteed years expired or at the end of his 2020 option year, if the Angels pick it up.

Replacement Options

Right now the Halos have young Jo Adell, who will likely start 2019 in AA or AAA, nearly ready to take over right field duties, probably later this year or to start 2020.

Basically if the Angels are not in contention at the trade deadline, they will almost certainly trade Kole and bring up Adell for the remainder of the season. However, if the Angels are in it, they could go two different routes with one being a trade of Calhoun and promotion of Adell or, if Kole is excelling, they could simply retain him and move him in the off-season.

In the end Adell is the Angels future in right field and rightfully so. Fortunately Calhoun’s contract has the built-in flexibility (his 2020 option year) to allow Jo to come along at his own pace and earn the job, hopefully sooner rather than later.

So with this understanding, Kole will almost certainly start 2019 in right field. If he has trouble producing the Angels will bring up Adell once they have the additional year of control. Otherwise, the teams and Calhoun’s performances will drive what happens next at the Major League level. If Adell struggles in 2019, the Angels will seriously consider exercising Kole’s option year to fill the gap. After that Jo should be on the roster no matter what happens performance-wise.

Summary

Hard contact (Hard%) in general is highly sought after in Major League Baseball. It simply means the player is squaring up the ball consistently and with authority. Here are the player answers to our pop quiz above:

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Kole Calhoun led the Angels in hard hit percentage (Hard%). Out of 140 qualified hitters in 2018, Calhoun ranked 16th overall in the same category. When you combine his 1st half BABIP and ground ball issues, it becomes pretty clear that his swing adjustment at the start of 2018 was a major factor in his poor 1st half performance and that his second swing adjustment, in mid-June, brought about much better results akin to the Kole we know and love.

A resurgent Calhoun seems like a pretty good bet to make in 2019 and  when you combine that logic with his remaining contractual control, he is the best choice and risk for Billy Eppler to make with a talented, athletic player like Jo Adell knocking on the Major League door within the next year.

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Can you imagine if we get the Kole we saw for about two months after his minor league tune up stint for the entire season in 2019? 

He was basically an automatic out for 3 months of the 2018 campaign. 

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3 hours ago, AngelsLakersFan said:

The implication seems to be that this is a useless stat.

Huh?

I have no idea why you would say that. His first half consisted of a lot more ground outs which does not necessarily correlate with Hard hit percentage.

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1 hour ago, Vlad27Trout27 said:

If Kole use the left side of the field more, he'll be fine. But, if he continues to pull well he hit the dl for another extended period.

There’s a long thread which basically debunks this.  

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21 hours ago, ettin said:

Huh?

I have no idea why you would say that. His first half consisted of a lot more ground outs which does not necessarily correlate with Hard hit percentage.

His stats are better than Trout and Upton in all three categories.

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4 minutes ago, AngelsLakersFan said:

His stats are better than Trout and Upton in all three categories.

That was the point. His total Med%+Hard% was better than both Trout and Upton. It is the results of those authoritative hits that differed from those of Trout and Upton. Calhoun hit the ball hard but the balls found defenders gloves more often. Here is an excerpt from the definition on FanGraphs:

"There’s no guarantee that a ball hit hard will go for a hit and a ball hit softly will be turned into an out, but it is more likely that a hard hit ball will fall for a hit than a soft hit ball, in general. If you hit every ball hard, you’ll almost definitely have a better year than if you hit every ball softly. There are other factors, but hitting it hard should lead to more bases per PA.

Additionally, quality of contact isn’t just a goal, it can be an indication of true performance. Because we know that baseball is influenced by a lot of randomness, a player who appears to be struggling might actually be struggling or they might be hitting the ball hard without much to show for it. You can look to a batter (or pitcher’s) batted ball quality of contact numbers to see what’s going on."

So my reasoning is that because BIS measured a lot of his contact as Hard and Medium and Kole had serious BABIP problems, particularly in the first half when he hit a lot of ground balls, he should, if he continues to hit the ball hard, have better results in 2019. If you look at his spray charts and Pull%/Cent%/Oppo% numbers he pulls the ball some but not enough that these defensive shifts should hurt him terribly (they did in 2018 because of the first half ground balls issue).

What I am saying in the article is that his quality of contact is a strong indicator that he should do well again, barring more BABIP issues.

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8 minutes ago, ettin said:

That was the point. His total Med%+Hard% was better than both Trout and Upton. It is the results of those authoritative hits that differed from those of Trout and Upton. Calhoun hit the ball hard but the balls found defenders gloves more often. Here is an excerpt from the definition on FanGraphs:

"There’s no guarantee that a ball hit hard will go for a hit and a ball hit softly will be turned into an out, but it is more likely that a hard hit ball will fall for a hit than a soft hit ball, in general. If you hit every ball hard, you’ll almost definitely have a better year than if you hit every ball softly. There are other factors, but hitting it hard should lead to more bases per PA.

Additionally, quality of contact isn’t just a goal, it can be an indication of true performance. Because we know that baseball is influenced by a lot of randomness, a player who appears to be struggling might actually be struggling or they might be hitting the ball hard without much to show for it. You can look to a batter (or pitcher’s) batted ball quality of contact numbers to see what’s going on."

So my reasoning is that because BIS measured a lot of his contact as Hard and Medium and Kole had serious BABIP problems, particularly in the first half when he hit a lot of ground balls, he should, if he continues to hit the ball hard, have better results in 2019. If you look at his spray charts and Pull%/Cent%/Oppo% numbers he pulls the ball some but not enough that these defensive shifts should hurt him terribly (they did in 2018 because of the first half ground balls issue).

What I am saying in the article is that his quality of contact is a strong indicator that he should do well again, barring more BABIP issues.

I think you're right in a sense and wrong in a sense. Your core logic (and whats important here) seems totally sound: the stats indicate that Calhoun is ripe for a rebound year. But, I think ALF's point here is that clearly a side-by-side comparison is misleading here; a hard hit ball by Trout is more valuable than a hard hit ball by Calhoun. Listing the two next to each other like that leads the reader to the conclusion that Calhoun is actually a better raw hitter than Trout - even though that is clearly nonsense.

Basically, comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers in one year to Calhoun's hard hit number in another year is a really good indicator of how effective Calhoun will be moving forward. Comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers to Trout's hard hit numbers is a really good indicator that comparing two player's hard hit numbers doesn't give you valuable information.

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1 minute ago, krAbs said:

I think you're right in a sense and wrong in a sense. Your core logic (and whats important here) seems totally sound: the stats indicate that Calhoun is ripe for a rebound year. But, I think ALF's point here is that clearly a side-by-side comparison is misleading here; a hard hit ball by Trout is more valuable than a hard hit ball by Calhoun. Listing the two next to each other like that leads the reader to the conclusion that Calhoun is actually a better raw hitter than Trout - even though that is clearly nonsense.

Basically, comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers in one year to Calhoun's hard hit number in another year is a really good indicator of how effective Calhoun will be moving forward. Comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers to Trout's hard hit numbers is a really good indicator that comparing two player's hard hit numbers doesn't give you valuable information.

Well we should all remember that this does not take exit velocity into account. Trout clearly is better than the other two: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_leaderboard

Mike is ranked #31, Upton #39, and Calhoun #56.

It certainly doesn't tell the whole story but I wasn't trying to do that, just point out what I felt was an important fact. I agree that ALF is probably focusing on exit velocity and actual results but I am looking at the indicators that show that Kole was doing it "right", particularly in the 2nd half, but not getting the end results due to the aforementioned swing changes, ground balls in the 1st half, and BABIP issues (due in part to the defensive shifts in the 1st half).

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57 minutes ago, krAbs said:

I think you're right in a sense and wrong in a sense. Your core logic (and whats important here) seems totally sound: the stats indicate that Calhoun is ripe for a rebound year. But, I think ALF's point here is that clearly a side-by-side comparison is misleading here; a hard hit ball by Trout is more valuable than a hard hit ball by Calhoun. Listing the two next to each other like that leads the reader to the conclusion that Calhoun is actually a better raw hitter than Trout - even though that is clearly nonsense.

Basically, comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers in one year to Calhoun's hard hit number in another year is a really good indicator of how effective Calhoun will be moving forward. Comparing Calhoun's hard hit numbers to Trout's hard hit numbers is a really good indicator that comparing two player's hard hit numbers doesn't give you valuable information.

Yes, exactly this.

The numbers posted imply that on contact Calhoun is a better hitter than Trout and Upton and that the only difference is noise. In reality, the difference between Trout and Calhoun is so massive that the numbers actually imply we would be better off looking at all the other factors at play aside from these in order to draw meaningful conclusions.

 

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