Getting Kole for Christmas

Its Christmas time and Santa has been watching you. Unfortunately some of you have been a little naughty so you will not be receiving presents. Lucky for you I’m not Santa, but in the spirit of the holiday I will be giving out Kole; Kole Calhoun that is. Calhoun was a sleeper on many lists going into the 2014 season; while he didn’t exactly light the fantasy world on fire, Calhoun did enough to make us believe he can maintain or improve upon his 2014 season.

Runs

The big thing that jumps off the page for me when I look at Calhoun’s stats is his run production. He scored 90 runs in just under 500 at bats. Only 8 other outfielders scored more than 90 runs in 2014 and all of them had at least 550 at bats, half of them had 600 plus. Calhoun was 18th overall in the entire league for scoring runs and had he not missed five weeks with an ankle sprain, he could have easily finished in the top 10. If the Angels keep the same batting order with Trout batting 2nd and Pujols 3rd, Calhoun should easily match his 2014 totals and could approach 100. When looking at fantasy players we usually judge them by their power and speed, but runs are one of the standard categories in 5×5 leagues and getting a top 10 player in any category is important.

Power

Speaking of power, Calhoun has that as well. Not earth shattering 30+ home run power, but enough that he should be able to hit 20 annually. His average fly ball distance in 2014 was 279.43 feet. That’s just ahead of Robinson Cano and Buster Posey and a few inches behind Evan Longoria and Hanley Ramirez. Speaking of fly balls, his FB% was 32.5; slightly lower than the 36.1 he posted in 2013, but still high enough. The HR/FB ratio also dropped from 2013, 13.4% compared to 14.0%. He also had double the plate appearances in 2014 so I wouldn’t read too much into the drop.

Calhoun’s ISO was .178 in 2014 and .179 in 2013. According to Fangraphs an ISO of .140 is considered average and .170 is above average. Fangraphs also recommends a sample size of at least 550 plate appearances before drawing any conclusions. Calhoun has 759 plate appearances over the past two years so it’s pretty safe to assume the ISO will be over .170 in 2015. The league average ISO in 2014 was only .135. It was .143 in 2013 and .151 in 2012. ISO has been trending downward so getting any player with above average numbers is a bonus these days.

Looking at the actual home run totals, Calhoun had 17 in fewer than 500 at bats. That puts him right in line for the 20 home run plateau. Only 3 of those 17 were classified as just enough by ESPNs home run tracker. While his average fly ball distance was 279 feet, each of his home runs traveled at least 350 feet with a handful reaching 400 feet. I don’t think it’s out of the question to expect 20 home runs from Calhoun in 2015. 28 outfielders hit 20 or more home runs in 2014, but just 11 of those 28 scored over 80 runs and only 5 of those 11 scored over 90 runs. While 20 home runs may not seem like a lot to some; combined with the run totals, Calhoun is the man so far.

Speed

While you may not have noticed by his major league totals, Calhoun has some speed as well. Just like the power, it’s not a lot of speed but enough to steal between 15 and 20 bases annually.

  AB SB CS
NCAA 803 43 17
A+ 512 20 10
AAA 672 22 6
ML 711 8 5

For some unknown reason, he has not been given the green light at the major league level. Mike Scioscia is a tough cookie to figure out. OK, not really, he hates rookies. He doesn’t trust them in his lineup and it takes him time to get accustomed to these players. Calhoun has been there for a year and a half now so he has Scioscia’s confidence (for the most part). When Calhoun came back from his injury, Scioscia placed him right back in the leadoff spot so he has his spot in the order set. This could be the year that Kole is given some freedom.

In AAA Calhoun stole 22 bases, 12 of them in 2012 over 410 at bats and 10 more in 2013 over 240 at bats. In 2011 he stole 20 bases in 512 at bats, but he was caught 20 times. While his totals went down slightly when he advanced a level, his success rate went up as he was caught only 5 times from 2012 to 2013. In 2014 Calhoun only stole 5 bases and was caught 3 times. His success rate and totals don’t come close to his minor league numbers, but I don’t think we can judge him by the limited opportunities he’s received. Plus there was the matter of an ankle injury; Calhoun did have 2 steals in only 56 at bats prior to that.

Looking ahead to 2015 I can see a minimum of 10 stolen bases with the possibility for 15 if he’s given a little freedom. There were a total of 40 outfielders that had 15 or more stolen bases, 58 with at least 10 steals. Of those 58 players, only 6 had 20 or more home runs and those 6 players had 89 or more runs scored. If we think on the high side and give Calhoun 15 steals you’re left with just 4 outfielders with at least 20 home runs and only 9 outfielders with 75 or more runs scored. If we meet in the middle with 12 steals, that’s just 2 additional outfielders that have scored more than 75 runs or 11 out of 50. You’re not drafting Calhoun for steals, but so far combined with the power and runs you’ve got a nice little package.

Batting Average

Calhoun batted .272 in 2014. It was .324 in AAA and A+ so there is room for improvement. Normally I would discount the AAA average some considering it was in the PCL, but Calhoun’s exposure to those parks was limited. The longer a player spends in the PCL, the harder it is for them to get accustomed to the larger parks. Since Calhoun had just over a year’s worth of at bats down there and has had time to adjust to the majors, we should start to see the average come up.

There is a matter of his splits, and it is a major concern from a Mike Scioscia standpoint. Calhoun batted .277 against righties last year but only .252 against lefties. Some batters would kill to have a .252 average against lefties, but Scioscia obviously thinks that is too low and benched him occasionally when there was a south paw on the mound. On one hand this is a positive as you will get only the best numbers from Calhoun, but on the other hand you’re taking away run scoring opportunities. There is also the matter of the .257 home average vs. the .287 on the road. The home average came down from 2013 when he hit .271, but the road average stayed the same so he just has to work on half his game.

Also, last year’s .272 wasn’t all good when you break things down month to month. April and May were both low, but I’ll write them off due to limited at bats due to an injury. In June he hit a robust .346 and went downhill from there. The average was .287 in July, .261 in August and .248 in September. His BABIP remained close to his career line in each of those months other than September when it dropped to .284 so August could have just been bad luck and September fatigue. Given his minor league numbers, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

One encouraging sign for the batting average was the slight rise in LD%, up to 23.8%. Considering close to 75% of line drives end up as hits the higher LD% should assure the average doesn’t go much below last year’s .272.

The strikeout rate went up to 19.4% which is on the high side, but not much higher than the 19% he averaged in AAA. The month to month splits were basically the same other than a spike in May so it did not go up as the year pressed on which is a plus. The walk rate went in the wrong direction, going from 9.5% in 2013 to 7.1 in 2014. It was over 10% in AAA so you would think given his age and prior plate discipline that the walks would improve in 2015; maybe not up to 10% but closer to 9.0 and definitely above 7.1.

For 2015 I don’t’ see his average going below .270, that would be his floor. The .272 average in 2014 places Calhoun 25th among qualified outfielders. Even if we lower it to .270 he still finishes in the top 30. Of the top 30 qualified outfielder for batting average, 11 had 20 or more home runs but only 6 of those 11 had 12 or more stolen bases. 21 out of 30 of these players (Calhoun included) scored more than 75 runs. While you may be able to find outfielders with a better average that can score runs, the number that can hit for power, steal bases And score runs are limited.

RBIs

This may be the one down spot for Calhoun being the leadoff hitter. He drove in 58 runs in 2014; that was the third highest total from a leadoff hitter. Charlie Blackmon was the only leadoff hitter to drive in over 60 runs. Only 4 players drove in more than 60 runs in each of the previous two seasons and just two players hit that milestone in 2011. Of those 10 players, 8 of them were from the American League.

While I would like to predict an RBI total over 60, realistically the chances are low. Calhoun does play in the American League so if anyone has a chance, it’s him. Kinsler did it in back to back years in 2011 and 2012 but only managed totals in the 50’s the following two seasons.

Last season, 43 outfielders had 58 or more RBI. Calhoun came in at #38 tied with 5 other players so we’re left with 37 players with more RBIs. 7 of those players had a batting average below .250, scored 70 or fewer runs and did not reach double digits in stolen bases which leave 30 outfielders that were better options than Calhoun in 2014. That would make Calhoun a #3 outfielder for just the RBI category.

2015

Looking at individual categories it appears that you can do better than Calhoun on draft day. When you add all the categories together and compare them to the rest of the group, his appeal is much stronger. You’re not drafting Calhoun for RBIs so as long as you have this in mind come draft day, you’re covered. He’s not a speed demon but he should reach double digits. Calhoun’s also not a powerhouse but you should get 20 home runs from him (give or take a few). On the conservative end you’ll get a .270 average, but I expect it to be higher than that. As for runs, that is the one sweet spot and the number one reason to draft Calhoun.

I can see a 20/12 season with 90+runs and 55 RBIs with an average in the .280 range. You may not consider 20 home runs and 12 steals to be strong, but if he were a power hitter getting 30 home runs and zero steals you wouldn’t think twice. Calhoun will deliver top 10 numbers in one category and is a top 30 in 3 others. That makes him a solid #3 outfielder for any fantasy team. Our early rankings have Calhoun at #31; coincidentally, that is where he ranked in our dynasty rankings. Considering there were 5 different people doing dynasty rankings than the 2015 rankings, you get a pretty good consensus.

Once those top 24 outfielders are off the board, add Calhoun to your draft queue.

Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.