Kole Calhoun’s story from terrible start to rebound poster child was well documented during his 2018 season. A retooled swing during his stint on the “DL” was credited with helping turn his season around.
The reality is that Calhoun climbed a mountain and went back down again by the time the season was over.
Calhoun quickly went on a tear when he returned in mid-June, hitting .321 over his first 9 games back with a .367 OBP and ..938 OPS. As you can see, his rolling average peaked before falling off at the end of the season. While it didn’t fall to the same levels as before his DL stint, over his last 26 games Calhoun only hit .121 with a .220 slugging and 31 Ks. Is that dip at the end of the year a concern? Maybe.
Much has been said about what happened to Calhoun and how he got better but not much was said about what happened in September.
Is shifting the problem?
Calhoun vs. The Shift
Clearly, the shift hasn’t been a problem for Calhoun before the 2018 season. Even as recently as 2017, he his .291 against the shift. Calhoun is definitely shifted on more than he is not, but that hasn’t been a huge problem for him before last season.
In fact, even during the 2018 season, Calhoun hit .354 in July and .327 in August AGAINST the shift.
Calhoun v. The Shift 2018
If you look at the last 3 columns, you can also see that pulling the ball isn’t the problem. Calhoun hit .354 against the shift in July and had his 2nd highest pull rate of the season, along with his lowest opposite field percentage.
How about hard hit balls?
There is some correlation to Calhoun returning and hitting the ball harder with his new stance.
Calhoun Hard Hit % 2018
Those hard hit numbers from June to September are substantially better than before he went on the DL and his numbers certainly looked better - until September. What happened then? Calhoun was still hitting the ball hard but his average took a nose dive.
What about ground ball rate?
Calhoun’s ground ball rate spiked in 2018 at the beginning of the season to his highest levels ever.
You can see a very clear correlation to his ground ball rate and wOBA. When Calhoun came back from the DL, his GB rate was way down so his average and OBA was up.
Calhoun 2018 GB%
This table above gives a better picture of ground ball rate by month and how it affected Calhoun. In the first two months of the year, his GB% was around 55% give or take and his average was WAY down. When he came back, his GB% was down while his LD% and FB5 jumped dramatically. And here we can see the reason why his average took a nose dive again at the end of the year despite his hard hit rate saying up. While not as bad as April and May, Calhoun started hitting more ground balls again - despite his new stance.
It’s no surprise that the shift bit Calhoun in 2018 but not just the shift. Rather, it was a combination of ground balls into the shift at a rate at which he’s never really done before. It was a great sign that he changed mid season but also troubling that he was trending backwards in September even with his adjusted stance. So, it may not have been his stance alone that helped him improve in the middle of the season.
Probably also not a surprise is that Calhoun struggled against left handed pitching. What may be a surprise is that in August he had 50 PA against lefties (his most of any month) and managed a .304 AVG which was the only month he hit over .188 against Southpaws. Calhoun was locked in that month with a nearly 30% line drive rate (highest of the year), and his second lowest ground ball rate at 33%. August was also the month in which Calhoun hit the ball the hardest.
Overlay of Kole Calhoun in July (in red - HR) and in August (in gray - groundout)
The big question really comes down to Calhoun being able to elevate the ball in 2019. If he can keep his ground ball rate down, then we could see the version of Calhoun this team needs. But if he keeps hitting the ball on the ground like he did in April, May, and September - then we could see some struggles.