In fantasy baseball, there is a shift in the way we value assets and production each year. Last year, first base was considered deep, but this year, as I discussed in my article about Justin Bour, first base is seen as shallow. This year, everyone is freaking about a lack of speed and the dearth of “elite” starting pitching. There is another side to that spectrum. Fantasy owners are valuing extreme skillsets now more than ever. While true five-category producers are still coveted, the step-below, the jack-of-many-trades and master-of-none types have rapidly falling draft stocks.
The player that may exemplify this best is Kole Calhoun, who is the definition of boring to fantasy owners, but provides decent average and power along with counting stat production. What I find interesting about Calhoun is that results-wise, nothing has really changed about him as a player except for how we value him. In today’s climate, .270 20 HR 3-4 SB players are completely devalued whereas two-three years ago, people were banking solid production from those types and paying for it.
When the first ADP data was released, Kole Calhoun was well within the top 40 OFs and now has fallen to the 42nd overall OF based on ADP (189.58). In the name of upside, Calhoun is going 42 picks after Byron Buxton (147.72) and his 35.6% K rate. I suspect he will continue to fall as we get closer and closer to the end of March and more and more drafts take place. Last year, based on Yahoo!’s ratings, Calhoun finished as the 36th OF and the 161st player overall. Thus, a repeat of his performance would, in fact, turn a minor profit for his fantasy owners.
Now, you may have noted that I highlighted the words “results-wise” above, that is because Calhoun made some improvements last year, which hint that there might be better days ahead. For the first time at the MLB level, Calhoun spiked his walk rate to 10%. He also posted a career low K% at 17.6%. These minor improvements show up in the OBP – career high .348 – but not really any place else. Big deal, right? So he might score a few more runs because he was on-base more.
Calhoun also made some skill improvements last year, which were unaccounted for in the results. With respect to luck, home runs were up league-wide (14%), but down for Calhoun (26 in 2015 v. 18 in 2016). This was despite some gains that would normally lead to improved power production. Calhoun hit for a greater amount of hard contact (35.3% in 2016 v. 28.0% in 2015) and hit more flyballs last year (39.9% v. 35.4% in 2015). With the improvements in his batted ball data and the league-wide homer surge, Calhoun probably should have come close or equaled his power output from 2015.
If Calhoun hits 7 more homers, he is getting close to 100 runs and over 80 RBI. In this hypothetical, if we convert five flyball outs into homers (assuming the other two homers were extra-base hits for a total of 7), he’s suddenly hitting .280. At .280, 25 homers with ~97 Rs and ~85 RBI, Calhoun starts to look an awful lot like 2016 Carlos Gonzalez in terms of counting production (25 homers, 187 R+RBI). Of course, Gonzalez, who finished as the 53rd overall player, hit for a .298 batting average – so we need to dock Calhoun for that. Still, he’s likely a top 75 player, at his converted line where, we account for the skills growth and home run climate.
On the podcast, I have touted Calhoun as a potential A.J. Pollock insurance plan. Although he is not going to provide the stolen base upside, he’s a really good counting category asset – thanks Mike Trout – and he has a little bit of sneaky upside at an affordable price.
My Projection for Kole Calhoun: GP 155, 95 R, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 4 SB .275/.350/.445