By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer -
Author’s Note: If you missed the previous installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here, Part VII here, Part VIII here, Part IX here, Part X here, Part XI here, and Part XII here.
Let me pose a question to you the fans: Did the disaster of the 2016 season give you digestive problems such as nausea, loss of appetite, motion sickness, or even pain?
If you said yes, please let me recommend, for you and the Angels, a healthy dose of ginger in the 2017 season.
Our favorite redheaded right fielder will return for another season of Gold Glove-caliber defense and an incrementally improved offensive profile to hit in the middle of Mike Scioscia’s lineup.
Kole, in 2017, will be entering his fourth year of team control and his second year of arbitration control as a Super Two player (meaning instead of three years of arbitration he receives four years). Calhoun, per MLBTradeRumors.com, projects to receive $6.3M for the 2017 season.
This year’s salary will not be a problem for Billy Eppler to incorporate into team payroll but the Angels, after this season, will need to seriously consider reaching a decision regarding both Kole and Garrett Richards escalating salaries.
If Calhoun and Richards play for the entire season without injury both could receive raises for 2018 that would bring their salaries up to the $10M-12M range, which would decrease flexibility next year. Eppler can accommodate it, particularly if he cuts payroll in other areas, but it may be best to consider either extending Kole or consider trading him.
Based on long-term payroll and the window of contention we are in with Trout, buying out Calhoun’s remaining arbitration years with perhaps at least one option year would allow the Angels to stabilize their payroll while retaining the veteran Kole through his age 31 (or even 32 or 33 if we buy out one or two free agency years) season.
Once the 2017 season concludes it would not be surprising to see the Angels offer Calhoun a 2-year/$25M-30M, 3-year/$45M-50M, or even 4-year/$65M-70M extension contract. It would give Kole his first really big payday and provide his family with long-term financial security, while for the team it would solidify their outfield situation for the next handful of years while providing team payroll constancy over the same period.
If the Angels choose to go the trade route after 2017, Calhoun could certainly bring in one or more prospects or MLB players but we would then have to fill the hole and the production that he provided which is not insignificant, making continuing arbitration payments or an extension more palatable for Billy Eppler if he cannot acquire an adequate replacement outfielder.
Speaking of production, Kole, in 2016, had a tidy .271/.348/.438 slash line with the aforementioned high quality defense manning right field. Although he hit less home runs than he did in 2015, he created more runs with a wRC+ of 118 versus the 104 from the previous season. Part of those home runs were actually converted to doubles (23 in 2015 vs. 35 in 2016) which increased his slugging percentage slightly last season.
Also in 2015, per FanGraphs Jeff Zimmerman in a spreadsheet found here, Kole Calhoun had a corrected average exit velocity of 83.1 miles per hour. However in 2016 that number rose 3.7 mph to 86.8. Additionally the average launch angle off of his bat crept up slightly from 11 degrees in 2015 to 14.1 degrees in 2016.
FanGraphs batted ball data concurs with the exit velocity assessment showing that in 2015 Kole had a 28% Hard hit percentage and in 2016 it jumped up to 35.5% which is a marked improvement. Also you see an increase in Calhoun’s fly ball percentage as it jumped from 35.4% in 2015 to 39.9% in 2016.
If that increase in exit velocity holds for 2017 you would expect to see Kole’s BABIP remain steady around his 2016 number of .309 because he his hitting the ball harder which makes it more difficult for any defenders to not only reach it but handle it if they do manage to glove it. Exit velocity is a good indicator of extra base hit potential.
Another more important item is Calhoun’s strikeout rate coming in nearly 3% lower than his career rate in 2016 (17.6% vs. 20.3%). Not only did he lower it he also posted his highest walk rate in his Major League career coming in at a tidy 10%.
It feels like Kole, in his third full season of plate appearances in the Majors, is taking a small but important step forward in the evolution of his offensive profile.
Considering that he will probably move to the middle of the order in 2017 it will be important for Calhoun to provide a balanced approach at the plate because he will be asked to put on many hats as a run creator and producer next year. His ability to provide a quality at-bat and to spray singles and doubles all over the field will be a critical component for the team’s success.
Look for Kole to be a stabilizing influence on both sides of the ball and to take a larger role as a team leader in 2017. He has earned not only the fans respect but his teammates as well and he is a vital component to our success in winning a championship.