Willie Calhoun and the Detroit Tigers are a Match Made in Heaven

On July 31st of 2017, the Texas Rangers struck a last-minute deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, parting ways with their long-time ace SP Yu Darvish in exchange for two notable prospects — Willie Calhoun (2B/OF/DH) and Dustin May (RHP). Calhoun was seen as the more advanced prospect, having already ready registered 414 AAA PAs. He performed exceptionally well there as well…

  • AVG: .298
  • OBP: .357
  • K%: 8.7
  • BB%: 11.8
  • HR: 23

The Rangers called him up to the majors in late September, and Calhoun responded pretty well (in a small sample/37 PAs, he put up a .265 AVG and slugged 1 HR). His lone HR was against Justin Verlander, of course.

Many pundits anticipated Calhoun would win a starting spot in the OF out of camp in 2018; however, in the end, the Rangers decided to send him down to Round Rock (AAA affiliate) so that Calhoun could work on his defense (Calhoun’s biggest concern/flaw) in a less competitive environment.

Much to the surprise of Rangers fans (and Calhoun himself), Willie Calhoun spent the vast majority of the 2018 campaign in the minor leagues despite hitting well (not as good as 2017 though)…

  • PA: 470
  • AVG: .294
  • OBP: .351
  • K%: 10.0
  • BB%: 6.8
  • HR: 9

He did perform poorly in his limited major league action (but that could likely be attributed to a lack of regular playing time)…

  • PA: 108
  • AVG: .222
  • OBP: .269
  • K%: 22.2
  • BB%: 5.6
  • HR: 2

Calhoun’s defense remained problematic; in 200 innings in the OF, he was worth -3 DRS (all stats according to FanGraphs unless otherwise noted). In comparison, Tigers’ RF Nick Castellanos was worth -19 DRS in 1234.1 innings. If Calhoun maintained a rate of -3 DRS/200 inn., he would have finished with a -18.5 DRS (a hair better than Castellanos). In 2017, Calhoun played over 600 innings at 2B, but he is yet to play an inning there in the MLB (which presumably means he is borderline not playable at 2B).

The Tigers are such a great fit for Calhoun (who is only 24 years old) in the sense that they have an abundance of what Texas needs (pitching) and they could use a player of Calhoun’s caliber (who is expendable for Texas; DeShields: CF, Mazara: RF: Mazara, LF: Gallo, and DH: Shin-Soo Choo). Calhoun and the Rangers have simply proven to be a poor fit.

Willie CalhounTexas Rangers OF/DH, is in camp today, per the beat guys.
This should end 48 hours or so of drama, with Calhoun sitting out Thursday after being told he was not making the team, and then not showing up on Friday, causing expressions of concern from the manager and a couple of veterans.
Willie is making the trip to Nashville with the team for some exhibitions, and presumably we can now all move on.

Adam J. Morris of the Lone Star Ball
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Calhoun didn’t really hit for much power last year (11 HRs between AAA and MLB in 2018 after hitting 31 dingers at AAA in 2017), but his doubles-power (32 2Bs in 2018) would play really well at Comerica Park (deep in RCF).

Graph courtesy of FanGraphs

From his 2018 batted-balls sprayed chart, it clear that Calhoun frequently pulls the ball (to the right side).

There’s reason to think that Calhoun was somewhat misfortunate in 2018 (in the MLB) considering his BABIP was .47 points below the one he recorded in AAA (.314). His average exit velocity last year (per Statcast Leaderboard) was 87.2 mph, which put him in a tie (with several others, one of which being the Royals lone exciting player last year — Adalberto Mondesi) for the 287th best in the MLB (among hitters with at least 40 batted ball events). While Willie Calhoun struck out at an alarming rate (22.2%) in 2018 (in MLB), his other plate discipline metrics look promising…

  • Contact%: 82.6
  • Z-Contact% (amount of time he makes contact when he swings at pitches that are inside the strike zone): 89.2
  • SwStr%: 8.8

Here’s what the Tigers could conceivably look to offer the Rangers in return for Willie Calhoun…

Detroit Tigers trade RHP Beau Burrows and LHP Jose Fernandez to the Texas Rangers for 2B/OF/DH Willie Calhoun

Starting pitcher Beau Burrows, only 22 years old, is nearly ready for the MLB, having pitched decently last year in triple-A. His upside is not remotely close to as high as that of Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, and Casey Mize (the top pitching prospects in Detroit’s system). Here are Burrows’ stats from the 2018 season…

  • IP: 134
  • K/9: 8.53
  • BB/9: 3.76
  • HR/9: 0.81
  • ERA: 4.10
  • FIP: 4.03
  • xFIP: 4.29

Rangers have little depth at the SP position with a top 6 (based on FanGraphs’ Depth Chart) of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller, and Ariel Jurado. Burrows could become next in line, and there is a solid chance that he could open the 2020 season in their MLB rotation.

It was recently announced that the Rangers most prominent left-handed RP — Yohander Mendez — would be sidelined for the first half of the season due to an elbow injury. Texas does not have another southpaw in their system that is ready to pitch in the major leagues after that. That is why LHP Jose Fernandez would be a perfect fit.

Fernandez, who recently turned 26 years old, had a good spring training (with the Tigers) and put up excellent numbers last year at AAA, but he was assigned to the minors (AAA) a couple weeks ago…

Spring Training (per Baseball Reference)

  • IP: 6
  • ER: 0
  • H: 4
  • BB: 3
  • K: 5

AAA

  • IP: 29.1
  • K/9: 9.82
  • BB/9: 2.45
  • HR/9: 0.61
  • ERA: 2.45

He could realistically open the season in the Rangers bullpen.

Willie Calhoun could start at DH (when Cabrera plays at 1B), or the Tigers could play him in the OF when one of the starters (Christin Stewart, Mike Mahtook (probably), and Nicholas Castellanos) needs a day off (or plays a game at DH). They could also occasionally give him a start at 2B, in hopes that he would improve defensively there.

Ultimately, this is a deal that makes sense for both sides involved, as well as the prospects. If Calhoun demands for a trade (which he may very well do), the Tigers should definitely give Texas a call.

Thanks for reading.

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