Calhoun boasts big improvement on defense

May 29th, 2021

Coming into the 2021 season, wanted to be a more complete, all-fields hitter, instead of just focusing on the long ball. And while he has done that, slashing .262/.329/.438 with a .767 OPS through 34 games this season, he had another goal: To become a better outfielder.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward mentioned in Spring Training that he challenged Calhoun specifically to improve on defense, and two months into the season, there’s been noticeable improvement.

Woodward attributes that to Calhoun being more aggressive in the field, chasing down balls and running good routes to turn doubles into flyouts.

“That's significant because those are plays that I feel like Willie didn't make in the past,” Woodward said. “Or didn't even attempt to make in the past. It was almost like ‘OK, I can't get that.’ But the closing speed now, it’s like cornerbacks in the NFL have on balls that are over his head. He seems to have a little bit more of that, and I never saw it before.”

Sharing an outfield with 2020 Gold Glove Award winner Joey Gallo and rookie sensation Adolis García, it’s easy for Calhoun’s defensive capabilities to get overlooked. While he may not win a Gold Glove, he’s looked confident in the position all season.

Woodward said the biggest thing for Calhoun coming into the season was his mentality. The outfielder has shown his aggression and has made difficult plays look routine. Instead of playing them off the wall, he runs them down and dives for shallow fly balls.

Calhoun said he’s definitely more comfortable in the outfield this season, something he attributes to simply becoming more acclimated to playing at a Major League level. Though he made his MLB debut in 2017, Calhoun has never played more than 83 games in a season as he’s struggled with injuries.

He missed the first two weeks of this season with a groin strain, but has been a consistent fixture in the Rangers’ lineup since coming off the injured list. Calhoun has played 17 games in left field and has been the designated hitter in 16 games.

Calhoun said that since coming to Texas in the 2017 trade with the Dodgers for Yu Darvish, he’s set unrealistic expectations for himself because of the magnitude of that trade. He’s just starting to feel like himself again.

“Being more comfortable on the baseball field in general plays a huge role in that,” Calhoun said. “I can say this year, I'm finally just being myself and just letting my natural ability take over. Just being loose out there is definitely something that's helped me out a lot.”

Calhoun’s offensive numbers speak for themselves as he’s settling in as the Rangers leadoff hitter more often than not. His average exit velocity sits at 91.6 mph and his hard-hit rate is at 47.3 percent.

His strikeout rate -- which has consistently gotten better year-over-year -- is at a career-best 12.6% this season, good for the 95th percentile in MLB. He’s also taking more walks this year. Through 34 games, he’s walked 12 times, which is more than he’s even taken through that number of games in a single season.

“I think the game nowadays, everyone wants homers,” Calhoun said of his patience at the plate. “I think the game is in that state of mind right now, and for me, my goal this year was to be a complete hitter. I've always taken pride in striking out, ever since I was a little kid. I think at some point you have to take pride in not striking out and holding yourself to a certain standard, especially at this level.”