Kole Calhoun’s season has been one great downward slide through the Angels’ lineup. After batting fifth to begin the year, he’s tumbled through the order as his performance has worsened—and it’s worsened considerably. Calhoun occupied the eighth spot on the lineup card for a few weeks until Sunday, when manager Mike Scioscia decided to try something different. He tried batting Calhoun second.
It didn’t work. The rightfielder went 0-for-3, striking out twice and stranding three men on base before being yanked for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. But considering Calhoun’s year so far, Scioscia’s desire to reach for something new is easily understood. Calhoun has been not just bad, but disastrously so: He’s the worst everyday player in the major leagues so far, in a start that’s been nearly historically bad.
The Angels have plenty of more exciting things to focus on; Calhoun’s struggle has been perhaps the lone depressing footnote in what’s been a dynamite team story so far. (Case in point: Yesterday’s batting-order shake-up came during a walk-off victory in which Shohei Ohtani struck out eleven, and the pinch-hitter who replaced Calhoun was none other than Mike Trout.) The 30-year-old’s season has been easy to overlook, then, but in a sense, he’s been remarkable. After all, an 11 OPS+—no zero missing at the end there—isn’t something you see that often.
That translates to a hideous triple-slash of .165/.195/.205, and there’s no bright spot to be found in any of his numbers beyond that. He’s seemingly lost his sense of the zone, drawing walks at scarcely a third of the rate that he did over the past several seasons and striking out far more. For the first time in his career, he’s swinging at more than half of the pitches that he sees, but making less contact than he ever has. And the majority of the contact that he does make is weak, with grounders making up nearly 60% of his batted-ball profile. Relative to the rest of the league’s performance, it’s the worst March-April from an everyday player since Greg Vaughn hit .099/.192/.110 in 2002; in the last half-century, only three other players have had similarly poor starts.
It’s uncharacteristic for Calhoun, who’s been solidly competent, if nothing else, for several seasons now. A small decline in power last year meant that he posted an OPS+ below 100 for the first time in his career—only just below, at 96. This season, in other words, is something notably weird for him. It’s unlikely that he can possibly continue playing quite this poorly for too much longer, but the fact that he even has the chance to try is a testament to the Angels’ faith in the Calhoun of years past. The team has a replacement (albeit an uninspiring one) ready in Jabari Blash, but for now, the starting job still belongs to Calhoun, which means that the unofficial title of baseball’s worst everyday player does, too.
It’s still early in the year, of course, and that title requires a delicate walk on a replacement-level tightrope—playing terribly, yet not quite so terribly that your play can’t be justified in the first place—but there are a few other guys who have been navigating it almost as impressively as Calhoun. There’s Ian Desmond, who’s followed up his injury-ridden struggles from last year with something even worse, posting an OPS+ of 43. There’s Chris Davis, seemingly doing his best to provide a new answer to the question of just how poorly a first baseman can hit without losing his job. And then there’s one figure who should strike fear (relief?) in the hearts of everyone in contention to be baseball’s worst—last year’s arguable champ, Rougned Odor, who came back this weekend from a month on the disabled list. Since his return, he’s struck out in five of his seven plate appearances; if that doesn’t scream repeat for a guy who hit .204/.252/.397 while appearing in every single game last year, what could?