In Appreciation of: Willie Calhoun’s Improbable Single (and other things)

Matthew Gregory
3 min readMay 19, 2021
Clip from MLB Video

I have sat down and watched this video dozens of times and I still do not understand how Willie Calhoun not only makes contact with this pitch, but gets on top of it for a single for a go-ahead RBI in the 10th inning versus the Twins.

In my generous analysis, nine times out of ten that type of swing is either going to end with a miss or a pop-up, and if Calhoun is lucky, the ball goes foul. But it generated a line drive! And not a cheap-y! It went off the bat at 103.4 miles per hour. The expected batting average of a ball hit at that launch and and exit velocity is .570.

Now, Tyler Duffey is no shutdown reliever. It’s not the same as going after a 101mph fastball in the same location, but even in the low 90s, a fastball gets up on a hitter quickly. But Willie Calhoun is no ordinary hitter. He has premier contact skills, which were touted as he was coming up in the LA Dodgers and Texas Rangers systems (he was part of the Yu Darvish trade).

Just look below at Calhoun’s career swing% and whiff% by area of the zone with two strikes versus the league averages:

Calhoun’s Whiff% and Swing% versus League Average

Calhoun is particularly aggressive swinging at pitches higher in the zone compared to the rest of the league. He’s also slightly (really stretching the definition of slightly here) better at making contact with those pitches!

There’s really not much more to say here, other than we need to appreciate our Texas based 5'8 200lb slugger for believing he can hit any pitch. For any pitchers out there, learn from Tyler Duffey’s mistake. If you think the pitch is far enough away that Willie Calhoun won’t swing, you’re wrong. You cannot escape Willie Calhoun’s bat, it is legion.

The Giants are accidentally contending during a rebuild. One area propelling this that I can point to immediately this is their starting rotation. Other than Johnny Cueto, the entire rotation is composed of free agents signed to one year deals. There is some name recognition in the rotation though: Aaron Sanchez, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani and Kevin Gausman. All have experienced success at the major league level, with some combination of injuries and ineffectiveness preventing higher peaks.

Gausman was someone I meant to write about last year, as he’s on his second one year deal with the Giants, this time taking the qualifying offer. He was picked up with Drew Smyly (someone I wrote about last year) as fliers to either be traded or potentially brought back. Gausman never got a longer term deal but it seems to be working out well for both sides. The Giants are riding these one year prove it deals and an unlikely resurgence from Johnny Cueto to a first place lead in the NL West.

It’s hard to imagine this lasting very long, as it is also getting contributions from two 34 year olds in their walk years, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. Posey is still a good catcher, but I don’t see him maintaining a .649 slugging percentage. Nor do I see Crawford maintaining his current output based on his history, but who knows. I’ll try and write something deeper about the Giants coming soon.