I love baseball movies. I think I’m not alone in that statement. And, of course, one of my all-time favorites is Major League. It’s one of the best sports comedies ever made and I’m pretty sure that’s not just hyperbole.
Anyway, besides the Wild Thing and Willie Mays Hayes, there’s a character in that movie that is always strangely endearing for all his bizarre quirks. I’m talking about Mr. Pedro Cerrano, the Cuban voodoo-practicing ballplayer that pioneered “hats for bats” and wanted to sacrifice a chicken before a game.
In watching the beginning of the 2011 Royals season, I’ve come to the realization that one of my favorite Royals to root for may just be Pedro Cerrano incarnate.
I’m speaking about Kila Ka’aihue.
Now, I obviously don’t mean this as a hint about his religious or superstitious nature. Instead, it’s about his batting prowess. And I’ll show you what I mean and why Kila’s having a hard time getting his season underway.
Here’s the line that Bill James projected for Kila in 2011:
.253/.374/.451 with 22 HR and a BB:K ratio of about 1
Now, here’s the line that Kila’s produced to this point (in an admittedly small sample):
.176/.293/.324 with 1 HR and a BB:K ratio of about 0.5
Just so you know, the home runs would project out to about 13 or 14 over a whole season.
Anyway, that’s a poor start by any measure. I don’t care if you’re statistically-minded or otherwise. Any way you look at those numbers it’s easy to see that it’s been a tough first couple weeks for Kila.
Why is this? Let’s look at the numbers, like I did for the post about Mike Aviles last week. Now, there isn’t as much major league data for Kila as there was for Mike, but the points still stand. The biggest thing about Kila’s batted ball numbers is shown in his liner, flyball, and infield fly percentages. While his ground ball percentage is at about his career average, he’s hit 13% fewer fly balls and 12% more liners than last year. While liners are usually a pretty high percentage hit, Kila’s had a BABIP of only .238, which is well below what you’d expect on average. However, it is actually fairly in line with what he did in 2010. So, while the batted ball percentages are a bit out of line, Kila has hit about .030 worse and slugged .070 worse than last season.
I think we’ve all seen where Kila has been floundering. He’s struck out 13 times so far, which would put him in line for somewhere around 150 or more on the season if he keeps going at this rate. Though he has gotten about as many walks as Bill James projected for this amount of time (6), he just can’t keep from striking out. For me, it’s become pretty frustrating to watch him pace back to the dugout. And I know Kila’s frustrated with himself, too.
This is where the Pedro Cerrano analogy comes into play. So far this season, Kila has seen approximately 10% fewer fastballs, 4% more sliders, and 4% more curveballs than in previous years. While he’s put fastballs into play a bit more than in the past, Kila has put none of the 18 changeups he’s seen into play. His in-play percentage on curveballs is down a full 10%. Whereas he used to get about 16% of sliders back into play, that number has been cut in half in 2011. He’s whiffed on 28% of the sliders he’s seen.
“Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid.” -Pedro Cerrano
Kila’s getting more off-speed stuff and hitting fewer of them. Pitchers know that he hits fastballs “very much”, so they’re dishing out more curveballs and sliders. They’re tailing sliders down and away from him and he’s swinging through them. Even when they do throw fastballs, they’re putting them on the outer half. They’re doing what they can to avoid Kila’s power zone. And it’s working.
Kila’s strikeout percentage before 2011 was about 18%. So far this season, it’s a ripe 31%. His walk percentage is down almost 3%. These pitchers have him figured out.
In my mind, this is very similar to what Mike has been going through. These guys have been given a starting opportunity and they want to do everything they can to ensure they get a spot with the team with the young guys almost assuredly starting to push them out this season. So, they start pressing. They go after pitches they might normally lay off. They try to smoke every pitch that they see. And then they sit on the bench.
In Kila’s case, it’s more of an adjustment that’s necessary. Kila needs to take some time and get used to fouling off those off-speed pitches or letting them by altogether. He needs to work hard to make the pitcher throw him something he wants. I’m not saying that he doesn’t already do this, but with the way pitchers have been attacking him so far, he’s going to have to improve his ability to stay ahead in counts and work a walk, if nothing else.
I know Kila is a smart guy and can adjust to this. With some work with Kevin Seitzer and some practice in the cages, he can make the necessary adjustments.
With Eric Hosmer knocking on the door, he’ll have to.