In an interview with Rob White of the Omaha World-Herald, Kila Ka’aihue, now in Omaha after a dismal 2011 in Kansas City, stated that he was going to ditch the patient plate approach that he’s adopted on his way through the minors in favor of a more aggressive approach.
After getting hidden away in 2009 and being pushed out by Eric Hosmer this year, I guess he has to do something.
I can’t help but question the decision.
To me, his patience seemed to be a part of his power numbers. In the minors, especially, pitchers are more prone to make mistakes. Part of a hitter’s approach should be waiting for those mistakes. When he’s seen a fat pitch, he’s taken advantage of it.
Kila’s thinking is that he won’t walk his way back to the big leagues, and he’s right.
Effectively, he’s auditioning now for other teams who may want a big left-handed first baseman. The Royals never fully gave him an opportunity and it never seemed like they appreciated his ability to get on base via the walk either. Their decision to demote him in May was made easier by a phenomenal Eric Hosmer, but if Hosmer had struggled in Omaha out of the gate, Kila may have gotten another 100 plate appearances or more.
Reading the article, I sensed immense frustration from Ka’aihue. Can you really blame him? After 2008, the Royals thanked him by trading for Mike Jacobs and blocking him for the entire 2009 season. Jacobs finished the year with 19 homers, but only hit .228/.297/.401/.698. Kila struggled in Omaha in 2009, compared to his 2008, but at a certain point, the Royals should have given him a look. They had nothing else to lose.
At this point, neither does Ka’aihue. He’s 27 years old and has just over 300 plate appearances in the big leagues to his name. Clearly, he still wants to be at the highest level and this change is his way to bump his numbers.
Maybe it’ll work, but I’m not sure more swings will benefit him. The internet joke has always been that Ka’aihue has “slider bat speed and warning track power” but his time in Kansas City added a lot of weight to the barbs. He looked lost against soft-tossing lefties and flailed at breaking balls. He pounced on a fastball here or there, but mostly, he never zoned in and got on a roll. The one factor that allowed him to maintain some value offensively was his ability to lay off pitches out of the zone and his willingness to take the walk. The phrase “a walk’s as good as a hit” comes to mind; in fact, when you’re a batter that’s behind major league pitching and you’re quite likely to roll over and ground out, a walk becomes even better than a hit.
That being said, there is sometimes a problem with being too patient. Batters have to get the bat off of their shoulder. I’ve been frustrated watching Billy Butler let waist-high sliders go by for strikes when he could probably rip it into the gap for a double, but his approach is one that won’t always jump on that pitch. Eric Hosmer debuted by walking twice while striking out looking twice. It seemed tentative (and in his major league debut, it’s understandable why that may be the case).
Hosmer has struggled recently because he hasn’t been very patient, most notably a few weeks ago when he popped out on the first pitch with runners on and the Royals in position to tie a game. He chased pitches up out of the zone. It’s a tough balance.
In Kila’s case, he may as well try it. After having the plugged pulled on his season right away – and possibly his career – he has to do something. It’s not like his batting eye will go away. To an extent, that’s as much a natural skill that just can’t be taught. You’ll hear stories of guys like Jeff Francoeur or Yuniesky Betancourt improving their pitch selection, but come the summer months, they always go back to who they are. I expect that to be the case for Kila. He can’t help but lay off bad pitches that he can’t do anything with.
It’s akin to the scene in Major League where Pedro Cerrano issues an ultimatum to his Voodoo god Jobu. To quote the USA Network version of the line “if you no help me now, I say [forget] you Jobu. I do it myself.” That’s what Kila’s doing here. (It’s pretty appropriate, too, considering the odd similarities between Kila and Cerrano.)
We may see his numbers change as a result, but he’ll likely walk at a high rate just as he always has. Unless he goes on a prolong slump, Hosmer should be in Kansas City all season, so Kila will be working out his issues in Omaha – unless he’s traded. It’s a last chance effort to get back to his dream of the big leagues. It may not be in Kansas City at this point, but hey, more power to him.