You know, I want to believe Sam Mellinger when he writes that we shouldn’t be worried that Kila Ka’aihue* isn’t getting more playing time.
*: You’ll notice I added the ‘ in Kila’s name. The ‘ represents a glottal stop, what is known in Hawaiian as the ‘okina. (When you say “uh-oh”, the glottal stop is the hyphen.) Having learned the correct pronunciation of Ka’aihue’s name endears him to me even more, because it turns out we have something in common. The correct transliteration of my last name from the Arabic would actually be Jaza’erli; the letter they call ‘okina in Hawaiian is known as the hamzah in Arabic. My parents elected to simplify the name a little when they came to
So yeah, I want to believe that Ka’aihue’s lack of playing time is simply because the Royals want to get a good look at Ryan Shealy, and does not mean that Ka’aihue won’t be the starting first baseman next season. And then Trey Hillman has to open his big mouth.
“I’m not trying to count KK out for a spot next year,” Hillman said. “But he did move two levels this season. He’s getting a taste (in the big leagues).
“Percentages tell us that, typically, you don’t see a guy go Double-A, Triple-A in one year and then be an impact guy (the following year) at what we hope is a slug position at first base.”
Hillman says that he’s not trying to count KK out for a spot next year. Why should he have to say that? When you get to work, does your boss pop into say that he’s not planning to fire you today? When you head to Sonic* for lunch, does your waitress tell you that they didn’t spit in your meal that day? You don’t try to reassure the fans that you’re “not trying to count KK out” unless you’re seriously thinking about counting KK out.
*: I love living in Chicago, because no matter how big a metropolis it is, the city still acts like a Midwestern town that’s perpetually star-struck by getting to hang out with the really big cities like LA and New York. I’d like to present, as my exhibit, this article about the biggest new phenomenon to hit
As it happens, I drive right by this Sonic every day on my way home to work, and can bear witness that it’s been packed every evening since it opened. My exposure to Sonic primarily comes from their weirdly appealing commercials that play incessantly during Royals games, so I’ll have to ask you all for a judgment: is it any good? It certainly looks appealing, but given that I’m fasting for Ramadan, any food item that doesn’t have mold growing off of it looks appealing at the moment.
So why is Hillman so skeptical about Ka’aihue? Because of the “percentages.” And clearly, he’s a guy who knows all about the percentages. Why else would he start Ross Gload against Kevin Slowey yesterday – Gload was 3-for-
And what do those percentages say? That “you don’t see a guy go Double-A, Triple-A in one year and then be an impact guy (the following year).” Well, maybe that’s because you don’t see a guy go Double-A, Triple-A the way Ka’aihue went this season, huh Trey?
37 homers. 104 walks. A .315 average. A 1085 OPS. A lot of guys get promoted to Triple-A mid-season; almost none of them put up numbers like those in the process.
I don’t have a comprehensive list of players who have, and I’m pretty certain that Hillman doesn’t either. But just from memory, I can think of one guy who did exactly what Ka’aihue did: he had a monster season as a first baseman at age
Howard had a better minor league season than Ka’aihue in one respect: he hit more home runs, 46 of them in 131 games, compared to Kila’s
The Phillies decided to do something radical: they didn’t just promote Howard in September, they actually played him a little. In 39 at-bats, he hit .282, with 5 doubles and 2 homers. A nice little debut.
But the next season, they decided to send Howard back down for a little more seasoning; they were happy with their current first baseman. When their starter got hurt in May, Howard got a 12-game trial and didn’t hit very well (.214/.267/.393), so it was back to Triple-A. Finally, their first baseman suffered a season-ending injury at the end of June. Howard, who was putting up ridiculous numbers in the minors (.371/.467/.690), got recalled and hit .296 with 21 homers the rest of the way. He finished with numbers of .288/.356/.567, and despite playing in just 88 games, won Rookie of the Year honors.
The Phillies missed out on some accolades of their own, because they missed the playoffs by a single game. Do you think they regret not promoting Howard sooner? I do, Trey.
But the Phillies had a pretty good excuse. Their incumbent first baseman, the guy they decided to go with instead of Howard at the start of the year, was a guy named Jim Thome. He’s a pretty good hitter. You’re starting Ross Gload, Trey. He isn’t.
Anyone who thinks that Ryan Howard wasn’t ready to be an “impact guy” at “a slug position at first base” that season is a moron. The Phillies didn’t think that; they simply had no way to resolve the dilemma of having two terrific hitters at first base. Even so, they made the wrong decision – well, Jim Thome made the wrong decision to wrench his back – and it cost them a playoff spot.
I guess if there’s a silver lining here, then, it’s that whatever Hillman decides to do at first base, we don’t have to worry about it costing us a playoff spot. In fact, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we won’t have to worry about a playoff spot for as long as Trey Hillman is in charge of deciding who the first baseman is.