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Kila Ka’aihue in Haiku and Then Some

February 16, 2012

 

On yesterday’s episode of TarpTalk: An Oakland A’s Podcast I sarcastically said that I would be writing about Kila Ka’aihue in haiku. It seems I have inspired myself.

A top notch hitter?
Is Kila Ka’aihue?
I think he isn’t.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Ka’aihue and Brandon Allen will both break camp with the A’s and head to Japan with the club. The A’s have a history of not letting their out of options players go and I suspect with these two, who have from time to time shown a lot of talent, and in Ka’aihue’s case a lot of OBP talent, will be no different. With options remaining on the late-to-start Daric Barton and the has-he-ever-started Chris Carter, I suspect those two find themselves sampling the delights of the 916 come April.

In the minors the Hawaiian Ka’aihue has been a force posting a .266/.390/.458 slash line with 165 home runs and a .192 ISO in 4,536 plate appearances. The A’s (and I am sure the Royals at one point) loved that he has 730 MiLB walks to 770 MiLB strikeouts. Unlike a lot of players who kill the low minors and slowly but steadily sink as the competition improves, Ka’aihue’s best work has been at Triple-A where he has 353 games and 1,498 plate appearances with the Omaha Royals/Storm Chasers owning a .281/.412/.497 slash line and 63 home runs and .216 ISO with a great 18.1% BB%.

Great in the minors,
Kila Ka’aihue has,
Missed Omaha.

 When called up to Kansas City, Ka’aihue has struggled mightily. 87 games spread across 2008, 2010 and 2011 he has 206 plate appearances, just a 12.6% BB% to a 23.3% K%. His slash line has dipped to .216/.309/.375 (getting progressively worse each year) and his ISO, still relatively decent at .159 is a far cry from him MiLB numbers.

The common refrain is that he has failed to hit lefties, though it is much more a problem of getting on base than hitting and really is quite evenly bad, .217/.253/.406 against southpaws and .215/.325/.364 against right-handed pitchers. But really it is a going out of the zone problem it seems. I am quite sure he didn’t amass all those walks in the minors swinging like this:

(2008)
 (2010)
 (2011)

Some of these things he is swinging on appear to be pitches that might be strikes in Omaha, but not where you are playing in Kansas City (them being far enough out of the zone to seemingly land in Omaha. But this seeming lack of plate discipline seeming to have significantly changed his game really is a mirage as his O-Swing% is below league average at 25.2% and his O-Contact% is about average at 65.0% so what gives? The percentage of pitches he sees in the strike zone at 44.4% is lower than usual but not alarmingly so. So the plummeting OBP doesn’t seem like it is a significant change in his game but it does seem like he isn’t getting good swings or contact which could account for his career .242 BABIP.

Take some pitches and
Kila Ka’aihue is,
a Beane valuable asset

If Ka’aihue can stop playing scared it seems (in Kansas City he was facing competition from both Billy Butler and later Eric Hosmer to keep his roster spot) he could be successful. Of course, in Oakland he has a lot to be scared of, whether it is competing with Daric Barton, Brandon Allen, Chris Carter and then an even bigger threat come May 30th in Manny Ramirez. That seems to be the big problem for him. He needs to take pitches, wait and drive the pitches he can. Of course this is all easier said than done. Look at how he has done on full counts in his career: .063/.348/.094 with a .105 BABIP. .105! It isn’t him striking out so much (his 14 BB’s in that scenario beat out his 13 K’s) it is that he has gone 2-for-32. These are pitches that should be at least near the zone more often than not. Even on a fat 3-0 pitch, he has yet to register an at bat letting that pitch go by for ball four all 11 times he’s had a 3-0 count – which I am not sure is necessarily bad, but does seem strange – though an admittedly small sample). So, I really in the end think it boils down to a contact problem. 2012 may be one of his last chances to prove that’s the case.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kasper & Ghosts permalink
    February 17, 2012 3:51 am

    What I suspect in the case of Kila ( And many others) the game is mental. The talent & ability is there.. What else can it be ?

    Things are easier said then done, same goes for talking about baseball. Its easier said. Kila has too put the pieces together (which is possible) but time is running out…

    • February 17, 2012 1:35 pm

      Agreed completely. I think many in the stats community reject the psychological impacts of decisions. Batting order placement, fielding position, feeling uncomfortable there can translate (even if it shouldn’t) into hurting offensive production or other facets of the game.

    • marbotty permalink
      February 22, 2012 9:37 am

      Think it’s less a case of mental impact and more a case of not getting the chance to play a whole season. Plenty of great players have a had a poor start to a season, only to rebound with fantastic numbers. You can’t really judge a player on 206 plate appearances.

      If you think otherwise, just take a look at Alex Rodriguez’s (or a host of other future hall of famer’s) first two seasons in the pros.

      • February 22, 2012 1:56 pm

        Very true. You have to wonder how many people get tough starts then get shelved or written off from them. Or how many guys with strong starts get a needlessly long leash afterwards.

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