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Content with AL's worst OBP, Royals bypass Ka'aihue

Sep 8, 2009, 5:12 PM EDT

The Royals do talk a good game when it comes to on-base percentage. Manager Trey Hillman has cited its importance in numerous interviews since taking over the team prior to 2008, only to put his statements to the lie with every on-field action since.
Of course, GM Dayton Moore hasn’t helped. His acquisitions of Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt and others demonstrated a blatant disregard for the stat. Moore thinks his eyes tell him everything he needs to know about the ballplayer. But judging by the Royals’ record, he’s either hopelessly wrong or he needs a new pair of contacts.
On Tuesday, with Triple-A Omaha’s season now over, the Royals made what seemingly were their final two callups of the month, barring additional injuries. Added were Alex Gordon and left-hander Lenny DiNardo. Not added was Kila Ka’aihue.
If you haven’t been following along, Ka’aihue was viewed as a pretty generic first-base prospect until breaking through as one of the top performers in the minors in 2008. He hit .314/.456/.628 with 37 homers and a 67/104 K/BB ratio in 401 at-bats between Double- and Triple-A. The Royals did call him up in September, but they barely played him with Ryan Shealy on the way to the month of his life. He hit .286 with one homer and a 2/3 K/BB ratio in 21 at-bats.
Rather than give Ka’aihue and Shealy a chance to battle for a job in 2009, the Royals instead sent Leo Nunez to Florida to bring in Jacobs, a 28-year-old with a dreadful OBP and a worse glove who was coming off a 32-homer season. The move worked out even worse than should have been expected, as Jacobs has hit just .233/.300/.417 in 369 at-bats. He lost his starting job at first base and fell into a platoon DH role, but the Royals have refused to simply release him, even though he’d hardly seem to be in their 2010 plans.
Ka’aihue, meanwhile, did turn in a disappointing season while being stuck in Triple-A. His average slipped to .252 and he delivered a modest 17 homers in 441 at-bats. Still, he did walk 102 times, giving him an outstanding .392 OBP.
To put that in perspective, the Royals’ leader in walks is David DeJesus, with 46 in 511 at-bats. The team leader in OBP is Billy Butler at .354. None of their eight players with at least 300 plate appearances is walking in one-tenth of his PAs, considered the standard for a player with quality plate disclipline. Coco Crisp was before he went down, but he still had just a .336 OBP.
So, Ka’aihue didn’t have a great season. An 825 OPS for a 25-year-old first baseman in the PCL is far from exceptional. If the Royals actually had strong players blocking him, declining to call him up would be understandable. But all they’re going to do is keep running Jacobs and Miguel Olivo out there. It’s one of the most ridiculous decisions yet from a ridiculous team. I’m not at all sure that Ka’aihue is going to be a useful major leaguer, but he’s paid his dues and earned the opportunity. Certainly it makes more sense to give it to him than to continue to waste at-bats on the horrible cast of veterans that have produced the American League’s worst record.

  1. Preston - Sep 8, 2009 at 6:12 PM

    For even more perspective on the Royals’ OBP suckitude, Matt Kemp’s 47 walks are good for eighth on the Dodgers – that means that every single Dodgers’ starter has more walks than the top one for the Royals.

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