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Kila’s Struggles and the Week Ahead

Another four game series, another three wins. I could absolutely get used to this sort of thing. The experts all agree that if you win your three game series and split your even numbered game series that you’re going to do just fine for the season. While that makes a lot of sense and is true, it doesn’t hurt when you win your three and four game series and split your two gamers. That leads to a 10-5 record to start the season, which the Royals have. They had a good weekend of baseball, winning in what became a nail biter on Friday, with relative ease over the reigning Cy Young and Saturday and dropping a tough one yesterday to a rookie with a bright future and an umpire who struggled to make the right calls.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the umpires were the sole driving force between the Royals winning and losing yesterday, but they did play a bit of a role. I say that, of course, having not truly seen the calls that were in question but from listening to Denny Matthews’ surprise at some of the calls that are in question. Denny doesn’t typically show the kind of surprise at a couple of calls like he did yesterday, so I’m going to go with my gut and believe that the calls were truly dreadful. The Royals still wasted many opportunities to bring home runs yesterday as they had the leadoff runner on often in the late innings. They also worked six walks and none of those runners came around to score, so much of the blame is on the lack of a big hit. Still, though, it was a good weekend for the Royals who now start a series with first place on the line against the Indians. I read this on Twitter, but I’ll echo the thoughts and ask – who would have guessed that the biggest AL series of the week would be the Royals and Indians?

Kila Ka’aihue continues to struggle at the plate, and while it’s early and he’s hit into some serious bad luck, it is something of a concern. He’s walking in about 16% of his plate appearances which is very good, but he’s striking out in about 32% of his plate appearances, which is very bad. He’s consistently been around 20% strikeout rate in his career, so you have to wonder if this is an aberration and just a product of a still very small sample size or if the pitchers have figured him out. The thing to remember with Kila is that he started off slowly in the Majors last year as well before picking it up in September. What concerns me more than the numbers is just how bad he’s looked at times. Sample sizes don’t change looking terrible when swinging at bad pitches. I think that’s just a product of the slump he’s in, but it’s certainly something to watch out for.

The Royals need Ka’aihue to be a good hitter for this lineup to click. Well, sort of. You may have heard, but they do have a pretty decent first base product hitting line drives all over the field just up I-29, but I know that they’d rather not turn to him for help before mid-season at the earliest. There’s also a DH type up there who won the triple crown in the Texas League last year. Now, Clint Robinson is someone that I don’t think the Royals would hesitate to call up if it became apparent that Ka’aihue’s struggles were more than just a slump. Truth be told, I’m not sure that he’d be a lot better in the Majors than Ka’aihue has been this year, but the man has hit at every level, so he’d be an excellent option as a stopgap between now and Hosmer.

I’m getting ahead of myself with this, though, as part of the reason for Kila’s struggles is an insanely low .226 BABIP. Some people talk about BABIP as if it’s gospel, and I’ve probably been guilty of that a time or two, but 25% of the balls he hits are line drives. That should work out to a .370 BABIP. It’s 150 points lower! Based on minor league numbers, it appears that Kila’s BABIP is going to be typically lower than expected based on line drive percentage, so let’s take off 50 points from the expected and call it .320. If he can just get up to close to that level, with his eye and power, he can be a force in a much improved Royals lineup. I don’t want to put the pressure on Ka’aihue that he is the key to the entire season, but a strong bat hitting behind Butler in the middle of the order would go a long way toward making the Royals fast start a reality. At some point, the Royals have to do something, though, because Butler getting intentionally walked 30 times this year to get to an inferior hitter is not going to help runs cross the plate. For right now, I’d forget about alternating lefties and righties and just put the hottest bat in there behind Butler. Against lefties, I’d bat Francouer or Aviles there and against righties, I’d play Betemit and bat him there. Butler getting intentionally walked is great, but there needs to be someone behind him to make the other team pay.

I’m really excited for this week’s series with the Indians as it is an opportunity for both teams to see where they stand. This has the potential to be one of those train wreck weeks for the Royals that we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years as they face Texas after facing the red hot Indians. I’m personally hoping for a 4-3 week. I think that would say a lot about the Royals. I’d love for them to take three of four from the Indians and then steal one from Texas in Texas. A 4-3 week would put the Royals at 14-8, and probably in first place in the Central if they do take three of four from the Indians. It’s amazing that we’re able to talk about this, even as we approach late April. You can tell how hungry we are for a winner if we’re getting excited about a series starting April 18.

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