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

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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.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.