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.

Six players inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame

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Six players were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, marking the 78th such class of inductees in MLB history. Following their election to the Hall in December and January, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Lee Smith, and Mariano Rivera accepted the honor among an impressive gathering of their peers, while Brandy Halladay accepted the award on behalf of her late husband, Roy.

Mussina, 50, received 76.7% of the votes needed for induction in his sixth year on the ballot. Over an 18-year career split between the Orioles and Yankees, the right-hander was decorated with five All-Star designations and seven Gold Gloves, and led the league with 19 pitching wins in 1995. He capped his lengthy list of accomplishments in 2008, finishing with a career 270-153 record and a 3.68 ERA, 2,813 strikeouts, and 82.8 WAR.

During his induction speech, Mussina reminisced about his childhood memories of whiffle ball and Little League before launching into a few anecdotes from his career in Baltimore and New York.

“Since I received the incredible and surprising news of my election to the Hall of Fame back in January, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my journey to Cooperstown,” he concluded. “How did a kid from a small town in rural PA play enough whiffle ball to make it to the major leagues and pitch there for 18 years? I was never fortunate enough to win a Cy Young Award or be a World Series champion. I didn’t win 300 games or strike out 3,000 batters. And while my opportunities for those achievements are in the past, I get to become a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe I was saving up from all of those almost-achievements for one last push, and this time I made it.”

Mussina chose not to select a team affiliation for his plaque in the Hall, as he told reporters he had too many fond memories with both the Orioles and Yankees to choose between them.

Halladay was just 40 years old when he was killed in a plane crash in November 2017. He was elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility with 85.4% of the vote, an appropriate decoration for the late two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star. Over 16 years with the Blue Jays and Phillies, the right-hander consistently led the league in wins, complete games, and innings pitched. By the time he entered retirement in 2013, he carried a lifetime 203-105 record with a 3.38 ERA, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts, 2,117 strikeouts, and 65.4 WAR. Most impressive of all, however, were the two no-hitters he pitched for the Phillies in 2010: the first, a 1-0 perfect game against the Marlins, and the second, a 4-0 no-hitter against the Reds that marked just the second no-no to be tossed in postseason history.

In an emotional speech from Halladay’s wife, Brandy, she spoke to Roy’s dedication to his team and his family.

“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” she said. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle, but with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments. Roy was blessed in his life and in his career, and had some perfect moments, but I believe they were only possible because of the man he strived to be, the teammate that he was, and the people he was so blessed to be on the field with.”

Like Mussina, Halladay’s plaque will not feature a team designation, either. Instead, as mentioned several months ago, his family wants him to be remembered simply as a ‘Major League Baseball player’.

Baines, 60, missed his chance for election to the Hall through conventional voting procedures when he was dropped from the ballot in 2011, but was later selected by the Today’s Game Era Ballot in December 2018. A designated hitter and right fielder for a plethora of teams over the course of his 22-year career — including the White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Orioles, and Indians — Baines earned consideration for the MVP award on four separate occasions and was named to the All-Star team six times. His multi-decade run petered out with the White Sox during his age-42 season in 2001, by which point he’d racked up a lifetime .289/.356/.465 batting line with 384 home runs, 1,628 RBI, and 38.7 WAR.

During his induction speech, Baines included a moving tribute to his late father. “So in the end, when you ask me why I’ve never been outspoken or said very much, think of my dad and the lesson he passed on to me many years ago, often when we played catch in the yard,” Baines told the crowd. “As he told me, ‘Words are easy, deeds are hard.’ Words can be empty. Deeds speak volumes, and sometimes they echo forever.”

Baines will enter the Hall as a member of the White Sox, the team for which he played 14 of his 22 years in the majors and helped to a World Series title in 2005.

Martinez, 56, was on the cusp of losing his ballot position when he was finally elected to the Hall with 85.4% of the vote. A prolific hitter by most standards, Martinez’s election caused no shortage of debates among voters who believed his designation as a lifelong DH hampered his eligibility for enshrinement. Those arguments were finally put to rest in January, making Martinez the sixth Mariners player to enter the Hall behind Gaylord Perry, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, and Ken Griffey Jr. (though he’ll be just the second with Seattle’s logo on his plaque).

Over 18 years for the Mariners, Martinez was named an All-Star seven times, earned a Silver Slugger award five times, and was an instrumental part of the Mariners’ postseason efforts in 1995, 1997, 2000, and 2001. Having developed a fearsome reputation against some of the game’s best pitchers, he finished his campaign with Seattle sporting a .312/.418/.515 batting line, 309 home runs, 514 doubles, 1,261 RBI, and 68.4 WAR.

Martinez thanked many of his former teammates by name and made special mention of the fans who supported his Hall of Fame campaign over the last decade.

“I am so fortunate to have two homes, Puerto Rico and Seattle,” Martinez said. “Seattle fans, thank you for always being there for me. Since 1987, you gave me your unconditional support, and it was even more prevalent in the last ten years. The support you gave me over the social media really helped get me here today. […] This is a day I never could have ever imagined happening when I was growing up in Puerto Rico or when I was in the minor leagues wondering when my chance would come, and honestly, there were times over the last ten years I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. So thank you once again to everyone along the way who made this dream come true. “

Smith, 61, was unanimously elected to the Hall via Today’s Game Era Ballot last December after falling off the BBWAA ballot in 2017. A celebrated closer for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Angels, Reds, and Expos, the righty held the all-time saves record for 13 years — a mark that wasn’t surpassed until he passed the torch to fellow Hall of Fame inductee Trevor Hoffman in 2006. He hung up his cap in 1997, rounding out his 18 years with seven All-Star honors, 478 career saves, a 3.03 ERA, 1,251 strikeouts, and 29.3 WAR.

“No matter where I pitched, I always wanted to embody two traits,” Smith said, “loyalty, to the team and my teammates (I never wanted to disgrace the uniform), and dependability, as a teammate and as a pitcher. It didn’t matter when I was given the ball — seventh, eighth, or ninth inning — no mater how many innings I pitched, as long as I could unpack the game and help my team. I truly believe from all walks of life, if you work hard and if you are loyal and dependable you can really find success.”

Given his eight-year track in Chicago, Smith will enter the Hall with a Cubs designation on his plaque.

Rivera, 49, had the well-deserved honor of garnering the first-ever unanimous vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America during his first year on the ballot. A Yankee from his rookie season in 1995 through his final year in 2013, Rivera was a powerhouse closer, touting an MLB-record 952 games with 652 saves and a 205 ERA+ and pitching to a career 2.21 ERA, 1,173 strikeouts, and 56.3 WAR over 19 years in the majors. He was named to the AL All-Star team 13 times and helped the Yankees to five World Series titles, earning multiple postseason MVP awards in 1999 and 2003. While he never netted a Cy Young or MVP award during the regular season — despite placing among the top vote-getters on 15 separate occasions — he was honored as a Rolaids Relief Man Award winner five times and an MLB Delivery Man Award winner three times. The AL MLB Reliever of the Year Award is currently named for him as well.

“First of all, I don’t understand why I always have to be the last,” Rivera joked as he took the podium. “I kept saying that for the last 17 years of my career: ‘Why do I have to be the last one?’ I guess being the last one was special.”

After thanking his family, teammates, the Yankees organization, and the fans, Rivera ruminated on his long journey to the majors and the development of the cutter that made him so effective in New York.

“The Lord gave me the best pitch in baseball,” he told the crowd. “I was playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza, and I didn’t know what to do. Imagine a closer that doesn’t know where the ball is going to go. […] I told Mel [Stottlemyre], ‘You know, Mel, leave it like this, because whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.’ And I learned how to use that pitch. I used that pitch for 17 years, and I used it well.”

Rivera, naturally, will enter the Hall with the Yankees’ logo on his plaque.