It’s funny how things change.
A year ago I was at Kauffman Stadium with a bunch of college journalists interviewing Dayton Moore. Moore was at the nadir of his tenure as GM -- a month into another lousy season and still a month away from his farm system catching the eye of the baseball world. These circumstances compelled a few of us overzealous junior reporters to take a potshot, to make a splash, even if the Royals had fed us a delicious BBQ lunch.
I went with the Kila question, a loaded question by virtue of it being as much about Kila Ka’aihue as Dayton Moore’s philosophy as a GM. Kila being stuck on the farm had come to represent everything that was wrong with Moore: his obstinacy, his scout-over-stat mentality, his dislike of Baird-signed prospects, his reliance on antiquated stats, and his love for expensive free agents with a nose for the RBI, to name a few.
Dayton responded with the standard talking points, something about Kila’s low average and inability to produce runs, and questions about his bat speed. It was the same old GMDM drivel. I probably sent a snarky text or two about the experience. They probably included something about trusting The ProcessTM.
That night, Dayton Moore’s bullpen imploded against the Mariners. It was another day in the life of a a walking punchline. Meanwhile, Moore’s counterpart, Seattle GM Jack “Z”, was brilliant, everything Moore was not.
It’s funny how things change.
Dayton Moore is now the darling of the same internet baseball community that was crushing him a year earlier, and the strategy that made Jack Z a genius on message boards ended up making him the opposite in reality. And Kila Ka’aihue is in all likelihood a career AAAA player. Sad trombone.
Kila’s failure is particularly tragic because, to the internet baseball community, he was somewhat of a cult hero.* Now, after his ‘fall,’ Kila’s symbology has reversed. He has gone from representing everything that was wrong with Dayton Moore to representing everything that is wrong with the internet baseball community.
*To illustrate Kila worship with one anecdotal example: my friend has changed his fantasy baseball team’s name three times since the beginning of last year. Last year, the team was optimistically named Royal Kila. Then, this offseason, he doubled down and went with Kila Monsters. Finally, after Kila strugged and was demoted, he made a tasteful change to Memories of Kila. I don’t expect the name to change anytime soon.
Specifically, Kila has come to represent the internet community’s capriciousness, over-reliance on stats, fetishizing of on-base percentage, overemphasis on the quantitative, underemphasis of the qualitative, vulnerability to groupthink, dismissal of old school metrics, and skepticism of expertise.
Sure, Kila is just one player who was hyped by us internet GMs and then ended up not panning out, and highly touted players fizzle every year. Additionally, a lot of us weren’t convinced he’d be a successful major leaguer, but simply wanted the Royals to give him a chance to be one.* And there’s no doubt that DIY baseball analysis has led to numerous strategic improvements that are just beginning to percolate through to the field.
*As I wrote a few weeks ago, I don’t think Kila was given a fair chance, but it was understandable that the Royals wanted to bring up Hosmer.
But still, I think there are a few things to glean from Kila’s failure and Moore’s rapid turnaround that we as an internet community haven’t really stopped to ponder.
1. Awareness - that even in the age of information, we don’t have all the information that the experts do. Sabermetricians surely scrutinize certain stats that scouts have never heard of, and could probably benefit from looking at. But it’s also true that stats can’t measure everything it takes to be a successful major leaguer, and players have deficiencies that aren’t seen in minor league stats, but can be seen by scouting a player over a long period. Kila’s glistening minor league stats didn’t tell us that his M.O. was feasting on mistake pitches and laying off everything else (as the scouts did). If we knew that, we’d have known that he wouldn’t translate to the majors as well as we’d hoped.
2. Restraint - being aware of our position, we should restrain from making absolute statements and generally acting self-righteous. We should give the experts the benefit of the doubt (except when they’re Omar Minaya. Joking. Mostly.), knowing that even when something seems indefensible, we might lack the perspective necessary to evaluate it. As fans, we frequently evaluate things in a vacuum, unable to fully understand the politics and the human element. Many of us were clamoring for Lorenzo Cain to start the season in center. This might’ve made sense in a vacuum: the general consensus is that Cain will be the better player. But Dayton Moore had more than the bottom line to consider. For instance, since he promised Melky the job, he had to weigh the consequences of recanting. Perhaps burning Melky would’ve affected his ability to sign future reclamation projects.
3. Even keeled-ness - our inner-sabermetrician tells us to take things slow -- to wait for the appropriate sample size, to appreciate that in baseball, not a lot changes in one day, one week, or even one month. But it’s the human in us that makes us impatient, capricious, and suckers for narrative and hype, and the human part usually wins out. It’s what made us ordain Jack Z as the best GM in baseball after he’d been on the job for like a day, and it’s what made us pan Moore before giving him a chance to complete his mocked-turned-revered ProcessTM.
I guess my overall point is one that most of us are on board with these days: that the front office is steering us in the right direction, and given that we’re still fans (albeit highly informed fans), not insiders in the black box, we should give the organization the benefit of the doubt most of the time. It’s too bad that Kila is the unwitting (and undeserving) poster child for this reminder, but if it takes a sacrificial lamb to get entire message boards to stop guaranteeing that they’d do a better job than Moore, I’m okay with it.