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Recap Coda: A Hawaiian Punch

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On an early April day, there was some Hawaiian magic.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

April 1, 2011 - Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

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Recap Coda

Yeaaaaaaaaaaa!

A perfect way for the first win of the season to end. Kila Ka'aihue is one of the few reasons to care about this team right now, and he just delivered in the most dramatic way possible. Longtime readers will know that we've been BIG Kila fans around here for quite some time. He's had an up and down Major League career thus far, one that had lacked a defining moment like this. Ken Harvey wasn't very good, didn't play that long, and I can rattle off like six different plays from his time as a Royal. Now, Kila has one.

I guess that was a mistake pitch that he blasted over the wall, right? Just a AAA bat, right?

The beginning part of 2011 was real weird. A dissapointing Alex Gordon, a Melky Cabrera one season removed from one of the worst overall season by an outfielder in recent memory, and Jeff Francoeur made up the outfield. The infield was filled with players who you could say were "ok, I guess," in the same way you might try to convince yourself that Bud Light being the only beer available was "ok, I guess."

There were two bright spots in the opening day lineups--one was a 24 year-old athletic shortstop with some promise, whose name was Alcides Escobar--and the other was the giant, 6'4" 235 lb firstbaseman, Kila Ka'aihue, the Kila Monster.

We all know what happened later in 2011, that being Eric Hosmer and his many, many, many minor league friends and their ultimate graduation to The Show. But there was no guarantee when that would happen, and to begin the year, staring at Kila and sending him intense thoughts about murdering baseballs was about the best way to enjoy the season.

Freneau, known to most of us as Will McDonald, wrote about Kila a month earlier before the season started, saying that it was both Kila's and the Royals' last chance to get his career on track:

As Matt/Devil Fingers wrote today at Fangraphs, the Royals need to get out of their own way and play Kila all year. If he fails, he fails. If he doesn't, then suddenly, you have a trade asset. Look, if we're going to dream about Melky's non-existent trade value, we might as well do the same with a pre-arb guy who might actually be attractive.

...As I've probably made abundantly clear, I don't think Kila has much of a future with the Royals, but that's been obvious since 2009 really. All he needs to do is hit. A slugging percentage upwards of .480 with non-horrific strikeout numbers should be enough to earn him another shot with another team. For those of us who find ourselves on the wrong side of life's divide, who saw our own opportunities wasted or our talents ignored, he's one worth rooting for.

Read the entire thing, if you have time. For those of you unaware, Will was the progenitor of Royals Review, its creator and reason for existing in its current form. Will was (and is) singularly talented, with a penchant for spinning an engrossing and satisfying story in any form. This article is A+ writing; to write a relatively short article with so much wit, voice, and precision is extraordinarily difficult.

Back to Kila. Drafted out of high school as a 15th-round pick of the terrible 2002 Royals, Kila wormed his way up the ladder relatively slowly. His breakout seasons were 2007 and 2008; in 2007, Kila was promoted from A+ to AA ball and hit a combined .794 OPS over both levels. In 2008, Kila, now 24 years old, jumped from AA to AAA, putting up a 1.085 OPS over both levels. For reference, Barry Bonds' career OPS is 1.051. Kila was then dutifully promoted to the Majors, played in 12 games, and put up an .804 OPS up in those 24 plate appearances.

In baseball, you often see the term of a 'AAAA' hitter. Those AAAA hitters are usually guys who play non-premium defensive positions at a mediocre level (most often first base or corner outfield), tend to be in their mid-to-late 20s, dominate AAA pitching, but struggle against MLB pitching--better than AAA but not good enough for MLB, hence the AAAA moniker. These guys are usually low-tools guys taken in mid-to-late rounds in the draft, too.

Even in 2008, Kila was dangerously close to that. As a 1B/DH, Kila had nowhere else to squeeze value from other than hitting. As the 438th player taken in his draft, he was already working against the grain of guys who scouts valued more.

But at age 24 in his breakout season, Kila wasn't your typical late-bloomer, and to make your MLB debut in age 24 isn't bad at all.

Remember: the 2008 Royals were bad. The 2007 Royals were bad. The 2006 Royals were bad. The 2005 Royals were bad. The 2004 Royals were bad. The 2003 Royals were a minor miracle--but the 2002 Royals were bad. Going into 2009, the Royals were looking up but were still not going to be close to the playoffs. You've got a dirt cheap, 25 year-old player who murdered AA and AAA pitching to grab his first dozen big league games the previous year. There's no downside to playing him.

Kansas City did not play him. They signed Mike Jacobs that year. Jacobs made $3.2 million, roughly seven times what Kila would have made, and was worth a full win below replacement. Kila put up a .825 OPS in AAA and did not sniff the Majors once.

In 2010, Kila put up an OPS north of 1 for the second time in three years in AAA, and the Royals did play him! A little. In halting starts and stops of playing time, Kila worked a .702 OPS, a little bit below average, but nothing out of the ordinary for a rookie with less than half a season of big league experience. The Royals lost 95 games that year, playing a 34 year-old Jose Guillen for 104 games because of reasons. Other players on that team included Rick Ankiel, Jai Miller, Josh Fields, and Lucas May.

And so, on April 2, 2011, Ka'aihue flashed some of his skillset with a long, long home run to give the 2011 Royals their first win:

Eric Hosmer debuted on May 6, 2011. Kila was sent to Omaha. He would never play another game for the Kansas City Royals.

The other good news from tonight is that Jeff Francis turned in a very good start, a 7 IP 1 run allowed performance reminiscent of his days as an above average pitcher for the Rockies. Francis walked just one, avoided too many hits, and even struck out four batters.

The Royals then followed that up with two scoreless innings of relief work (Tejeda and Soria), which set the stage of Ka'aihue's blast. The Spring Training speculation that the Royals might have an effective bullpen, thus far, looks well founded.

But really, tonight is about Kila. That was a Major League Moment.

Jeff Francis was signed to a one-year deal for $2 million in 2011. He made 31 starts, pitched 183 innings, tossed a 4.10 ERA, and was worth a boring 0.3 wins above replacement per Baseball-Reference. On April 2, 2011, he twirled seven innings of one-run ball in a game that was only attended by 13,000 people.

As much as I strain to think about something to say about Francis--he was a lefty with an 80s fastball, who played for six different teams in his 15-year career--nothing really comes to mind. He made a nice career for himself, making a fair amount of money, by pitching in the most boring, inconspicuous way possible.

For some, like Kila, their careers are full of drama and hope. For others, like Francis, baseball is just a game to be played. Baseball is a funny game.

April 2011 Record: 14-12

Final 2011 Record: 71-91, Fourth Place