Dave Eiland had served as the Royals pitching coach since the 2012 season, helping them win two pennants and a championship. However earlier this week, the club decided to part ways with Eiland, with manager Ned Yost saying it was time to go in a different direction. Bullpen coach Doug Henry, also let go, is unlikely to get the job. The club will likely be looking for someone who can help them develop young arms as they look to go younger in 2018.
The Royals will need to do a much better job developing pitchers than they have in recent years. Since Dayton Moore took over, Kansas City has had just three homegrown pitchers make as many as ten starts for them - Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, and Jakob Junis. So the new pitching coach has his work cut out for him. Who might be available?
Eldred enjoyed a 14-year Major League career, but has spent the last two years working in the Royals organization as an Assistant to the General Manager-Player Development. He previously worked in the Cardinals front office for three years. Eldred had a lot of experience working closely with minor leaguers in his time with the Cardinals, even earning the title of “Life Skills Coach.” Eldred may be considered a candidate for the vacant Cardinals pitching coach position.
Yes, it is THAT Mark Davis, which may hurt his chances since his name still carries a lot of baggage among Royals fans for his disastrous playing career here. Davis has experience as a Major League pitching coach, serving in that capacity for the 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks. That team was third-worst in ERA that year, and was the second-youngest pitching staff in the league, although the talent level of the younger pitchers was not great.
Davis has been with the Royals since then, working mostly for their Arizona Summer League team. In his time there he did work with pitchers like Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, and Mike Montgomery.
Hawkins had a long career as a coach in the Rangers organization, spending several years as a pitching instructor in the minors before joining the big league club from 2008-2015. Hawkins briefly served as a Major League pitching coach, filling in for the Rangers after they fired Mark Connors in 2008, but was mostly a bullpen coach. In 2016, he jumped to the Royals organization, serving as the pitching coach for AAA Omaha the last two seasons.
Hawkins may have learned under Mike Maddux, a well-acclaimed pitching coach who served with the Rangers from 2009-2015. Maddux stresses commanding the fastball and changing speeds, a philosophy best illustrated by the career of his brother Greg. Hawkins should be very familiar with some of the young arms the Royals would like to see more of, including Junis, Eric Skoglund, Miguel Almonte, and Josh Staumont.
Kendall’s father Fred was a former catcher who became a bullpen coach for the Royals. Jason could follow his father’s footsteps into coaching himself. Kendall currently serves as a Special Assignment Coach, working odd jobs for the organization, and some feel he could be an heir apparent to Ned Yost as Royals skipper someday.
Kendall would definitely be an old school coach who thinks pitch counts are “bullshit”, according to his book Throwback. He likes pitcher that aren’t afraid to throw strikes, that trust their stuff, work down in the zone, and aren’t afraid to pitch inside.
Luebber was a Missouri Southern grad who enjoyed a short Major League career as a pitcher. He has been a minor league coach since 1984, working for the Padres, Rangers, Orioles, and Marlins, before joining the Royals in 2006. He spent a year at Burlington, Iowa, before spending 2007-2015 with the Wilmington Blue Rocks. He has spent the last two years instructing for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Like Hawkins, he should be very familiar with many of the young arms, but he also has a decade of experience in the Royals organization and should be well familiar with their philosophies.
Bannister is currently the assistant pitching coach for the Red Sox, also serving as Vice President, Pitching Development. The former Royals pitcher is heavily into analytics, particularly Pitch F/X data. Gil Meche once called him the smartest guy he ever met, and Zack Greinke was an early believe in Bannister’s philosophies when the two were teammates in Kansas City. He is credited with being instrumental in turning around the career of pitcher Rich Hill, by increasing his curveball usage, and was praised by Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello.
Bannister uses his data to find unique solutions for each pitcher.
“I’m not afraid to break out of the norms of pitching theory,” he said. “Just because everyone has a unique body, everyone has a different arm action, their pitches break different ways. When you try to put everyone in a box, it only works for the guys who fit in that box.
“The most exciting part of pitching to me is figuring out how to maximize every guy. I believe so many guys can be big leaguers if they’re just given the right information and the right approach.”
Bannister currently works mostly with minor leaguers, so the impact of his work has yet to be seen. He joined the Red Sox organization in 2015, adding the title of Assistant Pitching Coach in July of 2016, so he does not have a wealth of experience, but he could be a good fit as a fresh new coach to lead young arms.
The Indians have perhaps the best pitching staff ever, so it would make sense to poach their organization for coaching talent. Jason Bere has served as the bullpen coach since 2015 and could be a candidate to replace Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who is expected to be a hot managerial candidate this winter. Bere had an 11-year Major League career before joining the Indians front office in 2006. In the front office, he worked as a special assistant, instructing and evaluating pitchers, many of which went on to join the league-leading staff the Indians employ today. As bullpen coach, Bere works closely with Callaway to study video, determine game plans, and work with the pitchers.
The Rays surprisingly agreed to part ways with Hickey after 11 seasons (replaced by former Royals pitcher Kyle Snyder). Hickey is considered one of the best in the game, and was part of two World Series teams, one in Tampa, and one in 2005 with the Astros. The Rays have finished in the top five in team ERA in eight of the last ten seasons.
"Hickey is one of the most intellectual people I know. He's also one of the best people persons I know. The combination of his ability to analyze and apply information, as well as communicate to his players is what causes him to enhance pitchers careers, young and old.
Hickey is known as an intellectual who uses data. He believes in high fastballs with good velocity. He also stresses working ahead in the count, particularly getting a first-pitch strike. The Rays were also known for discouraging the cutter, at least with young pitchers, due to its health risk. Jim Hickey is known as a good communicator to all kinds of pitchers, and he dealt with a very young staff most of his tenure with the Rays, although he had a more veteran staff in Houston. Hickey should be one of the more sought-after coaches this winter.
Holman was born in Kansas City, attended Wichita North High School, and pitched in the Royals farm system early in his career. Holman coached in the Mariners and Pirates system before joining the Rangers in 2009. He spent several years instructing Rangers minor leaguers before joining the big league club as a bullpen coach in 2016.
In the minors, Holman had a hand in helping to develop young arms like Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, Kyle Hendricks, and Justin Grimm. He is known for being a big “mechanics” guy, helping players hone their deliveries.
"He understands the mechanical side of things, but he can explain to you in five different ways," said Grimm, who still keeps in touch with Holman. "One of those ways is going to stick with you, where I've had some pitching coaches in the past explain it one way and you can't understand it. He says things in five different ways that mean the exact same thing but it's whatever clicks with you.
After an eight-year playing career, Lilliquist spend years working in the Cardinals farm system working his way up as a coach. In 2011, he was brought up as the bullpen coach, and assumed pitching coach duties when Dave Duncan left the team for personal reasons, eventually replacing Duncan on a full-time basis the next year.
Lilliquist has served in that capacity with the Cardinals ever since, with the team leading the league in ERA in 2015. The Cardinals have developed a number of young pitchers over that time, including Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, and Carlos Martinez. He is credited with teaching Garcia a sinker, and helping closer Jason Motte convert from catcher to pitcher.
Lilliquist learned a lot from Duncan, and carries over many of his philosophies, including pitch efficiency and “pitching to contact.” He stresses working down in the zone, but adapted in later years to play to his pitcher’s strengths. Lilliquist carried Duncan’s penchant for valuing data, but the team cited a move towards analytics as reason for his firing. Some feel Lilliquist did a fine job, but was just a convenient scapegoat for some disappointing seasons from the Cardinals. He could be a coveted coach this winter.
Only the bullpen's RA-9 WAR was outside the top 13 of MLB (ranked 17th). SP fWAR, SP RA-9 WAR, bullpen fWAR were all above average— Zach Gifford (@zjgifford) October 3, 2017
Others: Bob McClure was pitching coach in Kansas City from 2006-2011 and will likely be available soon, but clashed with some pitchers and stressed “pitch to contact.” Longtime pitching coach Dan Warthen was let go by the Mets to the objections of pitcher Noah Syndergaard, but seems likely to retire. Darryl Scott is a minor league pitching coordinator for the Rockies that has gotten credit for the development of their young arms. Jeff Suppan is a former Royals pitcher working in their system as a pitching coach for the Idaho Falls Chukars.