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Royals Review Roundtable: We survived the 2022 Royals season

But Mike Matheny did not.

San Diego Padres v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The 2022 season is in the books, and after a 65-97 season, most fans would prefer to never speak of it again. But it was a year of change, with a stable of rookies making their debut this season, and a change in leadership with the dismissal of Dayton Moore, Mike Matheny, and Cal Eldred. Before we turn the page on the season that was, let’s assemble our writers to review the disappointment that was the 2022 Kansas City Royals.

What was the best and worst thing that happened this season for the Royals?

Jeremy Greco: The best thing to happen to the Royals is a tossup between the emergence of Brady Singer as a legitimate front-of-rotation starter if not a true ace and the complete turnaround of the Royals’ ability to develop any hitters since Mike Moustakas left this team. No one has yet taken a star turn, but they’ve got a bunch of guys who look like they belong in the majors and that’s not nothing!

The worst thing to happen was that Cal Eldred was kept employed for the entire season. Maybe no one else could have helped these pitchers improve better than he did, but the Royals owed it to themselves to begin the process of making sure of that.

David Lesky: The best thing was easily Brady Singer figuring it out. He had one of the top five seasons for a homegrown Royals starting pitcher since 2000 and didn’t even make his first start of the year until May. If everything else went wrong (and it didn’t thankfully), finding someone you’d be willing to start in a postseason series in a lost season makes the season at least moderately successful and they did that. Special mention to playing young guys every single day because that’ll pay dividends moving forward.

The worst thing that happened was all the other young pitchers. Okay, maybe not all of them. I think we saw flashes from Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic and Jonathan Heasley, but obviously not enough to be able to count on them. The Royals were hoping to see two or three guys take a step this year and only one did, which simply isn’t enough.

Max Rieper: The solid debuts by many Royals rookies was a very encouraging development and a feather in the cap of Alec Zumwalt, Drew Saylor, and Mike Tosar. I think most encouraging was that many of them - Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto in particular, with Drew Waters to a lesser extent - exhibited a solid walk rate, something the franchise has shunned for so long.

The worst thing was that the Royals emphasized throwing strikes and completely and utterly failed in that mission. I still believe in Daniel Lynch, and to a lesser extent Carlos Hernandez, but their regression is very worrying for the future.

Matthew LaMar: This season was an abject disaster and most weeks just felt like someone purposefully elbowed you in the head and blamed you for the impact. But it did bring about the most important change: for the Royals to move on from Dayton Moore and to move towards a modern approach to baseball. The single biggest win in a player performance sense was acquiring Drew Waters and unlocking his abilities. Yeah, Brady Singer taking the next step was nice, but pitchers are volatile and you kind of expected someone to take the next step. Waters was just out of the blue.

Cullen Jekel: The best thing: Brady Singer’s emergence as a No. 1 starter. He started off the season rocky, but once he returned from Omaha, he looked like a completely different pitcher than the one the past few years. With the struggles of other young pitchers, including his draft classmates of Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jackson Kowar, Singer’s progression is a clear win for the club, which doesn’t have a lot of starting pitching going into 2023.

The worst thing: setting expectations so high at the start of the season. This team clearly wasn’t anywhere close to competing but that’s what got sold to fans before the season began. That really only left one thing for fans: massive disappointment in another season where the team flirted with 100 losses.

Greg Walker: I’ll go with trends both good and bad related to prospects. For best: Most of the preseason top position player prospects have debuted with varying degrees of success, lesser prospects like Michael Massey and Nate Eaton have been solid contributors in the majors, Drew Waters has been very impressive since he was acquired from Atlanta, and Tyler Gentry, Carter Jensen, and Luca Tresh had excellent seasons.

Additionally, top draft picks Gavin Cross and Cayden Wallace were outstanding in their first taste of pro ball and 15th-round pick Javier Vaz was also solid. For worst: the pitching prospect crop was a disaster. Asa Lacy pitched only 28 innings with no control at all, Alec Marsh gave up a ton of homers, Frank Mozzicato walked entirely too many batters, Ben Kudrna was mediocre, and Drew Parrish and Shane Panzini got lit up. Hard to feel good about the current state of pitching throughout the organization.

Who was the Royals MVP?

David Lesky: The easy answer is Brady Singer again. I’d like to say that I’m going to go away from the easy answer, but I’m not because he’s the one who stopped losing streaks. This was the first season since 2015 that the Royals haven’t had a losing streak of seven games or longer and only the fourth in the Dayton Moore Era (RIP). That happened because of Singer, more often than not. He was excellent coming off losses and probably kept the Royals from being considerably worse because we all know what can happen when they really start to spiral. If you want to go away from the pitching staff, I’ll say Bobby Witt Jr. by a hair over Vinnie Pasquantino. If Pasquantino had the numbers he does but came up maybe 20 games earlier, I’d probably give it to Vinnie. He’s been that good.

Greg Walker: It’s gotta be Brady Singer. He was a bright spot on a generally terrible pitching staff, consistently going deep into games and giving the Royals a chance to win. That’s at least one reliable starting option for the rotation next year.

Cullen Jekel: Brady Singer. He led the team in both bWAR (4.5 over Michael A. Taylor’s 3.2) and fWAR (2.9 to Bobby Witt Jr.’s 2.3). He also led all starting pitchers in strikeout percentage (24.2%), innings pitched (153.1), ERA (3.23), FIP (3.58), and WHIP (1.141) while placing only behind Zack Greinke in walk percentage (5.6%). Once Singer came back from Omaha, every night he took the mound, the Royals knew there was a strong likelihood that he’d deliver a quality start. He became not only the team’s ace but their stopper.

Jeremy Greco: I think this has got to be Brady Singer. If Vinnie Pasquantino had had a full season I think they’d have a battle on their hands, but he didn’t. So Brady it is.

Max Rieper: Brady Singer. Did you know some people didn’t think he should be in the rotation to begin the year? Those people no longer have jobs.

Matthew LaMar: I have a hard time awarding an MVP award. Did you know that they had one (1) player with more than 2.5 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs and zero (0) players worth more than 3.0 WAR per Fangraphs? If I can’t go with John Sherman, I’ll award it to literally the only reliable player on the team: Brady Singer. I know that pitcher records are not really indicative of much, but they can occasionally tell some stories about performance. Though the Royals lost 97 games, Singer went 10-5. He gave the Royals a chance every time he stepped to the mound, which was commendable.

Now that Mike Matheny has been fired, do you think the Royals go in-house for their next manager or hire someone outside the organization?

Greg Walker: For the past several years, I’ve answered questions like “will Royals [coach/manager/front office member] get fired” with no. Now that the hitting coach and president of baseball ops have both been fired this season, it seems like things are different. They will go outside the organization for Matheny’s replacement.

Matthew LaMar: I don’t think Matheny was a big problem, but the Royals need their important employees to be better than that. I’d guess they go outside the organization, unless they went with Alec Zumwalt, who is a rising star and a guy who clearly gels with JJ.

David Lesky: I think it’ll be outside the organization but there are some intriguing candidates in-house who actually do make a lot of sense. I wonder a little if they’re hesitant to make another change and just promote someone already with the club, though, after doing that with JJ Picollo replacing Moore.

Max Rieper: The fact Sherman stressed emulating the Rays, Guardians, Brewers, and Athletics makes me think he will poach those organizations of coaching and front office talent. So I think they go outside the organization, much as they (and I) respect Pedro Grifol, the most likely in-house managerial candidate, and dark horse candidate Alec Zumwalt.

Jeremy Greco: Had you asked me this two weeks ago I’d say they’d stay within the org, but now I’m leaning toward thinking they’ll want to get some more outside perspective.

Cullen Jekel: Mike’s replacement is going to come from outside of the organization. The players need a fresh voice in the dugout, someone who hasn’t been around them before, and it would behoove J.J. Picollo to heed to that and resist the urge to hire from within. Maybe he promotes a manager from the minor leagues to the big club. Yet, I still think the best move, and the one this team will make, will be to pluck someone from a different organization.

What is the biggest priority this off-season?

Jeremy Greco: Overhauling their pitching development program. Immediately following that is overhauling their talent evaluation program. In both cases that could mean new people, new processes, making sure data is better used or some combination of the above.

Greg Walker: Figuring out pitching at every level of the organization. That means finding a new pitching coach to replace Cal Eldred, adding a rotation arm or two from outside the organization, and revamping pitching development in the minors.

Cullen Jekel: Acquiring more starting pitching, and even opening up the wallet to land an ace to pair with Singer. Right now, the Royals have a dearth of starting pitching outside of Singer. Lynch and Bubic are back-of-the-rotation guys, and Greinke, if he returns, would be a No. 3, at best. Targeting starting pitching doesn’t preclude a trade, and the Royals certainly have bats to deal, but I’d rather see them be players on the open market to land another starting pitcher or two.

David Lesky: Pitching. Then they need to fix their pitching. And after that, they need to fix more pitching. When they’re done, more pitching is important. And if they have time, and only then, they should take care of the pitching.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing if they went out and signed a veteran bat, but all jokes aside, they have a lot of work to do on the pitching. And it kind of breaks down into sub-categories. The biggest priority is to fix the pitching infrastructure, but with that, making personnel improvements on the pitching staff is 1A to me.

Matthew LaMar: The Royals need to rip out their entire pitching staff, up and down the organization, and re-install one that could get results. That starts with Cal Eldred but, more importantly, also involves getting a new director of pitching development. I would love to see Brian Bannister brought back in that role or the Royals hiring Kyle Boddy of Driveline fame. Something creative and forward-thinking.

Max Rieper: Getting the Bally Sports Kansas City app to work! But yea, pitching.

World Series prediction?

Greg Walker: I predict that I will be incorrect: Jays over Padres in 6.

Cullen Jekel: Give me the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Yankees. That’s a World Series match-up I’ve always wanted to witness, and with this being the last year for Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina (and maybe Adam Wainwright), I’d love to see those guys go out on top. Plus, one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read chronicled the last time these two teams met in the Fall Classic. As far as the Yankees, anyone else think it’s weird they and their fans celebrated so hard for Aaron Judge to get to No. 7 on the single-season home run list? Dude’s still eight behind second place and 11 behind the leader. Loser mentality.

Matthew LaMar: Yankees-Dodgers, Yankees win. But my World Series of choice: Mariners-Padres, Mariners win. That would be so fun.

Jeremy Greco: Mariners over Mets. Cal Raleigh hits a walk-off dinger to win it all because he’s like that.

Max Rieper: I felt like the Mets were a team of destiny until the Braves shoved them into a locker in the last month of the season and won the division. But I think they can generate some October magic and win the World Series over a plucky Guardians team of overachievers.

David Lesky: I really want to say something like Mariners-Padres with the Mariners taking it. Because that’s fun. But I feel like these playoffs are going to play out similarly to last season. The Astros are clearly the best team in the AL and while the Dodgers are clearly the best in the NL, I wonder if they can hold off the Braves who have been every bit as good as they have for like four months. So I’m going to go with Astros-Braves with the Astros taking the rematch. I hope I’m wrong.