The Royals have a new pitching coach! And while his name might be familiar to Royals fans, Brian Sweeney will have a very different role on the team than any of those Mike Sweeney has had.
This signing checks all the boxes for me. He brings an outside perspective that I think is especially valuable for a team that replaced its manager but otherwise retained a lot of the same people who have been with the club for years. He said all the right things about analytics and everyone who has spoken about him has praised his ability to learn and to communicate.
Cal Eldred’s biggest problem wasn’t his lack of use of analytics. It was his distaste for analytics. If you’re in professional sports and you’re not looking for every micrometer of an edge over your opponents, you’re not doing your job properly. Part of that search requires the kind of intense curiosity that would have precluded him from dismissing the potential advantages of analytics. If you’re not constantly learning you’re already one step behind everyone else.
He was well-regarded in Cleveland, to the point that they reportedly let other coaches go in order to encourage him to stay. Cleveland obviously has been excellent at pitching development recently and a team with that track record thinking so highly of a coach certainly piques my interest.
The Royals aren’t done here, during interviews with Sweeney and General Manager J.J. Picollo both mentioned that the team would be seeking out at least an assistant pitching coach and probably multiple other pitching coaching staff members before they’re done. The Royals are not taking a light touch when it comes to the development of their big league staff members, and I think that’s a sound strategy.
The Royals are focused on MLB pitcher development
Also during an interview, GMJJ pointed out that the Royals had been pretty successful at getting their young pitchers through the minors and that the team was focused more on helping them find success at the big league level once they got that final promotion. Some people will probably scoff and roll their eyes, but I think he might have a point.
Jackson Kowar had a phenomenal start to his AAA season in Omaha during 2021. He had seemingly nothing left to prove in AAA when he was finally promoted. And yet, the transition went exceptionally poorly. His career is now on the precipice of ending before it could ever really get started. It’s hard to imagine what else the scouts or coaches should have seen before things went pear-shaped.
Kowar isn’t the only example of this either. The Royals haven’t been promoting guys like Vin Mazzaro or Jimmy Gobble or Aaron Brooks simply because they needed warm bodies. Everyone the Royals have promoted to the big leagues has shown promise somewhere along the way - most of them have even shown flashes at the big league level.
The disconnect is happening after that; guys aren’t progressing - and in many cases are regressing - at the big league level. Kris Bubic is an excellent example of this. His strikeout numbers have gone down and walks have gone up every season. He was reasonably mediocre in his first year and at age 22 there was every reason to think he could get even better. Instead, the opposite happened. Does it make more sense to blame that on the minor league pitching development or the major league pitching development?
I won’t say there isn’t room to improve the minor league development - there’s always room for improvement. Asa Lacey, Alec Marsh, and Frank Mozzicato are all waving hello! But it seems clear to me that the biggest problem the team was facing was at the major league level so I approve of the team’s focus there, first.
Baseball revenues are at record highs
I know people are probably tired of hearing this but I can’t help but feel the need to point this out one more time as we wait impatiently for the Royals to sign their first free agent of the off-season.
Every team has at least $100M before they sell a single ticket and before revenue sharing kicks in, thanks to the TV deals.
MLB sold the remainder of BAMTech to Disney just a few days ago. That amounted to a $900M cash influx into MLB, which breaks down to $30M per team.
MLB, as a whole, achieved record profits in 2022, besting the last season before the pandemic.
If any team tells you they don’t have the money to pursue free agents or extend their own stars, they’re lying. If any team tells you that the pandemic is still holding them down, they’re lying. When the Royals say they can’t afford to compete via free agency, they’re lying.
The Royals salary obligations next season are somewhere in the neighborhood of $70M. They could spend an additional $60M and they’d still make a profit, guaranteed. Of course, a better team would sell more tickets, too, so they could probably afford to go even higher.
The Royals could add two top-tier starting pitchers plus a useful reliever and veteran bat with that money. That wouldn’t guarantee them 100 wins, of course, but they were 21 wins shy of a playoff spot last season. Carlos Rodón and Tyler Anderson were worth more than ten combined fWAR last season. Brandon Drury was worth three. Taylor Rogers was worth one. That’s 14 wins right there. That would leave the Royals only seven wins short. If the young hitters get full seasons and some expected improvement, the Royals would instantly be in contention.
Obviously, that won’t happen, and not just because Tyler Anderson has already signed with the Angels. Still, when J.J. Picollo or John Sherman give an interview or press conference and insist that “now isn’t the time to spend” understand that they aren’t saying that the team would take a loss if they tried to buy their way into contention. They’re saying that if they did so they’re concerned that John Sherman and the rest of the ownership group wouldn’t make as much money this year as they would like to.
Especially remember that when Sherman comes back again asking for you to pay for his new stadium and real estate development venture.