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Royals brass and fans are not speaking the same language

Does anyone know how to use Google Translate?

Kansas City Royals Introduce Matt Quatraro as Manager
Royals GM JJ Picollo
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

“The Royals need to overhaul their pitching development department.”

I have said some version of this. You have said some version of this. RoyalsFan789 in the comments has said some version of this. Maybe even your uncle said some version of this at Thanksgiving. It is pretty hard these days to talk about the Royals and not talk about the failures in pitching development.

“We’re a top-five development system.”

I have not said some version of this. You have not said some version of this. Even RoyalsHomer123 in the comments has not said some version of this. Your uncle did not say this at Thanksgiving.

But JJ Picollo did say this in the context of the 2018 draft class graduates.

Ok, sure, there was some noise made about how the Royals rotation in 2022 featured at various times Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jonathan Heasley, all 2018 draft picks. Much young guys! So rookie! Wow!

But, like, so what? Were they any good as a group? Singer was, but the other dudes had a collective ERA above 5.00. Just because they are there does not mean the draft class was a success. Just because they collect a MLB paycheck does not mean the Royals are a top-five development system.

Given the stark disagreement here, what does it actually mean to have a good pitching development system? One of the biggest reasons I decided to write for Royals Review again was to explore this question. Similar to how Picollo pointing to the 2018 graduates and holding a “mission accomplished” sign feels inadequate, the collective Royals fanbase saying “your development sucks” based on the 5.00+ ERA of most of the graduates...also feels inadequate! Nobody has actually defined a solvable problem.

Mathematically, in my mind, a “good” pitching development system takes the 70th or so projected percentile outcome for each pitcher and turns that into the new 50th percentile projection. Each guy gets like 10-20% better odds of achieving a better outcome. In plainer terms, a good pitching development system takes a guy with a back-end starter profile and squeezes out a mid-rotation starter. It takes a long reliever profile and makes him a high-leverage inning guy.

Applied to the 2018 draft class, which was a bunch of college pitchers, the general idea was that they took a bunch of high-floor, low-ceiling guys with the idea of a quick path to the majors. Well, one guy has maybe reached a high ceiling, which is great, but I do not think the other guys have even hit the high floor. The pitching development system, while graduating several guys, did not succeed in moving the 70th percentile projection to the 50th, or even hit the 50th percentile projection. “Very safe mid-rotation sort” described Lynch in this prospect ranking. “Solid No. 4 or 5 big league starter” described Bubic in this prospect ranking. ...Are we there yet? I do not think so.

The Royals’ 2018 draft class for pitching, right now, is Brady Singer and a bunch of guys. I do not think employing a spray-and-pray strategy and managing to hit one target gets kudos. The Rays got Shane McClanahan. The Mariners got Logan Gilbert. The Orioles got elite prospect Grayson Rodriguez.

On the other hand, the 2018 draft class for pitching is ... pretty barren after the guys I named above! Somewhat anecdotally, I think the only other organizations clearly doing well with graduated pitching in that draft class are the Rays and Mariners. I guess it’s easy to be top five when everyone else sucks.

What I wanted to point out here is that I am not sure the Royals brass and Royals fans are on the same page for what a good pitching development system means. There’s graduating a high percentage of players you drafted, and there’s developing a consistent pipeline of solid major league contributors who are performing better than their draft floors (regardless of acquisition pathway). Those two are not the same thing, yet a good pitching development system needs to accomplish both. I think Royals brass has been focusing on the former, while Royals fans focus on the latter, and we all just talk circles around each other.

The result is a lot of frustration. It’s like having meetings at work. Everyone goes around and around saying stuff like “per my previous email” or “if you’ll look at the chart here” or “Kevin wake up”.

Saying “the Royals’ pitching development sucks. Do better” might be correct by my definition above. However, none of this language points to a specific, solvable problem. Something on which we fans can wil(l) the Royals to take action. I want to take a stab at defining the problem. I think that is going to take me a longer time to work out. Hopefully you’ll come along with me as my journey unfolds here at Royals Review.