Pitching development has been the white whale of Dayton Moore’s tenure with the Royals. He came to Kansas City with grand dreams of a rotation that could give him 1,000 innings, that would follow the blueprint set in Atlanta with their legendary pitching staff. But it has been a boulevard of broken dreams for Dayton Moore with Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura serving as the only significant starting pitchers developed and retained by the Royals over the first 12 years of Dayton’s tenure.
The Royals looked to change that with their 2018 draft, selecting a class heavy with college pitchers. Those pitchers began to infiltrate the big leagues by 2020, and there was hope Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Jonathan Heasley could reverse over a decade of disappointment in the arms race.
Two years later, Lynch is starting to look like he may be a formidable starter in the big leagues. And after a brief demotion, Singer has begun using his change up more, with terrific success.
But Bubic and Kowar have taken huge steps backward each with an ERA consisting of four digits. Carlos Hernández, another promising young pitcher, has also taken a big step backward with the most earned runs allowed in baseball, and one of the highest walk rates. Heasley has had mixed results, but has 13 walks in 13 1⁄3 innings to just 7 strikeouts. The bullpen - traditionally an area Dayton Moore has had more success - has not performed despite some fairly promising young arms like Collin Snider, Josh Staumont, and Dylan Coleman.
The success of these pitchers will be very important for the Royals’ ability to get back to contention. There will be an attrition rate with pitching prospects for sure - some will not succeed no matter who is the pitching coach.
But it has become clear after four years and two months on the job, it is time for pitching coach Cal Eldred to go.
It is hard to know just how to evaluate hitting and pitching coaches, but if you look at the total numbers of the pitching staff, is it not a pretty picture. As Alec Lewis of The Athletic pointed out, the Royals rank in the bottom four in virtually every pitching category in baseball.
Royals pitching ranks—— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) May 25, 2022
Staff ERA: 4.91 (28th in MLB)
Staff BB/9: 3.94 (28th in MLB)
Staff K/9: 7.10 (30th in MLB)
Staff P/IP: 17.38 (29th in MLB)
Staff WHIP: 1.44 (27th in MLB)
Bullpen ERA: 4.86 (30th in MLB)
Bullpen WHIP: 1.46 (30th in MLB)
Bullpen K/BB: 2.06 (27th in MLB)
The Royals sought to emphasize first-pitch strikes in spring training. The Royals are the worst team in baseball in throwing first-pitch strikes. The Royals fired hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, citing preparation and game-planning. Royals pitchers have given up 41 first inning runs, more than any team in baseball. The pitchers have underperformed despite playing in front of one of the best defenses in baseball.
Aside from the awful numbers, we have stories that it took him several months to diagnose Brad Keller, that he could not get buy-in from Jakob Junis, that they had not been able to get Singer to throw his change up until very recently, and they have scrapped Kris Bubic’s slider just a month into the season.
Dayton Moore has emphasized patience with starting pitchers, arguing it takes time for them to develop (bizarrely using Clayton Kershaw’s win-loss record as evidence of this - Kershaw had a 2.79 ERA in his second season, his age 21-season). While it is true that it takes some time for pitchers to develop, they tend to peak faster than hitters. As Scott Lindholm at Beyond the Boxscore put it, “pitchers join major league rosters around age 23-24, peak around 26 with a sustained decrease in numbers from 27 on that gradually flattens out a bit around age 35.”
Kowar, Lynch, Singer, and Hernández are all in their age-25 season, older than Logan Gilbert, Shane McClanahan, Ian Anderson, and Trevor Rogers, all of whom have had Major League success so far. Brady Singer is a week older than Julio Urias, who already has 8.4 WAR in the big leagues and earned Cy Young votes last year. Jackson Kowar is a month older than Logan Webb, who electrified Giants fans in the playoffs last fall. By age 25, Yordano Ventura had already pitched in two World Series.
Moore recently defended criticism of Eldred by pointing to his success story.
Dayton Moore took the blame for the struggles of the pitching staff.— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) May 16, 2022
“If you’re going to blame Cal Eldred for Bubic & Singer, you better give him praise for Daniel Lynch.” #Royals
These are the standards of a poverty franchise. A small market team must be able to develop pitching through any means necessary, and many of them have. The Cleveland Guardians have built a steady pipeline of young arms and are able to trade away Cy Young winners without falling into the abyss like the Royals. The Tampa Bay Rays take rejects from other organizations and give them the means to flourish. The Oakland Athletics have been developing pitching since Dayton Moore was a scout with the Braves.
Developing just Daniel Lynch, or Lynch and Singer, or even Lynch, Singer, and Brad Keller is frankly, not good enough. If Kauffman Stadium is such a difficult place to hit, as we are told constantly as the lineup produces little offense, there is no excuse for the Royals pitching staff to be anywhere near the league bottom.
And it’s not like the Royals haven’t had talented pitchers. Singer, Lynch, and Kowar have all been top 100-ranked prospects at one point. Collin Snider throws 99 mph with ridiculous sinking action. Dylan Coleman throws 100. As Alec Lewis pointed out, Jakob Junis, Jorge López, Jason Adam, Brad Boxberger, and Wily Peralta all stumbled in Kansas City but have flourished elsewhere, ominously noting that “current Royals big leaguers are not ignorant of the strides others have made elsewhere.”
I wrote this a year ago, which shows you how long this has been a topic of discussion among Royals fans.
Still, this is a results-oriented business, and the results haven’t been there. Royals starters have the second-worst ERA in the American League (although they have underperformed their FIP). Royals pitchers overall have the worst walk rate in the league, with the fewest amount of first-pitch strikes, and third-fewest pitches in the zone. They walked 11 last night against the Yankees, already the sixth time this season they have walked 8 or more batters in a game, or double the amount of games they did from 2014 to 2015.
While I can’t say for certain that Eldred has been bad, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that he is a good pitching coach either
Sound familiar? What has changed?
The Royals are in their fifth year of a rebuild they don’t want to admit is a rebuild, and the patience and goodwill of the fans has run out. I’m not under the illusion that firing Cal Eldred will save this season, but I’m also not under the illusion he has done a good job because he is buddies with the manager. The organization needs to start cleaning house and raising their expectations. Cal Eldred needs to go.