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The Royals front office is cultivating an attitude of insulting fan intelligence

Fans are mad for good reasons

Kansas City Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo during a spring training workout on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Surprise, Ariz.
Kansas City Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo during a spring training workout on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Surprise, Ariz.
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, Royals Vice President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore held an informal press conference at his annual C You In The Major Leagues camp at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park. Moore started the nonprofit in response to the deadly shooting at the J in 2014 to support the community, whose vision is to “inspire children to become leaders in their communities.”

Moore’s passion for community outreach and leadership is genuine, and he has leveraged his public position to better the city in which he lives. That much is unquestioned. But Moore’s very public job is to build great baseball teams and to compete for championships, and his performance in that field has very much been questioned of late.

This season, a season in which the Royals were preparing to take a step toward contention, the team has fallen backward. Just last week, they were the worst team in all of Major League Baseball. Even though they are no longer the worst team in the league, they are very much one of the worst, and are on pace to win 59 games—15 fewer than last season. Much of it has to do with the pitching performance, which has been terrible, and pitching coach Cal Eldred should probably not have his job at this point.

Somebody asked Moore about Eldred. His response seemed...poor:

The Royals are barrelling towards 100 losses again, and Eldred’s attitude is tremendous? Fans on social media mocked Moore’s comments and were, understandably, extremely critical of it. Eldred’s attitude, the general consensus went, is irrelevant; the response was bad because it totally missed the point. Aaron Ladd’s tweet has 338 quote retweets, and most of them are absolutely vicious. Royals fans are fed up.

So, when General Manger JJ Picollo appeared on Cody & Gold on 610 Sports Radio Tuesday morning, Eldred was the first real question that was asked. Cody & Gold led with a simple, straightforward question after mentioning Moore’s discussion with reporters the day previous: “What are you guys seeing that you like out of Cal Eldred right now?” Picollo responded by pushing back: that quote was taken out of context “completely.”

Picollo eventually answered the question by saying it was Cal’s “positivity” that has helped get them through these trying times.

Then, on Tuesday to kick off The Drive, Carrington Harrison pointed out another quote of Moore’s—from Sunday’s pregame—that really should also be examined and criticized:

Our environment is one of encouraging, one that shows the importance of exercising patience and belief and trust in one another. It’s probably cost us wins on the field, there’s no doubt about that. But I think in the long run, we’re developing champions off the field and when you do that you have a better chance to win a world championship on the field. At the end of the day i think it’s really important that we continue to use this platform to grow players and help them become men and fathers and husbands and great brothers and great teammates.

There’s just one response to all of this, which is to ask Dayton and JJ: do you think we’re stupid?

We’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s start with JJ’s insistence that Moore’s quote was taken sooooo out of context. Look, the audio to the press conference is not under lock and key. It is not a national secret. I asked Todd Leabo, producer at 810 Sports Radio and the guy who asked the question, if he had the full audio and lo and behold he did and sent it to me. Here’s the question, in full:

One more Major League question. It’s been a little over a month, I think, since you guys made the move with Terry Bradshaw. And you mentioned all the fans having opinions and all that, there’s still a bit more heat on Cal Eldred at pitching coach. I don’t know if you’ve talked to him often, how he’s feeling, just grinding?

And, for context, here’s Moore’s response to it, in a few more characters than Twitter will allow:

Cal’s doing a great job. And I appreciate the question. Questions like that should be asked. I ask those questions, John Sherman asks those questions, and JJ Picollo asks those questions as well. Cal’s doing a tremendous job as far as his attitude is concerned. I know there’s an attitude of collaboration that exists from all of our pitching people to make sure that we’re providing our players with the right information and we’re making the necessary adjustments for them to be successful. And we’re seeing some growth. We’re seeing some growth take place.

Now, you and I can both read. And you and I don’t have to have English degrees to understand that, no, the question was not about Cal’s attitude. It was about A) whether or not Moore has talked with him and B) how he (Eldred) is doing. Moore had a lot of avenues to respond and decided to go with “you know, his attitude has been great” instead of “our pitching coach is doing a great job to help our pitchers pitch.”

Did JJ listen to the audio before telling off fans for criticizing what was a really dumb thing to say? Either way, it’s hard not to be insulted here. The Royals are trying to convince everyone that, no, they’ve got the ball and the guy on first base is tagged out, but the ball is clearly not there.

Mike Moustakas pointing at a ball

But even to narrow down to what on-field positives Moore pointed out about Eldred—you know, the part about the Royals seeing some growth? This is just not true! We can look it up! Thanks to Fangraphs dot com, we can see that the Royals are worse as a pitching staff basically across the board. Using adjusted stats, the Royals rank the following this year:

  • K/9+: 88, ranked 26th
  • BB/9+: 132, ranked 30th
  • ERA-: 125, ranked 30th
  • FIP-: 120, ranked 29th

And last year:

  • K/9+: 96, ranked 20th
  • BB/9+: 115, ranked 30th
  • ERA-: 105, ranked 22nd
  • FIP-: 104, ranked 20th

To recap: the Royals are worse at striking people out, walk batters more often, and give up way more runs this year than they did last year. It’s been a rather cohesive meltdown.

And when we narrow it down specifically to the young players who really need Eldred’s help—namely, the Big Four of the 2018 draft class (Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic) and Carlos Hernandez—it doesn’t get any better.

Have any of those pitchers meaningfully improved from last year? No, no they have not. Hernandez and Kowar completely fell apart and have given up a combined 37 earned runs in 33 innings pitched this year. Per adjusted stats, Lynch and Singer are really no better than they were last year. Meanwhile, Bubic has taken a significant step backward.

Finally, there’s Moore’s comments about building better men, which dovetails with his passion about community outreach. There are a lot of things to say here, but ultimately: come on, man, your job is not to make people better. You are not running a youth group, a therapy practice, or a homeless shelter. You are running a professional baseball team whose purpose is to win baseball games.

This, too, is insulting in its own way. You can absolutely run an organization with integrity and professionalism and still win games. You don’t have to look very far. Just gaze across the Truman Sports Complex. Yeah, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, but you know what they also have? A great culture, a cohesive locker room, and a front office that makes the necessary moves to win because this is a billion dollar business.

Moore and the Royals think that when you “develop champions off the field” you “have a better chance to win a world championship on the field.” But there’s another option, which is simply to...develop champions on the field in the first place? Maybe if we try that, the Royals wouldn’t be one of the worst teams in baseball and without losing.

This all reminds me of something that Will McDonald, the site founder of Royals Review, wrote in 2009 about Dayton Moore and then-manager Trey Hillman. Will’s writing stands up like it always has, but what’s amazing about it is how much it reads like it was penned yesterday about this whole Attitudegate:

On and off the record, just about anyone close to the team has remarked about the siege mentality that’s taken over, and that mentality is driven by an unwillingness to take criticism or even acknowledge slight mistakes.

They thought they could win now, only, as it turned out, Dayton Moore’s hit rate on Major League acquisitions is somewhere south of the percentage of Victorian novels that have a sex scene. So after they failed we got to hear about how, somehow, we were the ones who don’t understand baseball.

Draft better. Draft better and make better trades. Actually adhering to your supposed process would be nice. The next time you want to trade away arms for old, expensive, bad players, don’t do it. Getting a fat budget and drafting completely predictable players in the early rounds is not exactly brilliance. It’s a good strategy, but stop parading your process so much when, and this might hurt, a dude with a Baseball America subscription could have done the same thing. Bring us some late-round guys that emerge. Prove to us how smart you are.

It all comes down to accountability, the word Moore and the front office keep parading about. They’ll explain they’re reason, talk about how positive they are, how much they care, and how much sleep they’re losing at night.

But you know what? Bad teams care. They try to stay positive. They have a plan. They struggle with losing. Those things are not evidence of a good process. They’re not evidence of anything at all. Moore is describing the job of the front office and the coaching staff, nothing more, nothing less.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: when a team tells fans there is accountability and that they are trying to get better, but they do not do anything to hold anybody accountable or get better, those fans are going to feel insulted—because they are being insulted. Don’t blame the fans for getting mad or lecture them about context. The Royals made this bed; they’ve sowed and are reaping the consequences.