“At some point, they have to turn the corner.”
Wait, pause, let’s just take a moment and appreciate that three former Royals beat writers got together, formed their own version of The Avengers, and exposed the Kansas City Royals with as devastating a news article ($) as you’re likely to read about a sports team that doesn’t involve tangible harm to others. Say what you will about the wins and losses, but Royals fans have been blessed for many years with terrific beat writers for the Kansas City Star, The Athletic, and the Royals’ own website. There may not be much value in watching the games, but there’s plenty in reading up about the team the day after, and that continues to be true with Lynn Worthy and Anne Rogers, even as the three who wrote this article have largely moved on from their jobs covering the Royals.
Alright, that’s about it for the nice things I have to say today.
“At some point, they have to turn the corner.”
Those words are from the second-to-last quote from general manager J.J. Picollo in the linked piece written by a veritable all-star squad of former Royals beat writers for The Athletic earlier this week. It’s damning stuff on the surface, going into extreme detail about the many ways the Royals’ front office has failed while attempting to scout, draft, and develop pitchers over the past decade-plus. In case you had a flicker of hope remaining, the article does not paint the current system in a significantly better light than what has come before.
Those words, though. Those words have stuck with me in the hours since I first read them. We’ve talked a lot about accountability around Royals Review this year because Dayton Moore brought up the concept when the team finally fired hitting coach Terry Bradshaw without seeming to truly understand what it means. Those words suggest to me that Dayton Moore not only didn’t grasp the meaning of the concept of accountability but that those under him aren’t overly concerned with it, either.
There are a lot of underlying assumptions in that simple. nine-word sentence. Let’s break it down, shall we?
“At some point”
If you look up the definition of the phrase, you get, “A moment in time that is not specific.” The lack of specificity is a real problem for me, as I think it should be for all of us. If you do even cursory research into goal-setting, one of the core concepts that almost everyone agrees on is that goals should be specific. This makes sense on a basic level. The goal, “I want to climb Mount Everest at some point,” is not nearly as strong as the goal, “I want to climb Mount Everest by the end of 2030.” The lack of specificity makes it really easy to procrastinate and make other kinds of excuses.
Let’s bring the example down a bit. If your boss asks for a progress report and you reply, “I’ll have that to you by the end of the day.” You’re probably in much better shape than if you reply, “I’ll get that to you eventually.” In the first example, you’re making yourself accountable to a specific outcome by a specific time - something your boss can rely upon. In the second example, you’re forcing your boss to set a deadline because you are not being accountable enough on your own.
Does that mean there is no excuse and no mercy for occasional missed deadlines? Of course not. Sometimes things happen. Royals fans cut the team slack in 2016 when they lost Mike Moustakas for the entire season due to injury and again in 2017 when Yordano Ventura’s life was tragically cut short while many were counting on him to become the staff ace. And we aren’t exactly J.J. Picollo’s boss to demand the same level of accountability that our bosses might demand of us. However, by using this kind of indefinite language Picollo sets an expectation that he isn’t accountable to us at all or that he doesn’t actually have a clue when changes should be expected. One is worse than the other, but neither is particularly good.
“have to turn the corner”
The definition of the phrase “turn the corner” is, “Pass a critical point and begin to improve.” The thing about turning the corner is no situation or person ever has to do it. There is often a hope or a desire that they will, but no requirement. The fact of the matter is that the Royals pitching prospects may never turn any more corners. This might be as good as any of them ever get. Given a chance to expand on the idea that the pitching prospects must improve at some point, J.J. Picollo’s quote continues by simply doubling down on the idea.
There’s only so long you can go. They have to turn the corner.
OK. Thanks for the incredible insight Mr. Picollo! The corner must be turned. Why isn’t corner-turning happening? What will it look like when the corner is turned? What will it take to turn the corner?
Who cares. Just turn the corner already!
This might be the most infuriating part of the whole thing.
Not “we.” Certainly not “I.”
J.J. Picollo - and by extension, the Royals’ front office - take no responsibility for what comes next with these pitchers. It’s entirely up to them. If they want the data, they have to go find it. If they want to improve, they need to figure out how and make it happen. The Royals’ front office will not be accountable to helping these pitchers improve. Either they will sink or they will swim. They will suddenly learn to throw more effective pitches in more effective spots or they will continue to walk batters and give up home runs.
At least until their contracts mercifully end and they can go to a team that will actually take accountability for improving them.
Jakob Junis has now pitched nearly an entire season for the San Francisco Giants. His numbers are no longer quite as eye-poppingly good as they were early in the season, but he’s still showing career bests in nearly every category on the FanGraphs dashboard. His 4.53 ERA as a starter would be third-best among the Royals. His 4.13 FIP as a starter would be second-best. And the Royals chose to non-tender him because they felt he wasn’t going to be able to figure it out. When asked about his early success, the Royals’ only defense was to claim they’d asked him to do the things that were helping him find success but that he hadn’t done it.
The implication was that they were unable to convince him it was a good idea. Knowing what we now know after reading the article in The Athletic, it seems completely obvious that they wouldn’t be able to convince him because they don’t appear to properly prepare or share the available data with their pitchers. I think we also have to question whether even if he had been convinced the Royals likely would have been either unable or unwilling to help him figure out how to best accomplish those changes. The team was focused on Jakob Junis figuring out Jakob Junis’ stuff. In retrospect, it’s absolutely no wonder that, failing to find success with what the Royals were willing and able to offer him, Junis had to turn to learning pitches from his brother in an attempt to hang on to his big league job.
Yes, we’ve talked a lot this year about accountability and the Royals. But that’s because, with every new nugget of information we learn, we discover a front office that has even less accountability than even the most pessimistic among us had previously assumed. But hey, at least there’s good news.
At some point, they have to turn a corner.