For most of 2021 and 2022 I - along with many Royals fans - suggested, demanded, and even begged the Royals, “Fire your pitching coach, Cal Eldred!” When they finally did it this past offseason they were met with their next challenge: hiring a pitching coach who could actually help the pitchers improve.
The Royals replaced Eldred with multiple people. Brian Sweeney came from Cleveland, Zach Bove from Minnesota, and Mitch Stetter took over bullpen coaching duties after serving a variety of other pitching coaching duties for the Royals. During his end-of-season press conference, Royals General Manager J.J. Picollo noted that the pitching evaluation from this season was incomplete, in large part due to injuries. He isn’t wrong, but just because it’s incomplete doesn’t mean we can’t judge what we did see.
While some rotation candidates such as Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch IV were unable to pitch significant innings, others pitched quite a few. Let’s separate the pitchers in Kansas City this season into three buckets - guys who improved, guys who got worse, and guys who stayed the same. (Minimum five innings pitched)
Pitchers who improved
- Aroldis Chapman
- Ryan Yarbrough
- Cole Ragans
- James McArthur
- Kris Bubic *
- Carlos Hernández
- Brooks Kriske
- Jackson Kowar
- Alec Marsh
* Bubic obviously didn’t pitch enough for us to know for sure, but he sure looked good before he got hurt.
Pitchers who remained the same
- Austin Cox
- Daniel Lynch IV *
- Josh Staumont
- Angel Zerpa
- Mike Mayers
- Nick Wittgren
- Jose Cuas
- Taylor Hearn
- Max Castillo
- Amir Garrett
- Collin Snider
- Tucker Davidson
- Brady Singer
* Lynch may have performed better in a longer sample size or if he’d generally been healthier.
Pitchers who got worse
- Zack Greinke
- Scott Barlow
- Jordan Lyles
- Josh Taylor
- Brad Keller
- Taylor Clarke
- Jonathan Heasley
- Dylan Coleman
What does it mean?
- The Royals had nine pitchers improve based on their prior year’s performance and/or performance with another team before being acquired by the Royals.
- They had 13 pitchers who were pretty much the same guys this year as they were last year.
- Finally, they had eight guys who pitched worse this year than last year.
- Of the eight pitchers whose performance declined, all but one were with the Royals organization last season. Josh Taylor is the sole exception but also didn’t pitch last season due to injury and missed most of this season with injury.
- Of the nine pitchers who improved this year or after acquisition, five were with different organizations in 2022.
- Of the four Royal carryovers who improved, none both stayed healthy and did so to a degree that you’d feel comfortable with them on an allegedly competitive roster.
Looking at these results, I actually come away encouraged. I don’t think I can name a single pitcher who improved in 2022 for the Royals except for Brady Singer. And, considering his mixed results this season while mostly being the same guy, there’s reason to wonder if that was something of a fluke.
It appears the Royals really do have an improved approach to scouting, developing, or both when it comes to pitching performance. However, that improvement in coaching also stands as an indictment on what the Royals have been doing for the past several years until now. The fact that they could take so many pitchers who couldn’t figure stuff out in other organizations and help them become not just serviceable, but very good, makes you wonder why they couldn’t seem to do that with even a single existing Royals pitcher.
The only answer I can determine that fits the question is that the Royals’ scouting and development processes prior to 2023 were so bad that even the new ones couldn’t help their pitchers, or at least couldn’t help them very quickly.
Bubic and Lynch should both be back sometime in 2024. Clarke and Coleman should get opportunities to pitch as well. Singer showed flashes. So not all hope is lost.
Maybe with an additional offseason Sweeney, Bove, Stetter, and whoever else they work with will be able to figure some stuff out. There’s also an opportunity for guys to work with outside groups. Ragans attributes a lot of his success to work he did at Tread Athletics and Snider and Coleman have both been seen working with them as well.
The good news is that the past is the past, here. Even if the Royals pitching coaches can’t help any or most of the guys who were in the organization before they got here, the successes they did have in 2023 point to a bright future overall.
What grade would you give the Royals’ pitching coaching staff in 2023?
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