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Can Matt Quatraro right the ship in year one?

How much impact does a new manager really have in year one?

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Press Conference Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training has been a hell of a lot of fun. The Royals are dominating in Cactus League play and currently sit 14-2. Even though the boys in blue seem to do this every year in Spring Training, the exhibition dominance has some fans starting to believe, once again. The real question is why? What makes this team so different from last season? Just a year ago, the Royals finished an abysmal 65-97 on the season. Returning this year is more or less the exact same cast of characters.

Sure, the organization made a few moves over the course of the offseason. The team signed major league free agents Jordan Lyles, Ryan Yarbrough, and Aroldis Chapman. They brought back Zack Greinke and signed some promising talent on minor league contracts such as Franmil Reyes, Matt Duffy, and Matt Beaty. Overall, a pretty “mum” offseason for a franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2015.

It’s unlikely that any of these signings by the front office will be the difference between last season’s last-place finish and a potential competitive season in 2023. This isn’t to say that the signings were poor — they were all fine. Each new Royal fills a need on the roster somewhere. However, none of the newcomers were headliners of their free agent class. J.J. Picollo didn’t dismantle the roster and attack the weakest links. Instead, he made some slight tweaks hoping to get a little more success for a franchise that, frankly, needs a lot more success.

So why all the hope and optimism? Why are the Royals dominating in Arizona and why should we believe any of that will translate to the regular season? One major unknown exists as we enter the 2023 Major League season and it relates to perhaps the most impactful offseason move of all: how will new Skipper Matt Quatraro impact the Royals' young roster in 2023?

Can Matt Quatraro get more out of this roster?

Many hoped last season that the Royals’ young pitchers would take a step forward. There was hope that the lineup could produce, especially with the arrivals of young prospects such as Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and others. Those hopes were quickly squashed, as the young arms struggled under Cal Eldred and Mike Matheny.

Matheny often seemed to limit his young talent in a season that clearly needed them to shine. Therefore, it came as a surprise to no one when the Royals swiftly gave their former manager and pitching coach walking papers in October. Enter: Matt Quatraro. Quatraro has spent the bulk of his coaching career with the Rays and Guardians — two franchises that are no strangers to winning. He should offer a more analytical approach to managing this Kansas City lineup.

“There’s a ton of information to start, and it works its way to the field. Those processes to get that information and distill it down to the players is the process we’re going to work off of so it can be clearly communicated to them.” - Matt Quatraro

Quatraro’s fresh approach and collaborative nature should be welcomed by a young core of players. Many of the players this spring have mentioned in interviews that their new manager lets them “be themselves.” If the players are less tense and more confident in themselves, then it seems obvious the results on the field should follow. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote this spring about J.J. Picollo’s attempt to build a consistent winner and at the heart of that quest is the franchise’s new manager.

According to Kepner, Matt Duffy — a non-roster invitee in Peoria — called Quatraro “introspective,” adding he’s “eager to listen and learn.” Kepner also mentions Bobby Witt Jr. who said, “From my perspective, I have one year in the big leagues, and he’s asking me questions about what I think.” A recurring theme so far in spring training is Quatraro seeking input. This, after he reportedly spent the winter months calling players to “listen to what they wanted from a manager and coaching staff.”

The change in culture looks to have arrived swiftly in Kansas City. The new culture, along with a much-needed modernization of their approach to the game, seems to have impacted the clubhouse already.

So, can a first-year manager really make an impact?

Sure, culture is important. Analytics and a modernized approach to the diamond should help as well. But will it translate to wins? How much can a new manager truly impact the win column? Quatraro joins the ranks of 17 other current MLB managers who took over for their franchise following a losing season. Two of those managers — Skip Schumaker and Bruce Bochy — are entering year one with their new team just as Quatraro is with the Royals.

When analyzing the starts for the 15 other managers, the results are quite noticeable. Of the 15 current MLB managers that were hired following a sub-.500 season, 14 of those managers saw an improvement in win percentage in their very first season. On average, teams saw a jump from a .430 win percentage the year prior to a .498 win percentage under their new managers in year one. That’s an average improvement of 11 wins!

Derek Shelton of the Pittsburgh Pirates is the only instance of a new manager seeing a drop in win percentage after taking over as new manager. The historical data is promising for new managers taking over a team with a losing record, as Quatraro is doing in 2023. For the Royals, it adds to the hope that some of the results we’ve seen early in spring training can translate to the regular season.

Will the 2023 Kansas City Royals finish their season 11 wins better than 2022? That projection would have the 2023 club finishing with a record of 76-86. That mark would be their best finish since 2017 and more in line with what some hoped the club would achieve last season. Only time will tell how good this roster can be. Hope springs eternal in Spring Training, even for the lowly Kansas City Royals. If the work that Matt Quatraro has done leading up to this point pays off and translates to the regular season, then the Royals may actually surprise us all.