The Royals made their first post-Opening Day roster move Thursday by demoting Dylan Coleman to AAA Omaha. Coleman was an excellent reliever in a beleaguered bullpen last season, posting a 2.78 ERA and acting as a setup man by season’s end. This season has been very different for him. In the team’s first 12 games he made five appearances and while walks have always been an issue for him, he has already walked seven to start the year. He hasn’t been able to limit the damage there, either, as he’s given up a total of 10 runs. The kicker came on Monday when he walked four and allowed six runs in a game the Royals were still in before he took the mound. Josh Staumont, who has had much more success in a similarly small sample size, will be recalled to take his spot.
So the Royals tried something - keeping Coleman, demoting Staumont - and when it didn’t work out, they made a change. But that’s far from all the Royals have been trying out this year.
Raiding the zone
Outside the notable exception of Dylan Coleman, this pitching philosophy has been wildly successful. Walks and ERAs are down dramatically, especially in the rotation. The pitching coaching staff changes the Royals have made have proved to be very effective so far. There was some fear early on that if the Royals threw more strikes they’d simply give up more hits while walking fewer batters but Brian Sweeney and company didn’t stop there.
We talked a lot about Bubic last week, but I want to emphasize how much buy-in you have to have from a pitcher to get him to not only completely alter his delivery but to have him confidently continue that into the regular season games. Brad Keller is similarly giving lots of credit to Sweeney and Zach Bove for giving him the confidence to keep throwing his curveball even if it doesn’t seem to initially be working.
The Royals pitching coach and philosophy changes have been incredibly effective and they need to keep up
Beating the shift
Among the rule changes this year was a ban on infield shifts which would allow second basemen to play in shallow right field while sending the shortstop straight up the middle. The Royals have attempted to innovate around this rule change by having their right fielder play in shallow and putting their remaining outfielders in the gaps. This is the kind of thing we should want the Royals to be looking for, ways to work within the rules to gain an advantage someone else might not have thought of, yet. It’s what every good team is looking for all the time.
Unfortunately, this change doesn’t appear to be paying off. The sample sizes are small, but by my count the Royals have only gotten a single additional out with this maneuver while leaving their outfield out of position for a variety of other flyballs including the double hit by Corey Seager on Tuesday night that could have easily been a triple or maybe an inside-the-park-home run if he hadn’t injured himself running the bases.
I applaud the Royals’ effort here, but if it isn’t yet time to give up this change it soon will be.
Bobby Witt Jr.
This one isn’t so much a change on the Royals’ part, but something they didn’t change even when fans were asking them to. After last season a lot of people, including your truly, thought Witt should be moved off of short to third base because he had been something of a train wreck defensively throughout 2022 and had underperformed at the plate compared to expectations, as well.
However, the Royals insisted he was going to be their starting shortstop this year and that has absolutely paid off. He’s already made two dazzling plays it’s hard to imagine many others making and cut down on the silly mistakes by quite a bit. He’s still got some improvement to do at the plate, but a lot of the underlying numbers suggest he should be doing at least as well as last year if not better. So that might just be a case of the Royals needing to stick to their guns there, too.
Nate Eaton made some waves when he appeared as a reliever in the blowout on Tuesday night. Obviously, he’s not a superstar and no Shohei Ohtani. In fact, his offense has been so abysmal to start the year that many have wondered how long it could be before he’s demoted in favor of a hotter Omaha hand. If he is demoted, I think the Royals might actually have an opportunity that it would be a shame to miss.
Ohtani is a superstar because he’s so good at both sides of the two-way player gig. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for lesser two-way players to be useful. As teams become more and more reliant upon multiple relievers and rosters continue to limit them to only 13 total pitchers at a time, it might make sense to begin asking some fringe position players to work on their pitching, too. Most players who are good enough to make it to the big leagues were such talented athletes that they pitched competitively at some point, so in a lot of cases it would simply be asking them to dust off some skills. Something we saw Eaton do quite nicely despite it having been years since he had last made a serious effort.
Royals fans are extremely familiar with the arguments about the value of positional flexibility. Nate Eaton already has the ability to play in both the outfield and the infield. How much more valuable could he become if he added “reasonably talented relief pitcher” to his resumé? How much better a reliever could he be if it was something he regularly worked on instead of something he attempted to do for the first time in five years?
There might be hiccups with this plan. There is a lot of training and effort that goes into being prepared to pitch or hit at the big league level. The amount necessary to do both would obviously be greater. But Ohtani shows that it’s still possible to be excellent at both and we’ve seen plenty of players switch to pitching after their position-playing careers flamed out - Jose Cuas is one example - so we know that many have the talent. No one is asking Eaton to become the next Scherzer or Verlander, but if he could be the next Cuas while still maintaining everything else he brings to a major league roster, that would be a coup for the team.
It’s been really nice seeing the team make some adjustments early on even if they aren’t paying off in the win column just yet. The philosophy behind those changes - and how confidently they make them while being willing to move on from the ones that become failures - will be extremely beneficial to helping build the next competitive Royals roster.