Is there a more thankless job in professional sports than being the manager of a struggling baseball franchise? When things go right the credit is often placed on the players on the field. Once they go wrong, the focus turns to the lineup construction or the bullpen decisions that blew the lead. Such is the case for new Kansas City Royals manager, Matt Quatraro. In his first season, his club has worked to an abysmal 17-38 record. They rank near the bottom of every major category from runs scored to runs allowed — and most things in between.
There have been some bright spots, however. On Monday, the club took a perfect game into the eighth inning, ultimately capping off a 7-0 victory. Vinnie Pasquantino and Salvador Perez have been as-advertised and more. Michael Massey has seen a fantastic turnaround at the plate this month and Bobby Witt Jr. is starting to piece together better at-bats. I get it, I’m being far too optimistic for a team that’s on track to lose 100 games yet again. Even still, it begs the question: what else is Matt Quatraro supposed to do?
The shortcomings of the Royals’ roster this season go far beyond their manager. Years of poor development throughout the system are to blame. Years of poor scouting and unsuccessful draft picks are to blame. Poor contracts spent on players who fail to perform are to blame. Are we so naive to expect one man to put on the uniform and lead this team beyond those years of mistakes in the span of just 60 games?
The Royals have won more than 70 games in a season just once since 2018. Fans should be upset and they should expect more from the team. Unfortunately, years of mistakes can’t be fixed in one offseason. No, they can’t even be fixed in one regular season. It’s going to take time to do it correctly and sustainably. That’s something the Royals haven’t done since the days that Ewing Kauffman still owned the team.
Matt Quatraro has done well navigating a tough season so far
For Quatraro, what more can he do? He’s already done many of the things that fans have been clamoring for in the first two months of the season. Hunter Dozier played every day for the first ten games of the season. Then he started playing every couple of games. Then it was three days off between starts and he was ultimately designated for assignment.
He’s made smarter lineup decisions. Sure, the lineup has changed often (daily at times) but part of the draw for Quatraro in the hiring cycle last offseason was his analytical approach. He offered a club the chance to add some of the Rays’ “secret sauce.” His lineups have been based on matchups and they’ve been backed with evidence. That’s a far cry from Mike Matheny last season — rolling out the same dud of a lineup for weeks at a time. Most recently, we’ve seen Quatraro move his struggling young shortstop down the order. Bobby Witt Jr. was struggling immensely in the leadoff spot. Recently, he’s been moved down a few spots in the order and has been performing much better.
The Royals have had some extremely long stretches to start the season. They played 12 straight days to open the season, followed by 10 straight to finish off April. To start the month of May it was 16 straight days. For a club with many young players, the job Quatraro has done to rotate his players and keep them fresh has been extremely undervalued. In a season that will likely see 100 losses, the worst thing that could happen on top of that is a lengthy injury to any of the young contributors that are developing for Kansas City. So far, so good in that regard.
Finally, and perhaps most masterful of all, Quatraro has done very well to work through extremely tough pitching shortages in the major leagues. Through no fault of his own — J.J. Picollo and Dayton Moore built the roster — his club has spent the better part of May with just three reliable starting pitchers. Daniel Lynch started the season on the IL and Kris Bubic suffered a season-ending injury in the middle of April. Then Ryan Yarbrough suffered a brutal injury that landed him on the 60-day Injured List. Shortly after, Brad Keller landed on the 15-day injured list as well.
Despite all of these struggles, Quatraro has been able to make sound bullpen decisions. He’s kept his pitchers fresh. Picollo deserves credit there as well, as we’ve seen some shuffling between Omaha and Kansas City. For the Royals skipper, it’s been yet another unheralded success early on. As mentioned, just Monday we saw Josh Staumont open the game followed by six perfect frames from Mike Mayers. Who had that on their 2023 Royals bingo card to start the season?
Quatraro on Mike Mayers: "I knew the zeros were piling up ... I didn't realize they hadn't had a base runner, but every time I kept checking off where we ended the inning, I was like man this is getting interesting ... He was around the zone the whole day." #Royals pic.twitter.com/E6GfpP9Zvn— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) May 29, 2023
The makings of improvement are there, but it takes time
The 2023 Royals aren’t making the playoffs. It’s not a great season and that isn’t lost on anyone in the organization. No one is happy with where things stand, especially not Matt Quatraro as a first-year manager. To find success and field a winner, it’s simply going to take more time. The system that Matt Quatraro and first-year pitching coach, Brian Sweeney, want to implement doesn’t happen overnight. Hitting coach Alec Zumwalt is only just now a full season into his tenure and we’ve seen the ups and downs with the talent at the plate in that span. This season is his first as director of hitting performance and player development.
Much of the Royals’ roster is young, but the front office is younger still, in terms of being established. It’s no easy task to completely reshape a franchise and makeover the approaches on the mound and at the plate. It entails not just creating that change in the major leagues, but throughout the entire organization to ensure that players are being brought in that fit the mold and make-up that the staff is searching for. Many of the current major leaguers may not fit that mold. Instead, they’ll have to be reshaped to do the things that will make them successful. Some will, and some may not.
Because of those things, this won’t be a quick turnaround for the Royals. A decade of failures in the first round of the draft cannot be erased in two months. Not unless Quatraro was hired with the expectation that he’d be a magician and wave a magic wand to erase a decade of failures. The Royals’ new skipper deserves at least three full seasons to prove his ability to lead his guys on the field. We were here once with Ned Yost, after three losing seasons to start his tenure as manager. We all know how that worked out. It takes time, and a manager can’t overcome the type of roster mistakes plaguing the Royals. He deserves better and deserves more support.