I said something on Twitter the other day about believing in the coaching staff the Royals have in place. I was rightfully asked why I believed that and I didn’t have a ton of concrete evidence to give y’all. So, here we are. I don’t have the time I used to have but I am going to try to do what I can to provide some semblance of, “Hey, here’s what I’m seeing.” You don’t have to agree. I couldn’t care less, really. Just wanted to give you all an insight to what I think other than, “Well because I think so.”
Let’s start with the pitching side of things. I don’t actually think this will be too difficult.
Exhibit A: Kris Bubic and Andrew Hoffmann
Kris Bubic and Andrew Hoffmann both had no good very bad fastballs last year, and to begin 2023 we had tangible evidence of the Royals not only identifying this flaw, but going out of their way to adjust both pitchers’ release points to address the issue. Both Hoffmann and Bubic have made substantial adjustments to their release points, altering their Vertical Approach Angle (VAA), altering the axis on which the ball spins, allowing their fastballs to play up in the zone better than they had been. I’m not sure why Jackson Kowar hasn’t made a similar adjustment yet, but this is exactly the type of adjustment that WOULD NOT have been made under previous regimes. Now…it may have cost Bubic his UCL…but it’s impossible to know that it wouldn’t have torn anyway so there’s no point in speculating that.
Exhibit B: First Pitch Strike Percentage
In 2022, the Kansas City Royals ranked dead last in all of Major League Baseball in FPS% at 58%. This year, they have improved to 18th (60.3%) with basically the same staff. There are two big reasons for this in my opinion. Number one, an emphasis on attacking the strike zone and even a rumor they were paying pitchers if they gave up a first pitch home run. Number two, Paul Hoover’s work with the catchers has been borderline miraculous and the new strategy to set up middle-middle until a pitcher is ahead in the count has helped tremendously. Pitchers are no longer nibbling 0-0 and the catchers are not setting up on the corners, putting pitchers in a bad spot. This is all coaching. 1000%. The staff has not changed enough to consider it otherwise.
Exhibit C: Royals pitching prospects are thriving on the farm
Alec Marsh, who was bitten by the home run bug last season, is yet to give up a home run in 19 innings so far this spring. He has also lowered is BB% by 4%.
Anthony Veneziano is throwing 95-97 again and has lowered his BB% by nearly 9%. His ERA is 2.08 and he looks like a big league starting pitching prospect again.
Yefri Del Rosario’s stuff has ticked up and his strikeouts are up by about 8%. He’s having the most success that he’s had in years and looks like a big league relief prospect again.
Luinder Avila has gone from fringe prospect to legitimate top-30 prospect in the system. He moved from Low-A to High-A and his K% is up almost 30%. He certainly won’t maintain that nonsense all year but he has clearly taken a massive step forward that we did not see from young international arms very often under the previous development group.
Austin Cox, who has been stuck in prospect purgatory for a couple of seasons, has ticked his K% up 11% in AAA this season. He’s a big, funky lefty who delivers the ball from a unique arm slot. He had big K numbers in the lower minors but could never really translate that to AAA. If he’s going to strike out 25%+ of the batters he faces, he’s a big league relief prospect again.
Drew Parrish’s K% is up 10% in AAA and his BB% is down 1%. I still don’t know how I feel about him in general but it certainly seems like he’s at least maximizing his talents now where last year he was clearly underachieving in Omaha.
Christian Chamberlain, maybe the nastiest left-handed reliever in the system, has cut his BB% down 11% while increasing his K% by like 20%+. Again, he can’t sustain a 40% K% all year, but seeing that kind of jump AND a massive decrease in walks is absolutely huge for a guy like that.
Will Klein has cut his BB% down 10% while increasing his K% 3%.
Andrew Hoffmann’s K% is up 10% and his BB% is down 4%.
Frank Mozzicato is having a top-100 start to his season.
David Sandlin and Mason Barnett both look like top-20 prospects in this system.
Noah Murdock has increased his K-BB% by 17%.
Exhibit D: Aroldis Chapman
Won’t spend too much time here. Chapman looked like he may be in the twilight of his career before the Royals got him throwing 103 again. Identifying his mechanical flaw AND fixing it is obviously huge. They’ll pay him probably $2M and should get a good prospect for him as soon as possible.
Alright…if I haven’t sold you on the pitching side of things by now, I don’t really know what to tell ya. Greinke, Yarbrough, and Lyles have all struggled, but Yarbrough and Lyles don’t have much to offer and Greinke is 40. The Royals are at least getting some innings out of them which is all that really matters.
Now let’s focus on the hitting side of things because this is going to be a little trickier…
Exhibit A: Drew Waters
I want to be abundantly clear about a couple of things:
#1: Yes, Waters’ 2022 season with KC was a VERY small sample and should be taken with a block of salt.
#2: No, one man does not an organization make, but it is THE example of why I believe in the process.
People were writing Drew Waters off as fast as they could. The kid couldn’t buy a walk nor an extra-base hit while he was with Atlanta. He was broken. Then he got to Kansas City and it was like he literally learned to hit again over night. Here are his 2022 AAA numbers in 210 PA with Atlanta and his 2022 MLB numbers in 109 PA with Kansas City:
- AAA Atlanta:
- 7.6% BB%
- .147 ISO
- 84 wRC+
- MLB Kansas City:
- 11% BB%
- .240 ISO
- 125 wRC+
The BABIP and K% were a little high, but nothing crazy and nothing that suggests that Waters being an average big league hitter just isn’t possible. That kind of turnaround is absolutely bonkers. It doesn’t even make sense. You want proof that the Royals are capable of teaching a kid an approach? Here it is. In black and white. There shouldn’t be ANY questions about whether the Royals are CAPABLE of teaching a kid with chase issues how to NOT chase as often. The only question that remains for me is, “Why can’t Bobby Witt Jr. produce similar results?”
Exhibit B: Vinnie P.’s continued development as one of baseball’s best hitters
The Royals have really never developed a world-class hitter since Dayton Moore got the job in 2006. They have developed world-class baseball players, athletes, defenders, but not really HITTERS. Salvador Perez leading the AL in home runs comes close, but his overall offensive production has always lagged because he can’t not swing at sliders in the left-handed batter’s box.
Among MLB hitters with at least 400 PA since the beginning of last season, Vinnie Pasquantino is tied with Bryce Harper for the 18th best wRC+ at 138. Everything about this dude screams perennial All-Star at the plate. He’s going to anchor the big league lineup for a long time and the Royals have done a great job with him. The most prominent feather in this organization’s cap since 2017.
Exhibit C: Edward Olivares’ emergence as a legitimate big league stalwart
Edward Olivares will likely never be an everyday big leaguer, but he is clearly a big leaguer and that was not always a guarantee for him. So far this season, Olivares has decreased his Swing%, decreased his Chase%, swung at more strikes, and actually increased his in-zone contact rate by a substantial amount. As a result he’s striking out less and hitting for more power. Again…if you want evidence that the big league club is capable of changing a guy’s approach, here’s a good one.
Exhibit D: 6th Best HardHit% in MLB
Look, I know folks are tired of hearing about this. I really can’t blame you. I’ve got nothing to say to you that you haven’t heard already. Just going to try to justify this one more time.
In order to hit a baseball really hard, you have to be on time and you have to identify the pitch early. The Royals offense has some issues right now. Half the team swings too damn much and a few of these guys need some dramatic swing changes. However, if we’re talking about direct evidence of a coaching staff preparing their guys to hit, isn’t the ability to hit the baseball hard pretty good evidence? You can’t get fooled AND hit the baseball hard this frequently. You have to be well-prepared and anchored into your approach to have hard-hit rates like this. The way I see it, the coaches in charge of preparing these guys for their at-bats have to be doing a great job. Despite some of the other issues, this ain’t one of them.
Exhibit E: THEY ARE LITERALLY TELLING US THEIR PLANS
From David Lesky’s “Inside the Crown”:
From JJ Picollo:
“(The swing rates) are a clear sign that they’re an inexperienced group of hitters that are feeling it right now,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “So they’re going to swing. When the swing rates go down, they’ll have more success. … We are keeping perspective on it, and using history as a reference, it tells you that guys get better with more at-bats in the Major Leagues.
And from Alec Zumwalt, who has been under fire for his team’s performance:
“The glaring one is the chase right now,” Zumwalt said. “We have a group of young hitters that are trying to prove themselves in the Major Leagues. We knew that was going to be something that we would have to pay attention to. As much as we preach our approach and game plan with these guys, they’re learning every single night. We’ve seen the upper tier of pitching. After the fact, we can dive into it. What would you have done differently?
Look…the coaches can’t go out there and not swing for the players. At some point, these dudes gotta relax and see some more pitches. I coach. I will openly acknowledge that it’s not my job to be smart, it’s my job to help players apply strategies on the field. If the players don’t buy in, and they aren’t able to apply what I’m telling them, I have to find a way to make it happen. That’s the job. You can’t just throw your hands up and say, “Well they’re not listening!” However…at some point the players have to execute. There’s a ton of give and take here. This article is about whether the coaches and the process are right and EVERYTHING they’re saying suggests that it is. Now we’ve just got to be patient and see if other players can make the adjustments that Drew Waters has made.
Exhibit F: We have seen them do it before
I hate going back to 2021. It’s been two years since COVID broke and allowed for Minor League Baseball again. We can’t just rest on 2021 for the rest of your lives. I get that. But this organization was in shambles and Alec Zumwalt and Drew Saylor were at the forefront of getting it fixed again. MJ Melendez’ K% in High-A was nearly 40%. It was under 25% in the big leagues last season. Bobby Witt Jr. was the MiLB Player of the Year in 2021. Michael Massey went from fourth round pick to 21 HR in High-A.
I’m not here to tell you they’re perfect. I’m not even suggesting that the answers to all their problems will be evident this season. I just strongly believe in what these guys are teaching and I hope this article is enough to at least justify why I believe in them. You don’t have to. Like I said, I don’t care and it doesn’t REALLY matter. My only goal when we started this thing was to hopefully shed some light on the guys in the system and our thoughts and opinions on what is going on with the team we all love. I appreciate everyone who reached out and asked why I was so optimistic. It tells me that words aren’t falling on deaf ears and it’s kinda cool to know that people whose opinions I value feel the same way about me. I’ve been doing this for six years now and I honestly have never felt better about the hands the organization is in. Is it perfect? No. Is it going to work? I don’t know! Do they need better players? Yep. Do they need to adjust some strategies? Of course. But I think the guys in place deserve the benefit of the doubt through AT LEAST the end of this season.
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