The Royals are 21-29 after their most recent dominance of the Tigers at Comerica Park on Wednesday evening. The Royals win was mostly thanks to Brady Singer, who is showing the AL Central that he may be a pitcher to be feared in the near future.
Despite the positive end to the two-game series and seven wins in their last eight games, it most likely will be another season for the Royals in which they will finish in either the cellar or second-to-last in the AL Central (with the the hope that they can somehow catch a swooning Tigers teams over the finals two weeks of the seasons). Therefore, Royals fans are probably wondering this: will there be any organizational changes this Winter as they prepare for 2021?
With manager Mike Matheny finishing his first season as manager during a pandemic-affected season, it is likely that he should be back and with his job safe for 2021. The same most likely will be true for GM Dayton Moore, who has not only been the Royals general manager for almost 15 seasons, but also seems to be in good graces with ownership after how he pushed to pay employees and minor leaguers during the COVID crisis.
That being said, considering this team has endured three straight “sub-par” seasons (though they did show some improvement this year…hopefully), it seems likely that the Royals could make some changes in the coaching staff, especially considering that many on the Royals current bench are holdovers from Ned Yost’s tenure. While major changes at the top are usually unlikely after such a string of lackluster play, it is common to see turnover in the coaching staff underneath the manager in an effort to “mix” things up.
So let’s take a look at two coaches in particular: hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and pitching coach Cal Eldred. And let’s examine not only their tenures at the Royals top coaches behind Matheny, but what their outlook could be for next season as well.
Both Bradshaw and Eldred joined the Royals coaching staff in the Winter of 2017, leading up to the 2018 season. Bradshaw had been a longtime part of the Royals organization before taking on the hitting coach position, as he had spent five years in the Royals minor league system as a hitting instructor. After ranking 26th in baseball in wRC+ from 2018 to 2019, according to Fangraphs, the Royals have improved in that metric category from 86 over that two-year span, to a 91 mark in 2020, which ranks them 23rd. Surprisingly, the Royals have seen this improvement despite a free-swinging approach, as they rank 25th from 2018-2020 in walk rate, according to Fangraphs. That being said, after purging their roster of big offensive stars such as Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain (and eventually Mike Moustakas in the middle of 2018), the Royals have showed the progress necessary on the offensive end with cheaper, farm-produced talent, to demonstrate that Royals hitters are seeing growth under Bradshaw’s tutelage.
Despite this improvement, Royals fans have to wonder if Bradhaw has been responsible for this development at the plate, or if there are other factors in play. Over the past couple of seasons, the Royals have seen the growth and development of many Latin American hitters in Kansas City. Jorge Soler hit 49 home runs in 2019, and became one of the better (and strongest) designated hitters in the American League this year and last. Maikel Franco and Salvador Perez have enjoyed bounce back seasons in Kansas City after lost seasons in 2019 due to ineffectiveness and injury. However, while those hitters have seen improvement since 2019, it hasn’t been Bradshaw who has been credited for their resurgence.
Instead, that credit has gone to Mike Tosar, who was recently hired as a special assignments hitting instructor in January of 2020. All three players have gone to Tosar for instruction in Miami in the off-season and have seen monumental gains after seeing Tosar. And thus, with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and perhaps minor league outfielder and former top prospect Seuly Matias in need of his services this Winter, it would make sense for the Royals to bring Tosar on to the Major League staff as a regular coach.
Unfortunately, that decision could result in the Royals replacing Bradshaw with Tosar as hitting coach. And, that could be a huge boost to this Royals team, especially with many young Latin American players waiting in the wings such as Matias and perhaps outfielder Erick Pena, who could be an enticing punch in the lineup along with shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr.
Granted, that is not to downplay as the progress Bradshaw has made as the Royals hitting instructor over the past three seasons. From what it sounds like, Bradshaw seems to be receptive and open to the more analytical approach that is pushed by Drew Saylor and other members of the Royals front office who focus on hitting development. However, the recent hiring of Tosar is intriguing, and it’s difficult to imagine that Tosar isn’t being groomed for hitting coach job at the Major League level. If it doesn’t happen now, it should occur at the end of 2021 or 2022.
After all, the Royals hired Matheny as a special assistant in the front office in 2019, Yost’s last year with the Royals as manager. Hence, it seems hard to believe that the Royals aren’t trying a similar path with Tosar and Bradshaw in the near future.
While the presence of Tosar in the Royals organization could spell an eventual end to Bradshaw as Royals hitting coach sooner rather than later, Eldred seems to be a more peculiar case. The Royals developed an identity under former pitching coach Dave Eiland, which helped the pitching staff contribute to two American League pennants and a 2015 World Series title. However, the Royals let Eiland go following the 2017 season, and the Royals have failed to do much with their pitching staff since. According to Fangraphs from 2018-2020 (which would encompass Eldred’s tenure), the Royals have ranked second to last in pitching WAR, 26th in team ERA, and 28th in FIP. Comparatively speaking, from 2012-2017 (Eiland’s tenure), the Royals ranked 10th in WAR, 18th in ERA, and 12th in FIP.
Thus, based on those metrics, it has to be said: the Royals have been a tremendous disappointment under Eldred when it comes to pitching success over the past three seasons. And therefore, it seems likely that the Royals staff would probably benefit from moving on from Eldred in 2021.
However, Matheny and Eldred’s relationship probably makes things more complicated than they should be. Eldred and Matheny are former battery mates from their time in Milwaukee, and it seems like the two are close friends. Unfortunately in a case like this, that only makes the decision to move on from Eldred even murkier from Matheny’s end. Yes, the Royals haven’t performed as a pitching staff under Eldred the past three seasons. The metrics back that up tremendously so. That being said, Matheny is a loyal manager who is slow to turn his back on his “guys”. Royals fans have seen that from Ryan O’Hearn (who was kept up in favor of Ryan McBroom), Adalberto Mondesi (who has continued to play despite his struggles), and even Ian Kennedy (who was still being trotted out there even though he was an obvious liability out of then pen). This loyalty seems to be the case with Eldred, who has been trusted and relied on wholeheartedly by Matheny, even though the past couple of seasons leading up to this year should have made him more skeptical.
And hence, the wise move for Matheny, Moore and the Royals would be to move on from Eldred and find another pitching coach to tap into this young crop of live arms not just currently in Kansas City (Brady Singer, Carlos Hernandez and Kris Bubic), but also coming up and on their way (Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Asa Lacy). But based on recent history, that decision may be easier said than done, much to the dismay of Royals fans.
At the surface, it seems hard to believe that the Royals won’t make any changes this off-season in terms of coaching staff. Yes, Moore and Matheny tend to be loyal to a fault, and if the Royals can over somewhere around 4-6 games under .500, that would be a cause for celebration. After back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2018 and 2019, the Royals have shown some growth and development this year, even if it hasn’t resulted in much movement in the AL Central standings (the Central may be one of the toughest division in the American League, if not in all of baseball). That being said, this Royals fanbase needs to see a sign that the Royals are committed to winning, or at least creating a legitimate winner, in the next two-to-three seasons. One way to do that would be through a coaching change, with Bradshaw and Eldred being the most likely, as well as sensible, candidates.
And yet, whether that will happen seems murky at best. Bradshaw seems more likely, especially with the presence of Tosar lingering in the organization, in addition to having a lot of fanfare among the Royals faithful thanks to his work with Soler, Franco, and Salvy the past two seasons. Furthermore, Eldred certainly has a legitimate case against him, especially considering the Royals’ pitching struggles since 2018.
That being said, it would not be surprising to see both back in the Royals dugout with Matheny come Spring Training in 2021.
If there is one thing that this Royals organization struggles to do (Moore especially), it is moving on from personnel at the right time. The Royals have an unfortunate history of being “loyal” to a fault, and it may have cost the Royals in the standings as a result.
Unfortunately for Bradshaw and Eldred, that right time to move one from them as the Royals’ top assistant coaches may be right now.
Let’s see if Moore will make that tough (but most likely right) decision on the two…
If he does, it could be a big first step in terms of changing the culture, as well as the fortunes, of this Royals team in 2021 and beyond.