Analyzing the Royals’ coaching staff for the upcoming 2022 season

On Friday morning, the Kansas City Royals formally announced their coaching staff for the upcoming 2022 season, as evidenced by the graphic that they shared on Twitter:

As expected, there weren’t any major shake ups on the staff, especially from the main assistant coaches (i.e. hitting coach, pitching coach, and bench coach). That being said, there were some positives to be gleaned from the new coaching additions, including the ones that were not announced in the graphic shared on Twitter.

Thus, let’s take a deeper look at the positives, negatives, and overall outlook of the Royals’ coaching staff announcement for the upcoming 2022 season.


Positives

Losing Rusty Kuntz hurts, but then again, that was an expected move, especially with the way the 2021 season ended.

Rusty stepped down as the first base coach in September, and my guess was that the grind of coaching first base every day wore on him more than expected. Thankfully, Rusty will stay in the Royals organization, though he will serve in a front-office role for next season, which probably makes sense considering his age and where he is at in his career (remember, he stepped down from his first base coaching position in 2020 as well):

While the return of Damon Hollins is nice to see, the biggest story is the addition of assistant hitting coach Keoni DeRenne, who worked heavily with hitting coordinators Drew Saylor and Mike Tosar since 2019, and spent a lot of time as a hitting coach in Omaha this past season (Hollins also spent time with the Storm Chasers a year ago):

It is likely that Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto will debut with the Royals at some point next season. Thus, it is encouraging to see that those players will have some continuity when they matriculate to the Major League level in 2022. Furthermore, the Royals saw a ton of gains in player development on the hitting end last season in the Minor Leagues, especially at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, with Melendez and Pratto being the main success stories (though Rudy Martin and Dairon Blanco also made big improvements).

Even though Terry Bradshaw remains in his role as the primary hitting coach at the Major League level, the fact that DeRenne will bring his expertise from the Minor League player development side to the big league club could have a huge impact, especially on Royals hitters who struggled a year ago (Hunter Dozier could be one who benefits). My guess is that Picollo may have forced the issue here, and Dayton Moore compromised by not necessarily firing Bradshaw, but by adding an “assistant” hitting coach to help bring that culture and expertise from the Minor Leagues to Kansas City in 2022.

Another underrated addition was Allan de San Miguel, who joins the bullpen staff as a strategist and bullpen catcher, as referenced in the Alec Lewis tweet below:

I know there are a lot of Royals fans disappointed by Moore and Picollo opting to keep Cal Eldred on staff as a pitching coach (more on that later). But I find the hiring of de San Miguel to be an interesting addition for a variety of reasons.

First, the fact that the Royals will have de San Miguel and Parker Morin as strategists/bullpen coaches, in addition to Larry Carter as bullpen coach (who saw some time as pitching coach while filling in for Eldred when he was out), shows that the club is valuing “hands-on” development with the young Royals pitching staff next season. De San Miguel was a catcher in the Royals minor league system as recently as 2017 and was a catcher as well at the Royals Alternate Site in 2020.

This past season, he served as a manager in the Australian Baseball League, and I imagine the expertise he learned there, along with his experience with the young Royals pitchers, will help him be a solid mentor for pitchers like Daniel Lynch, Brady Signer, Kris Bubic, and Jackson Kowar (just to name a few) for the upcoming season:

Yes, the Royals kept Eldred, which is a bit disappointing since he’s been with the Royals as pitching coach since 2018. On the flip side though, they added more coaches and seem to have hired young coaches who can not only relate to the Royals’ talented young arms but also embrace advanced analytics as well.

This is a good sign for this Royals organization as a whole, and also could hint at Picollo’s early influence as general manager at the Major League level (since he was a strong advocate for analytics in regard to player development at the Minor League level).


Negatives

Let’s be honest, even though the Royals front office made some shrewd minor moves with DeRenne and de San Miguel, it’s hard to not focus on Eldred returning a fifth straight season as Royals pitching coach.

Former Grantland writer and “Rany on the Royals” blogger Rany Jazayerli expressed his dissatisfaction with Eldred returning, which honestly, was a common sentiment among Royals fans on Twitter on Friday:

To be frank, it is hard to see why the Royals decided to retain Eldred when one looks at his complete resume.

Since Eldred took over as pitching coach in 2018, the Royals, according to Fangraphs, rank 28th in pitching fWAR as well as 27th in staff ERa over that four-year time span. Safe to say, it’s not a surprise that the Royals have failed to finish higher than fourth in the American League Central since 2018 as well.

That being said, it’s probably a sure bet to think that manager Mike Matheny vouched for Eldred, as both of them go way back to their playing days together in Milwaukee in the mid-90s. It is possible that Matheny may want to give Eldred one more year, as Eldred didn’t have a full season in 2020, and the pitching was slightly better in the second half in 2021, especially once the pitching prospects made their way to Kansas City over the last couple months of the season. Matheny, as a friend and coach, probably thinks that Eldred is slowly making progress, and 2022 is when the young pitchers finally gel together under Eldred’s tutelage.

Of course, that’s a big risk on Matheny’s end. The Royals haven’t had a winning season since 2015, and Moore and the Royals front office have invested heavily in pitching since the 2018 MLB Draft to help them get back on the winning end of things at the Major League level. If the Royals’ pitchers flounder at the start of next season, it would not be surprising to see Moore not only part ways with Eldred but perhaps even Matheny, especially if Matheny is the prime reason why Eldred still has a job as the Royals pitching coach.

I am not sure if Eldred is the answer for the Royals as pitching coach for this young and promising group of pitchers coming up in the Royals system, especially considering Eldred’s reported past distaste for analytics. That being said, I am interested to see if Eldred’s future in 2022 will be tied to Matheny’s own tenure as manager in Kansas City, as Matheny has a lot to prove in 2022 after two straight losing seasons to begin his time as Royals manager.


Overall Thoughts on the Royals Coaching Staff

The Royals’ retention of Eldred is tough, but it’s not unexpected from Moore and the front office considering how the Royals’ front office has operated in the post-World Series years.

After the rash firing of former Royals manager Trey Hillman during the 2010 season, Moore has been slow when it comes to changing coaches and managers. Yes, one would think Moore would have plenty of reason to let go of Eldred after four straight sub-average seasons from the Royals pitching staff. But then again, it’s not like Moore has given Eldred a ton of weapons either, especially from 2018-2020, when the Royals were clearly in the rebuilding process. It would be hard for any pitching coach honestly to do much with Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman as pitchers in the starting rotation, after all.

However, Eldred will certainly be under the gun, and the emergence of younger and more analytically-friendly coaches on the Royals staff could be a sign of who Eldred’s replacement could be, should the Royals pitchers fail to gain any ground in his fifth season as Royals pitching coach. The Royals are starting to make that much-needed push to be more analytically savvy as an organization, and there are signs of that initiative in their newest coaching additions, who will bring much-needed energy and expertise from their time in the Minor Leagues, where Royals Player Development was incredibly successful this past season. Furthermore, the return of Pedro Grifol as bench coach, who honestly should be a manager at the Major League level already, is another win for this organization, especially with the loss of Tony Pena, Jr., which gives this coaching staff one less Spanish-speaking coach. (Though it sounds like Pena, Jr. will be either the manager of the Omaha or Northwest Arkansas squad in 2022.)

The Royals will be a better squad in 2022, and their coaching staff will be better as well, even with the unpopular Eldred back for another year.

Furthermore…if the Royals pitching staff struggles out of the gate, and Eldred is let go mid-season?

Well, that could open up some peculiar possibilities for that position…

Safe to say, it’s likely that the Royals will continue to go “analytical” in terms of a possible Eldred replacement, especially if the DeRenne and de San Miguel hirings give any indication.

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s