Changing of the Guard: Royals Shake Up Coaching Staff

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Credit: Kansas City Star

Coming on the heels of Sunday’s final game of the season where potential free agents Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar might have played their final game for the Kansas City Royals, on Monday it was announced that the team had shaken up their coaching staff, saying goodbye to pitching coach Dave Eiland, bench coach Don Wakamatsu, assistant hitting coach Brian Buchanan and possibly parting ways with bullpen coach Doug Henry (Henry could stay at his position, as he can be named by the incoming pitching coach). Buchanan could still be re-assigned in the organization while longtime first base coach Rusty Kuntz will also be leaving the big league team, possibly for a job as a roving instructor within the Royals organization. All these moves are a bit of a shock to the system, as on the surface it would appear the team is dismantling but in reality these are moves that signify a true end to an era in Kansas City baseball.

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Lets start with Eiland, who is widely regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the league. It was assumed that he would return for one more year in 2018, but after Ned Yost and Dayton Moore discussed the future over the last few weeks, the decision was made to move forward in a new direction. It appears as if Eiland isn’t leaving on bad terms:

“Dave is a great mechanical pitching coach,” Yost said. “He formulates a great plan. He was an integral part of our championship.”

More than anything it appears the Royals are transitioning from a team that views themselves as contenders to one who will be looking to transition a number of their younger players into full-time roles:

The other factor in effect is the future of the coaching staff once Ned Yost leaves. Yost is signed through the 2018 season and while someone like Wakamatsu would appear to be a great candidate to replace him, it appears someone else might have already been picked to take Ned’s place when he leaves:

So if I was to make an educated guess, the Royals already have an heir apparent in place to replace Yost or at least someone they’ve been eyeing for a while. It would make sense that if it was someone within the organization, it would be smart to place them on the coaching staff and learn under Ned’s tutelage before taking over, possibly as early as 2019. With that in mind, there is an option I have felt would be in Kansas City at some point:

Wilson is the current manager for the Royals Double A affiliate, Northwest Arkansas and would be a great choice for future manager. If someone like Wilson (or help us, Jason Kendall) is being groomed to take over the helm, then Wakamatsu would be taking valuable experience away from whomever that may be. In other words, it would make more sense to promote someone from within and let them learn and allow Wakamatsu to go hunting for bigger opportunities (he was a finalist for Tampa Bay’s managerial position after the 2014 season). Like Eiland, I don’t believe Kansas City had any issue with Don:

“I want to personally thank both Don and Dave for the contributions they made to our success here, culminating with the World Series title in 2015,” Moore said.

Overall, it is very obvious the Royals will be taken in a different direction next year:

“We’re making some changes,” manager Ned Yost said Monday during a morning news conference. “We’re transitioning to a new group of players, and (general manager Dayton Moore) and I have been talking a lot about the coaching staff here that is going to move forward with a young group.”

So it will be interesting to see who Kansas City brings in to fill these spots and there are a few possible candidates within the organization, like Wilson, Brian Poldberg and Steve Luebber. But the coaching changes weren’t the only big news coming out of Kansas City today.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

With the news of the mess going on in the Atlanta Braves organization and the resignation of GM John Coppolella, it almost instantly brought up the rumors and rumblings we have all heard before about Royals GM Dayton Moore returning to the organization that Kansas City pried him from. In years past this topic has been broached whenever Atlanta has an opening and every time Moore has held steadfast to his current position in Kansas City and how he is not looking to leave. That didn’t change this time around either:

So it would appear to be a non-issue, right? Well…

It does appear that Moore headed back to Atlanta is at least a possibility at this point and considering all the changes going on within the Kansas City organization it might be good timing on Moore’s part. That being said, I am still leaning toward Moore staying but not counting out the possibility of him moving on to an interesting situation, to say the least. The good news is that if it does happen, more than likely Assistant GM J.J. Piccolo would take over Moore’s job and the transition would be mostly spotless. Piccolo has been with Kansas City since 2006 and just finished his third season in his current position. Piccolo is well thought of within baseball and over the last couple years has been considered for front office jobs in Arizona, Philadelphia and Minnesota. If Moore is enticed by the challenge in Atlanta, the Royals should have a pretty seamless transition to Piccolo and more than likely the direction of the team will stay the course.

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If the last few days have taught us anything, it is that the Royals are changing whether we as fans are prepared for it or not. The last five years have been a roller-coaster ride of emotions but it’s time to get off the ride and allow it time for repairs. The task in front of the Kansas City front office and coaching staff is one that will not be arranged overnight nor will it be an easy fix. Many fear change and trust me when I say we can all understand the frightening unknown. But change can be good and while we all loved the group of players and coaches during this run, it’s time for a new group to win our hearts. Winter is coming folks, and while there might not be any flying zombie dragons, there will be a new set of faces to guard the Royal wall.

 

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Strength of the Pen

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When discussing the Kansas City Royals last two years (and more specifically their historic runs in the playoffs), a lot of their success seems to be derived from the stellar bullpens they have employed. In 2014, the team heavily relied on the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Last year started the same, but after Holland struggled(which we found out later was due to an injury), the coaching staff was able to also rely on Ryan Madson and Luke Hochevar late in the game. General Manager Dayton Moore has made a number of successful moves these last few years, but near the top of the list has been his ability to piece together one of the best(if not the best) bullpens in baseball. What is even odder about this isn’t the ability to put together a solid pen; we can trace the origins of bullpens filled with power arms back to the late 1980’s/early 1990 Cincinnati Reds’ teams that featured the ‘Nasty Boys’, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton. No, what is odd is the consistency the Royals bullpen has showed for years now.

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Most major league bullpens show success for a year or two, but then start to be less efficient and eventually are re-tooled. The Royals have tinkered with their formula for a few years now and seem to continually find arms that contribute and keep their success going. Last year, the Royals were 4th in bullpen WAR in the American League at 5.0, but more importantly had the highest LOB(Left on Base) % in the league at 80.4,  4.5 % better than the next best bullpen in the league. In 2014, the Royals bullpen was second in league WAR(5.1 to the Yankees’ 5.5) while leading the league in HR/9(0.62). More of the same in 2013(or as I call it B.W., Before Wade), as the Royals had the second best bullpen WAR in the AL(6.2) while leading the league in LOB%(81.4), K/9(9.57),ERA(2.55) and FIP(3.21). Even going back to 2012 shows the Royals had the second best WAR(6.4), second in FIP(3.52), third in LOB%(77.8)and first in HR/9(0.71). What I find most fascinating about this is how while the Royals have been a model of consistency during that span, no other team in the league has been as consistent. One year the Rays are near the top, the next it’s the Orioles, then it’s the Yankees. The point being that it’s not just that the Royals bullpen is good; it’s also the fact that with new pitchers rolling in and out of the pen each year, the numbers stay near the top of the league.

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So over the last four years, the Royals bullpen has been one of the best in the American League, all while shuffling pitchers around utilizing different players into different roles. With all that being said, the bullpen looks to be just as strong headed into the 2016 campaign. Wade Davis is still front and center as the closer and dominating force he has been the last two year, with Herrera and Hochevar helping setup again this year. But there are some new names in this year’s pen, and one of the primary relievers this year looks to be former Royals closer Joakim Soria. Soria was brought back into the fold this past offseason and will be one of the Royals main setup guys going into the season. Danny Duffy looks to be starting the year in the pen, which adds another power arm to this group while also giving them someone who will probably start at some point this season. Dillon Gee looks to be filling the role that Joe Blanton held for the Royals last year, as spot starter and long reliever if needed. Throw in Scott Alexander and Brian Flynn from the left side(with Tim Collins out for the year) and Chien-Ming Wang looking to be an option at some point this year, it looks to be another loaded pen.This is all without mentioning players coming up through the farm system, guys like Miguel Almonte, Alec Mills, and Matt Strahm, who could all see action at some point this season.

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Every year I wonder if this is the year the bullpen comes back down to reality. So is this the year the bullpen finally stumbles? I wouldn’t count on it:

Sure, they are just Spring Training numbers, which are to be taken with a grain of salt, but they are impressive nonetheless. It’s hard to imagine this group of arms being the one to break the ‘Streak of Dominance’. Greg Holland is gone from this group, but he battled an unknown injury most of last year and his ‘replacement’, Soria, looks to be a notch up from 2015 Holland. Looking at the set of arms the Royals have and it’s hard to imagine much of anyone regressing, as most are still in their prime. It’s a testament to the knowledge and hard work that pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Doug Henry have put in that have helped the Royals succeed with their bullpen. At some point the Royals pen will be normal again and we will fondly remember this time period. But I wouldn’t count on that happening anytime in the immediate future, especially if this group of high velocity arms have anything to say about it.

Konnichiwa, Dozer

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Not huge news, but news nonetheless. Word leaked out today that Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza was being released today so he could sign a contract to go pitch in Japan in 2014. This is not a huge loss for the Royals, as Mendoza had become a long reliever and most in Royals management pegged him as nothing more than that (ie. Neddy Yost). Either way, Mendoza had been with the team for a few years now, and he will be remembered for a few things. For one, this was a guy who had an awful Royals debut back in 2010. Mendoza appeared in 4 games that and came away with a 22.50 ERA-in other words, 4 innings pitched, 10 runs given up. 10 runs!! Mendoza would then go to AAA Omaha, where he knew changes needed to be made. He told then Omaha pitching coach Doug Henry to help him, and he didn’t care how. Henry changed his motion, got Mendoza to throw the ball more over the top and moved his starting point on the pitching rubber. What transpired was a dramatically different pitcher, one who by the time 2011 had ended, had positioned himself into at least consideration for the Royals rotation in 2012. Mendoza then went to Spring Training that year, pitched lights out and won himself a job. Mendoza had a rough first half to that season, but was one of the most consistent starters the Royals had in the second half of 2012 and basically forced the team to keep considering him for a spot in this past year’s rotation. Mendoza started the year as a starter in Kansas City, but by July 7th he had been switched to the pen. Mendoza would spend the rest of the year there, though he was used very sparingly over the last six weeks of the season. ‘Dozer’ was a great story, that of a guy who went from being an afterthought to someone who worked his way onto the team. As much as I will miss his pitching, more than anything I will miss his hair. Oh, that beautiful, wavy, immaculate hair:

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Luis Mendoza

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals

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MLB: Kansas City Royals at Seattle Mariners

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Those locks are going to be hard to replace. Best of luck, Dozer. We wish you nothing but the best.

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