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Royals’ Pitching Development Struggles Are Out in the Open

Kansas City's inability to produce quality starters is obvious, and now it's getting exposed.

"If these stud pitchers — (Jackson) Kowar, (Daniel) Lynch, (Brady) Singer, all these guys — had they been Dodgers or Rays or Guardians, they would be very, very good..." 

The above quote is from an article published on The Athletic on Thursday morning. The bombshell of a piece, worked on by esteemed current and former MLB writers with Kansas City ties (Rustin Dodd, Andy McCullough and Alec Lewis), highlighted the Kansas City Royals' immense struggles in one specific area over the last decade-plus.

Developing quality starting pitchers.

It's an issue that has plagued the Royals organization for seemingly forever, and it hasn't gotten any better as of late despite the club having a 2018 MLB Draft class that saw five different members of that group — a historic number — pitch last season. The fact that Kansas City used the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to revamp its hitting program(s) in the minor leagues makes the absence of that same treatment in regards to pitching even more frustrating to some fans, and more obvious to media members and opposing teams. The fact that the same pitching coach who has contributed to poor results for multiple years in a row remains in place serves as more of the same. 

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Of Royals starters with at least 80 innings of work under their belt in 2022, only Brady Singer (2.4) has been worth more than 1.3 fWAR. Zack Greinke, 38, is right at 1.3. Everyone behind him, from 25-year-old Daniel Lynch to 25-year-old Jonathan Heasley, ranges from 0.7 on the high end to -0.6 on the low end. Of that unit, Singer's sparkling 3.07 ERA is far and away above everyone else's. Homegrown talents such as Lynch, Heasley, Kris Bubic and Carlos Hernandez haven't gotten out of their own ways this year. 

The aforementioned article mentions old adages related to there being no such thing as pitching prospects. It also referenced the need for obtaining 10 developmental pitchers before having just one of them pan out. At any rate, if there's any truth to that (there are examples of other organizations proving it wrong), Singer is objectively the only young starter the Royals can hang their hat on as of now. In fact, even general manager J.J. Picollo admits that time is running low for some of the others: 

It hasn't been a secret that Kansas City is one of the worst organizations in all of baseball when it comes to starting pitching development. However, an article containing so many tidbits and quotes from current and former players, opposing executives and more is damning. It's damning on the Royals' minor league staff for not keeping up with the times and not putting their players in the best positions to succeed in an ever-evolving game. It's damning on the Royals' big-league staff for not getting the most out of their (possibly accelerated) arms. It's damning on the front office for not taking charge and changing things. It's bad all around.

The article does mention some potential avenues for improvement, and none of them are brand-new concepts. Many believe that the only route to legitimate change in performance is going to stem from legitimate changes on coaching staffs at both the major league and minor league levels. Those same proponents also tend to argue that a philosophical shift in pitching outlooks, in addition to the potential development of a "pitching lab," would also help do the trick. It remains to be seen whether Kansas City will take any or all of those measures during the offseason, but one thing is being made perfectly clear by just about everyone as the 2022 season winds down.

The current results aren't good enough. Dayton Moore, president of baseball operations, has long said that "pitching is the currency of baseball." If the 2022 campaign and The Athletic's relevant article are any indications, it's time for the Royals to increase the value of their dollar.