KANSAS CITY -- After one month of offensive underperformance, the Royals announced a major change to their coaching staff on Monday with the firing of hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, effectively immediately.
“This is a reflection of how we’re evaluating and how we’re doing things as a whole,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “… This started 10-12 days ago. The discussions about where we are as an organization, where we want to be, where do we expect our hitters to be.”
Assistant hitting coach Keoni DeRenne, whom the Royals promoted to the big league staff this offseason, remains in his role, and Mike Tosar, special assignment hitting coach, will be in uniform with the Major League team for “about a month or so,” Picollo said, before the club re-evaluates the need for him with Kansas City or elsewhere in the organization.
Major League coach John Mabry, who works closely with hitters, also remains with the club.
After Monday’s extra-innings loss, when Luis Robert took Royals closer Scott Barlow deep for a two-run homer in the 10th, the Royals stood at 12-21 and 7 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central.
The organization believed 2022 could be the start of a contention window over the next few years, and this hasn’t been the start it was looking for, especially offensively.
Through 33 games, the Royals ranked 27th in the Majors in runs scored (121) and 28th in OPS (.619). They hit the second-fewest home runs (21) in the Majors and ranked in the bottom-third of baseball in hard-hit percentage at 37.6%.
The most telling statistic, which Picollo said was a major influence in the decision, has been their average with runners in scoring position -- .221, which ranks 25th in the Majors and saw a slight increase Monday night, when Whit Merrifield laced a two-run double in the eighth and Andrew Benintendi came through with a tying single. It was the most offense the Royals saw all night after Johnny Cueto struck out seven in six innings of two-hit ball.
“There are a few very important things we need to see,” president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said. “We need to see nine players in our lineup that are committed to get on base any way possible. That means we cannot chase pitches out of the strike zone. When we do have pitches to hit in the strike zone, we can’t miss them. We’ve got to square them up. We’ve got to drive balls where they’re pitched.”
The Royals felt confident about the combination of Bradshaw, DeRenne and Mabry to lead the hitters during the offseason. But when Picollo and the team began to see the at-bats in the beginning of the season, that thinking changed.
“I say this respectfully, the players are the ones playing the game,” Picollo said. “So whether it’s the messaging or understanding the messaging, who knows, but we felt like Terry was the right person to go into this year. And then the way it went, we started thinking harder about whether we needed to make a change at this time.”
“We take a lot of it -- all the accountability,” second baseman Whit Merrifield added. “It cost a good man his job because we’re not playing the way we should be playing. It’s all on us.”
The coaching shift indicates a change in offensive philosophy that has been anticipated both inside and out of the organization. Zumwalt has been a key piece of the Royals’ overhaul of their Minor League hitting department in the last two years, seeing significant improvement with hitters at all levels in their offensive approach and production.
The Royals hope the change can bring continuity between the Minor League and Major League sides in game planning and offensive approach as the club continues to transition its young prospects to the Majors.
“We’re always talking about processes, but also what the game plan is, taking data,” manager Mike Matheny said. “And I believe we were making some of those strides in the right direction, but there are some things we know we have to get better at. When those are all put together, it creates some opportunity for different ideas, and that’s what we’re counting on with this new group. Come in with that positive energy to allow us to use the things they’ve had success with.
“Hopefully it translates here.”
Bradshaw had been the hitting coach since 2018, and he has worked in the organization since 2000. Based on that history, Moore indicated that Bradshaw could still have a role in the organization.
“We felt like we needed more urgency and to be more focused on a few of the main things that we feel prepare hitters on a daily basis,” Moore said. “… It’s not one person’s fault. But there are certain absolutes that we put in place with our hitting development we felt we needed to intensify.
“Do I think we were working on it and getting there? I do. But at the end of the day, not fast enough.”
The Royals remained adamant that, even though their pitching also ranks near the bottom of the AL, there haven’t been discussions about making a change with pitching coach Cal Eldred and bullpen coach Larry Carter.
“That hasn’t been discussed at all,” Picollo said. “We knew that the young starting pitching is going to go through ups and downs. You want them to make strides. … It’s about doing it consistently. It’s not like guys come up here and are showing no ability to pitch in the Major Leagues. They’ve shown some ability, and now it’s our job to get it out of them on a more consistent basis. That’s going to come with time.”