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The KC Monarchs’ new pitching coach went back to the basics ... and it’s working

Perhaps more than any other, one philosophy ignited and guided Justin Shafer’s playing career in pro baseball.

“Be great at what you’re good at,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

He carried that advice from the minor to major leagues over the course of two seasons. And now, as the first-year pitching coach for the Kansas City Monarchs, he’s inspiring one of the best pitching staffs in the American Association.

Shafer has led the Monarchs to the second-best team earned-run average and WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) in the league.

Put simply, KC is 10-5 thanks in large part to its impressive bullpen. Members of the Monarchs’ pitching staff, who boast extensive minor-league experience, have been revitalized by Shafer’s tutelage.

“All of these guys that we have, probably at one point in their career, had success,” Shafer said. “Let’s get back to what (they) did then.”

His process for developing a game plan for his pitchers starts with baseballreference.com, where he analyzes trends. He uses the site’s trove of data to identify high walk numbers, strikeout tallies and contact logistics.

Those metrics help Shafer uncover what types of pitchers he’s working with. And then, while observing players’ respective arsenals, he’ll obtain data from KC’s TrackMan system and proceed accordingly.

“I let them do what they do, and then I look at the data,” Shafer said. “See what their best pitch, data-wise, is their best pitch. And then, are we utilizing your best pitch the most?”

This method has been a boost for returning Monarchs pitcher and Parkland native Grant Gavin. A former Triple-A hurler in the Royals organization, Gavin, 28, recorded an incredible 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2023.

His fastball was his money pitch, but Shafer saw something he could incorporate into Gavin’s first start of 2024 — something that could make him even better as a pitcher.

“You look at his data, and he has an elite splitter,” Shafer explained. “Just use it more. Don’t do anything different, just use it more.”

The right-handed former Central Missouri standout did just that, recording a career-best 13 strikeouts in his first start, an 11-3 win over the Kane County Cougars.

Gavin isn’t alone in striking newfound gold. The Monarchs’ arms have all begun to hum. Relievers Zack Leban and Julian Garcia, for instance, have combined for 19 shutout innings this season, and setup man J.C. Keys leads the American Association with four wins.

“He relates to the guys and knows what we go through on a day-to-day basis,” Keys said of Shafer.

The Monarchs were set to begin a three-game road series against the Lake Country Dockhounds in Wisconsin on Monday night.

Their next home game is Friday, June 7 at Legends Field in Kansas City, Kansas.