Royals’ coaching shuffle is a broader pivot that reflects owner John Sherman’s mindset

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·4 min read
JOHN SLEEZER/jsleezer@kcstar.com
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At a glance, the shuffling of hitting coaches by the Royals might seem like scapegoating, or merely a token gesture. Certainly, it’s not bold enough action for some with legitimate questions about the work of a pitching coach whose staff is last in the American League in ERA.

But removing Terry Bradshaw in favor of Alec Zumwalt, the organization’s director for player development and hitting performance, was no trivial gesture.

Instead, it reveals something substantial about a pivot in emphasis for the franchise still forming a new identity under the ownership of John Sherman. And it comes less than a year into a front-office makeover that may have appeared cosmetic but is part of a more dynamic change.

It reflects not just an increasingly influential voice of leadership but even an altered approach under the stewardship of first-year general manager J.J. Picollo, who drove a decision that former GM and current president Dayton Moore wouldn’t have proposed this early in a season.

Picollo became convinced the change in hitting coaches was necessary. And that suggests a tacit understanding of Sherman’s view of the scene.

Because the Royals surely aren’t where Sherman thought they’d be by now, in their third season since he bought the team from David Glass. But balancing urgency with patience has long been a key perspective for Sherman — one honed by his entrepreneurial past.

Sherman considers even the painful times an opportunity to look hard in the mirror and make measured decisions and changes. The future is now to Sherman, to be sure — not at the price of panic, but with the currency of critical thinking.

Indirect as that influence might be, the move on Monday was a microcosm of that mindset ... and perhaps even indicative of a new phase in the arc of the franchise.

In some ways, it was reminiscent of Moore’s “Operation: Flip The Switch” in 2011 — the transition from preparing for the future to engaging it. With top prospects Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez in the big leagues now, and more of the organization’s young talent likely to arrive this summer, the time was right for Zumwalt to come to KC and continue working with players he’s helped develop in the minors.

The decision to replace Bradshaw was rooted in his failure to embrace or effectively convey the shift in organizational hitting philosophies engineered by Zumwalt over the last few years.

The last time the Royals changed hitting coaches this early in a season was 2014, amid a frenzy of such moves: Dale Sveum became the sixth man in the job in a two-year span. That’s not to say these Royals are bound for the World Series after their exasperating start to the 2022 season. But their current coaching-staff shakeup is profound in another way: It’s testimony to the club’s fresh sense of immediacy.

It’s been seven years since the Royals’ back-to-back American League championships and 2015 World Series championship. After being stranded in 2016 and 2017 by the paradoxical hope of being able to stay competitive instead of maximizing return as contracts for key players were coming due, the Royals are five years into a rebuild now.

At 12-20 when Bradshaw was let go, it was evident that something had to give if the Royals were truly going to embrace a more modernized philosophy at the plate ... not to mention make a meaningful statement to players and fans that the current state of affairs was unacceptable.

For at least the last eight years, the organization has typically exercised an abundance of patience. That speaks to Moore’s admirable leadership style and steadfast belief in maximizing a player’s opportunities to succeed.

Like many baseball executives, Moore would try to wait at least 40 games into a season before making changes of this nature. The change in 2014, for example, came after 52 games.

Picollo, elevated to GM this past offseason, is charged with helping the club become more transactional and stimulating some fresh thinking … or at least different vantage points for it.

That’s how this recent move came about. A few weeks ago, Picollo became increasingly attuned to the Royals’ accumulating issues at the plate: chasing bad pitches, failing to deliver with runners in scoring position and too often being unable to adjust during games.

His conviction grew … and with that grew the case that it was time for a change. In essence, this was just the sort of discussion (and result) that the club was hoping for when it shuffled Moore and Picollo’s job titles last winter.

It’s too soon to know the long-term effect of the coaching shuffle. There’s plenty of blame to go around with the way things have gone this season. But it was a decisive move that seems consistent with the ideology of an owner who doesn’t want to overreact during hard times and doesn’t want to under-react, either.

It also reflects an organization that’s committing to the future, accelerating the pace of an overdue reset.