J.J. Picollo Addresses the Royals’ New Direction

J.J. Picollo
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals have made forward-thinking changes in recent months, most notably in the managerial chair and at the highest level of their front office. The latter preceded the former, with J.J. Picollo taking over from Dayton Moore as the team’s top decision-maker in late September. Six weeks later, Picollo hired Matt Quatraro, who had been the bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, to replace Mike Matheny as manager.

Another impactful decision was announced this week. In want of a more-analytically-minded pitching coach, Picollo brought on board Brian Sweeney to fill the role that had been held by Cal Eldred. Previously the bullpen coach for the Cleveland Guardians, a team with a well-earned reputation as a pitcher development machine, Sweeney is seemingly a perfect fit for a Kansas City club looking to move away from a reputation of its own. Long seen as an old school organization, the Royals are, by all appearances, becoming more progressive.

Picollo, who now holds the title Executive Vice President and General Manager, talked about the team’s new direction during last month’s GM Meetings.

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David Laurila: You’ve addressed this previously, but it’s nonetheless the best way for us to start: Given that you worked alongside Dayton Moore for many years, what will differ philosophically with you in charge?

J.J. Picollo: “Culturally and fundamentally, there will be a lot of similarities, because it’s just baseball and how you run an organization. That said, we want to be a little more open-minded to different ways of improving our roster, and utilizing our roster. Player acquisition… a lot has been made about being transactional, but I think that can be overstated. When you’re transactional, you’re just trying to make your team better. If it makes our team better, then we’ll be transactional.

“More than anything, hiring Matt Quatraro, with the way he thinks… he’ll be creative. I think that will be developmentally healthy, especially for our younger players.”

Laurila: How does he think? Actually, let me phrase the question this way: What did he say during the interview process that sold you on hiring him?

Picollo: “A lot, but more than anything, he was able to communicate what his thoughts were. You could just see, in some of the exercises we went through… for instance, how he would put lineups together. Obviously, a lot of that is based on matchups and how you want to use matchups. Also, the idea of using our bench was very clear; it’s something he’s not going to be afraid to do. Another was putting pitchers in situations where they can succeed yet develop at the same time. He was able to explain his processes really well.”

Laurila: You’re obviously aware of the criticism your organization has received regarding its pitching development program. What are your thoughts on that?

Picollo: “I think what needs to happen is mostly at the major league level. We’ve examined what we’re doing developmentally. And by no means do we think we’re perfect in developing pitchers, but I believe we had the third-highest number of pitchers from the 2018 draft in the major leagues. When you compare what they’ve done to other teams, we’re a top-five development system. It’s just that they haven’t had the success at the major league level, as a group, that is needed for us to compete at the top of the division.

“We have to figure out what helps each guy, and every guy has different things that he needs to work on. The new pitching coach we hire, and the manager in the pitching department we’ll put together… it will be in their hands to have everyone take the next step.”

Laurila: Will an increased emphasis on analytics be part of that?

Picollo: “It will, although we are more analytics-minded than a lot of people think. What we need to do is put that into place more often than we have, and a lot of that comes down to the coaches. How do the coaches use data? How do they turn that into development? How do you see actionable change? Who is able to communicate well, and to see change and foster change? That is where it’s going to have to be utilized in a different and a more productive way.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Picollo: “We touched on the pitching, but again, pitching development in the minor leagues is a different narrative. I don’t get asked about the minor leagues very often. I get asked about the major leagues, and that’s where a lot of the criticism has come. There’s that transition, and if we can close the gap, shorten that transition… and you also have to keep in mind that we had, at times, four young pitchers in the rotation. They weren’t all rookies, but they were young pitchers. Most teams that are winning have four veteran guys and one young guy. We were flipped in that respect.

“We were trying to get a lot of guys moving in the right direction at the same time, and that can be tough on a team. It can be really tough. Then you throw in the young lineup. Defensively, we need to be better — that obviously helps pitchers — so there are a lot of things we can do to help our pitchers. That will be our big focus this winter.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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HamelinROY
1 month ago

Accept that the Royals are a small market team and start operating them as such:

  • If a player is going to FA, trade them while they have value. We lucked into a 500 season in 2017 but then let a lot of players leave with no return and haven’t sniffed good since. Instead they could have traded the lot (Hosmer and Cain as the big 2) and made the rebuild have an actual future.
  • Stop the signings that take us from bad to slightly less bad. Looking at you Carlos Santana
  • Commit to the rebuild in years where we won’t be competitive. Stop giving at bats to washed players who have never proven anything of value (seriously why did Ryan O’Hearn get a contract?) and start using those spots to either see what we have in the minors or on lottery tickets which we can trade for prospects.
  • The Royals used to be one of the most innovative teams for talent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_City_Royals_Baseball_Academy) and now we are the one who refuses to use analytics. We need every advantage we can find!