“At some point they have to turn the corner.”
Wait, take a break, let’s take a moment and appreciate that three former Royals beatwriters got together, formed their own version of The Avengers, and debunked the Kansas City Royals with such a devastating news article ($), as you will probably read about a sports team that does no tangible harm to others. Say what you will about wins and losses, but Royals fans have been blessed with great beat writers for the Kansas City Star, The Athletic and the Royals’ own website for many years. Watching the games may not be worth much, but there’s a lot to be said for catching up on the team the day after, and that still goes for Lynn Worthy and Anne Rogers, even though the three who wrote this article have largely deviated from their jobs covering the royals.
Okay, that’s it for the nice things to say today.
“At some point they have to turn the corner.”
Those words come from General Manager JJ Picollo’s penultimate quote in the linked article, written for The Athletic earlier this week by a veritable all-star team of former Royals beat writers. On the surface, it’s damn stuff that goes into extreme detail about the many ways the royals’ front office has failed when trying to scout, design and develop pitchers over the past decade. In case you still had a glimmer of hope, the article doesn’t paint the current system in a significantly better light than what came before.
These words, however. Those words have stayed with me in the hours since I first read them. We’ve talked a lot about accountability at Royals Review this year because Dayton Moore brought up the concept when the team finally fired the punch at coach Terry Bradshaw without really understanding what it meant. Those words suggest to me that Dayton Moore not only failed to grasp the importance of the concept of accountability, but that his subordinates are not overly concerned with it either.
There are many underlying assumptions in this simple one. Nine word sentence. Let’s break it down, shall we?
If you look up the definition of the phrase, you get “A moment that is not specific.” The lack of specificity is a real problem for me, and I think it should be for all of us. If you delve into goal setting even superficially, one of the core concepts that almost everyone agrees on is that goals should be specific. That basically makes sense. The goal “I want to climb Mount Everest sometime” is not nearly as strong as the goal “I want to climb Mount Everest by the end of 2030”. The lack of specificity makes it really easy to procrastinate and find other types of excuses.
Let’s scale the example down a bit. If your boss asks you for a progress report and you say, “I’ll send it to you by the end of the day.” You’re probably in a lot better shape than if you say, “I’ll send that to you eventually.” In the first example hold yourself accountable for a specific outcome at a specific point in time—something your boss can count on. In the second example, you force your boss to set a deadline because you are not responsible enough on your own.
Does that mean there’s no excuse and no mercy for the occasional missed deadline? Of course not. Sometimes things happen. Royals fans left the team in 2016 when they lost Mike Moustakas for the entire season through injury and again in 2017 when Yordano Ventura’s life was tragically ended while many were counting on him to become the personal ace. And we’re not exactly JJ Picollo’s boss, who demands the same level of responsibility that our bosses might demand of us. With this kind of vague language, however, Picollo creates the expectation that he’s not accountable to us at all, or that he actually has no idea when to expect changes. One is worse than the other, but neither is particularly good.
“must turn the corner”
The definition of the phrase “turning the corner” is “Cross a critical point and start improving.” The thing about turning the corner is never a situation or a person Has to do it. There is often a hope or desire that they will, but not a need. The fact is, the Royals’ pitching prospects may never turn the corner. This could be as good as none of them have ever gotten. Given the possibility of expanding on the idea that pitching prospects must eventually improve, JJ Picollo’s quote continues by simply doubling down on the idea.
You can only go so long. You have to turn the corner.
OK. Thanks for the incredible insight Mr. Picollo! The corner got to be rotated. Why isn’t cornering happening? How will it look when it comes around the corner? What does it take to get around the corner?
Who cares. Just turn the corner!
This might be the most annoying part of the whole thing.
Not us.” Certainly not “I”.
JJ Picollo – and by extension the Royals’ front office – take no responsibility for what comes next with these pitchers. It’s up to you. If they want the data, they have to find it. If they want to improve, they have to figure out how to do it and do it. The Royals’ front office is not responsible for helping these pitchers improve. Either they will sink or they will swim. They’ll suddenly learn to throw more effective pitches in more effective places, or they’ll keep battering and giving up home runs.
At least until their contracts mercifully end and they can move on to a team that actually takes responsibility for improving them.
Jakob Junis has now played almost a full season for the San Francisco Giants. His numbers aren’t quite as stunning as they were at the start of the season, but he’s still showing career bests in almost every category on the FanGraphs dashboard. His 4.53 ERA as a starter would be third best among the royals. His 4.13 FIP as a starter would be second best. And the royals chose not to write him out because they figured he wouldn’t be able to find out. When asked about his early success, the royals’ only defense was to claim they asked him to do the things that would have helped him succeed, but he didn’t.
The implication was that they couldn’t convince him it was a good idea. Knowing what we know now after reading the article in The Athletic, it seems completely obvious that they couldn’t convince him because they don’t seem to prepare or share the available data properly with their pitchers. I think we also have to wonder if even if he had been persuaded, the royals probably wouldn’t have been able or willing to help him figure out how best to make those changes happen. The team focused on Jakob Junis finding out things about Jakob Junis. In hindsight, it’s absolutely no wonder that, failing to succeed with what the royals were willing and able to offer him, Junis had to turn to learning pitches from his brother to keep his big league job.
Yes, we’ve talked a lot about accountability and the royals this year. But that’s because with every piece of new information we learn, we discover a front office with even less responsibility than even the pessimists among us previously thought. But hey, at least there’s good news.
At some point they have to turn a corner.