Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny is doing everything in his power to position the Royals to win.
While watching the Kansas City Royals on the television, it is hard not to notice all of the unconventional things taking place out on the field.
Not only are there zero fans in the stands, there is also crowd noise being piped into the stadium via loud speakers, there are cardboard cutouts scattered around the stadium, and there is a Royals manager embracing advanced analytics in an effort to be competitive in every game.
Royals manager Mike Matheny was a conventional style manager during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Matheny experienced success with the Cardinals with a record of 591-474 (.555-win percentage) with one World Series appearance, but ultimately lost his job when he got labeled as:
"“a manager who isn’t interested in playing the match-up game or working platoons” “His bullpen management has consistently been poor, with an insistence on leaving his starters in long enough to pick up a win and a reluctance to use his best relievers in high-leverage spots” “Matheny’s also been resistant to embrace defensive shifts, even calling for the league to ban the technique” “recent reports don’t seem to indicate that he’s done much to establish a stellar clubhouse environment lately, either”"
The way Mike Matheny is managing the 2020 Royals certainly does not appear to fit this narrative he was tagged with back in 2018, which caused his departure mid-season as the Cardinals manager.
After leaving St. Louis, Matheny was brought into the Royals organization as a Special Assistant to Player Development in 2019. He roamed the Royals minor league system in an effort to get familiar with the organization. Along the way he hired an analytics consultant and passed a baseball analytics course at Sports Management Worldwide.
"Matheny also was labeled an anti-analytics guy in St. Louis, an image he promises to change. He hired a consultant to better acquaint him with analytics in the past year and recently passed a baseball analytics course with Sports Management Worldwide."
At 49-years-old, Matheny is getting a clubhouse with an average age slightly above 28-years-old to buy into the advanced scouting reports and analytics. The veterans and the rookies all appear to be collectively working together to get the best outcome each game regardless of the role they are being asked to fulfill.
So far during the 2020 season, we have seen Mike Matheny’s Kansas City Royals do the following:
Defensive positioning shifts and pitching to the shift
The Royals have been shifting defensively more than ever in 2020. Once the fine people over at baseballsavant.mlb.com get enough data on the season, I would not be surprised to find the Royals at the top of the leaderboard in fielder positioning.
Matheny is not only positioning his fielders to be in the best possible location to get more outs, but he has his pitchers and catchers working a scouting report to generate balls in play to supplement the fielder’s positioning.
Watch the Royals’ next game and pay attention to how the fielders are positioned for a pull hitter. Notice how the catcher will set-up his location inside with fastballs and outside with off-speed. The desired outcome from the pitcher’s perspective is to generate a groundball or weak contact into the shift.
This increases the likelihood of creating an easy out for the Royals. So far, Kansas City has been able to have success in this arena when the pitcher executes his pitch location. Sometimes the Royals get unlucky, as seen in the first game against Cleveland when the Indians were able to sneak ground-balls through the shifted infielders and gain a 2-0 lead.