KC Royals pitcher Dylan Coleman caught his fair share of heat to start the work week. The Royals dropped their series opener against the Oakland Athletics in terrible fashion with Coleman on the mound. He only mustered four pitches in his ninth-inning appearance, but that was enough for Oakland to take the win. A hit batter and subsequent walk-off home run summarized Coleman's 2023 in a painful yet accurate way.
Dylan Coleman has a problem. Do the KC Royals have a solution?
After the Royals moved on from several veteran relievers, such as Scott Barlow, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Cuas, opportunities arose for younger relief pitchers. The 26-year-old Coleman seemed like a prime candidate for more chances to close out the 2023 season. After all, the Missouri State alum has the tools to be a strong reliever. His four-seam fastball averaged nearly 98 MPH in 2022, with a slider that complimented his dominant fastball. But Coleman's start to 2023 was so off that manager Matt Quatraro noticed.
“He realized that he was not himself,” Quatraro said. “Whether it’s mechanical, strike-throwing, whatever it is, there’s something that’s off, and he recognizes that. And he said It’s not fair to himself, it’s not fair to the team, and it’s not fair to the other guys to go out there and compete without an arsenal that can get major-league hitters out right now."
Q said that after Coleman's first five games, where he pitched only five innings with 10 earned runs and more walks than strikeouts, early-season struggles are not uncommon, so the Royals demoting Coleman to Triple-A did not seem crazy. Coleman returned in July and showed significant improvement in his performance. The strikeout rate rose to 25.7%, with the walk rate falling to 14.3%. Still, a high ERA and FIP did not reflect the reliever that Kansas City expected Coleman to be.
August was the tipping point for Coleman's season, though. Before the walk-off loss on Aug. 21, Coleman had a respectable 3.18 ERA, and the Royals were 5-3 in games where he appeared. But again, the strikeouts fell and the walks rose, to a one-for-one ratio. His gaudy 6.09 FIP reflected more of his April self than July. According to Baseball Reference, he hurt the Royals' winning chances in August., not including the Aug. 21 implosion.
There remains some potential. After all, MLB.com's Anne Rogers chose Dylan Coleman as her player on the rise after the 2022 season. She even pointed out his "elite closing stuff" and ability to succeed in high-leverage situations. Unfortunately, Royals fans will not see any of that in 2023.
There is a litany of factors that could be working against Coleman. Quatraro pointed them out before Coleman's first demotion. Now, after the second time, the Royals need to evaluate where, or if, they fell short. Is there a mechanical issue? Is Coleman's delivery not repeatable enough? Is there a mental aspect the team is missing? That and more need to be looked at.
Sending Coleman back down to the minors is the right, yet tough, move from the Royals. The team put trust in him by giving him a high-leverage role. But, a reset for the reliever may be in order and that cannot happen at the majors.
I put this back on the Royals with good reason; hear me out, please.
If the Royals want to earn fans' trust in their pitching development at any level, a critical eye is necessary. Coleman has the talent; the eye test shows that, and the numbers reinforce that. The pitching coaches need to recognize that something is not going as planned or that something is holding Coleman back. They will have an entire offseason to evaluate, diagnose, and address whatever is ailing Coleman. If he returns to dominant form in 2024, that will go a long way toward showing the pitching process works in Kansas City.