Monday, February 18, 2008

Outs Per Swing Exclusive interview with R.J. Anderson

If you're a reader of our other blog, The Stat Pack , you may be have a little Deja-Vu feeling right now. For our first interview at Outs Per Swing, R.J. Anderson is our guest. You may remember R.J. as a our first interview at The Stat Pack. Mr. Anderson is the Sr. Editor of DRaysbay, and also a columnist at Beyond the Boxscore. He has also written a book about the tumultuous tenure of Chuck LaMar as General Manager of the Rays titled LaMar-Itis. Recently we spoke to R.J. about the Rays offseason, players to look out for during the spring and the Rays in general. Enjoy!

OPS: Now that the dust has settled on the offseason, it seems the Rays 25 man roster will come from the 56 guys in camp. Barring injury or big surprise, how would you rate the rays offseason A-F?

RJ: In all regards it's a Rays' A. The team added major league talent that will pay immediate dividends, minor league depth that will undoubtedly find time along the way, and introduced a new era in the best public relations manner possible.

OPS: Which moves stands out to you as the best move all around? Short term and long term.

RJ: Hard to say. Each move represents a different contribution to the future; dealing Delmon and Elijah show the team is concerned with the clubhouse environment, re-signing our own talent exhibits a willingness to reward “franchise” players in attitude and performance. Signing Troy and Cliff also show the team is moving towards having a “win now” mindset.

OPS: You mentioned Elijah and Delmon. While a lot of people were glad to see Dukes go, he has enormous potential and Delmon was one, if not the top, prospects in baseball. For next season only, which group has better numbers Dukes/Young or Baldelli/Floyd/Gomes?

RJ: Again that’s quite difficult to say; it’s possible that Dukes plays in the minors, or that Rocco and Floyd miss time due to injury. All things equal I’d assume the Rays trio would out hit the exiled two, but I’d say Dukes will outperform Delmon.

OPS: Ok let's shift gears a little. We are all excited for the start of spring training. What player(s) are you excited most to see play this spring?

RJ: My cousin Brian Anderson. Or that Evan guy.

OPS: Speaking of Eva's cousin Evan, if he hits .500 in spring and doesn't make the team people will cry free agency/arbitration clock stalling. How big of a factor do you think "clocks" will be in the final decision?

RJ: It'll have to play a role, I don't think the team should foolishly throw away an extra year for a month of an unknown. In a few years would you rather have one more of Evan in his prime or possibly a month of a .700 OPS - assuming he would struggle? Of course at the same time if we're in the race after a month despite poor third base play and we end up missing the playoffs by a handful of games while Evan goes nuts all year you'd have to expect a backlash.

OPS: Every year there seems to be a dark horse who makes the team. Jason Childers, Luiz Ordaz and even Gary Glover have come out of nowhere to make the team. Who do you see as a possible dark horse this year?

RJ: Well Brian Anderson's number is 17, which seems odd considering most non-roster invitees are given numbers in the 50's, but I'll go with Eric Hinske.

OPS: Last spring training question, Who do you having winning these battles; 2 relievers, 3rd basemen and reserve catcher?

RJ: Dohmann / Hammel, Hinske / Guzman, it doesn't matter - at least it shouldn't - but probably DiFelice

OPS: The Rays are a 2008 "it" pick of many. One projection, the CHONE, has them winning 89 games. Even more recently, Ace Scott Kazmir said the Playoffs are a possibility this year. I expect a much better team on the field this year, but are people getting a little ahead of themselves as far as predictions and projections for the 08 season? Shouldn't we be looking more realistically at 09?

RJ: Of course people are being a little too optimistic, but that's good, it means the general consensus is the team will improve. Playoffs aren't an impossible feat, but 2009 is probably more realistic.

OPS: Lets talk a little pitching, you recently posted a column about Jim Hickey and the success of his staffs. In the cases of James Shield's entire year and Edwin Jackson's 2nd half, would you said that's the work of Jim Hickey or just players maturing?

RJ: Unless Hickey controls the law of averages, I think it's more regression to the mean than any real substance. Although it does appear that Hickey has a way of instilling confidence in pitchers' and their arsenals.

OPS: The Twins were put in a difficult situation this offseason, trade their ace or let him walk after the season. Given the current market for starting pitching do you see the Rays in a similar position with Scott Kazmir? Or do you believe the Rays can work some serious magic?

RJ: Well, the good thing for the Rays is Johan signed a short extension to avoid free agency a couple of years ago, same with Dontrelle recently, Jeff Francis, ect., and with Kazmir talking playoffs he certainly doesn't sound like someone who wants to bolt right away. I could see him signing on for an extra year or two if the Rays start reaching meaningful games - call it blue magic.

OPS: Jonny Gomes is an OPS favorite. His last 2 seasons have been some what disappointing after his stellar rookie campaign. He's healthy and going to play almost everyday so I'm predicting .270/.380/.470. Is my Jonny F. Gomes bias showing?

RJ: Just a bit; it's hard for Gomes to sustain a high batting average because he's essentially a three true outcomes player. Last year he either hit a homerun, struck out, or walked in 45% of his plate appearances.

OPS: Moving from a player looking to prove people wrong in the majors to one in the minors. There are a few people who soured on Reid Brignac after a so-so '07 campaign. With the addition of Jason Bartlett what do you see in the future for Reid? Do you think a shift to RF is even a possibility?

RJ: The outfield sounds good, but he apparently made strides on defense. I'm not a Brignac guy, he screams Delmon at short to me. I see him as Khalil Greene in PETCO, but I'm also the same moron who thinks Sergio Pedroza is a poor man's Abreu / Brad Hawpe. He seems like trade bait if Bartlett works out.

OPS: Who do you think is the most over-rated Rays prospect? Brignac?

RJ: Hm. I'd probably get in trouble if I said elsewise. So yes.

OPS: Who is most under-rated in the Rays system?

RJ: Fernando Perez.

OPS: We know you've been working on the Rays season guide for DRB. What can we expect and when can we expect it?

RJ: Expect the best free guide around and it'll be available the morning of the first spring training game (2/29)

OPS: We like free. Aside from your gig with DRB you've been turning some heads with your contributions to BeyondTheBoxscore, even getting a mention in a recent Rob Neyer blog. How would you describe your experience at BTB and what are your future plans?

RJ: Less structured and more free flowing than DRB. At DRB I'm in seemingly constant contact and interaction with Jake and everyone else, at BTB Jeff Sackmann, Mike Pindelski, and myself are pretty much solo artists sharing the same studio but not the same canvas. As with DRB, BTB, and my future plans, at times I just want to walk away from DRB and focus on BTB. I love writing about the Rays, but there's so much to learn from just writing baseball in general that sometimes you get lost in a single team and it detracts from the overall scope of the game. I guess my future is writing baseball as a hobby, whether that be with a SBN site, publication, or on my own is the question along with how soon one of those things works out.

OPS: Ok a few get away questions. When will longoria play his first mlb game?
RJ: May 23rd

OPS: Who will lead the rays in W's and how many?

RJ: Shields, 16

OPS: Who will lead the rays in home runs and how many?

RJ: Pena, 36

OPS: And finally the Rays record in 08 will be?

RJ: Chone Smith isn't outdoing me; 90-72.

Thank to RJ sitting down with us. Be on the lookout for more from R.J. Anderson at DraysBay and Beyond the Boxscore.