Saturday, October 20, 2007

Stat Pack Exclusive Interview with RJ Anderson

You may not have heard, but some of us over at The Stat Pack have tested positive. For what you may ask? It's a rare and fatal virus known as Lamar-itis. As Rays fans we were exposed to the virus early on in 1998 when Chuck Lamar became the General Manager of the Devil Rays. Luckily on October 5th, 2005 cure was found and we've been on the road to recovery ever since. RJ Anderson, a columnist for DRaysBay and BeyondtheBoxscore is also a fellow Lamar-itis infectee. He's written a book appropriately titled Lamar-Itis which chronicles Mr. Lamar's near decade of destruction. RJ has been kind enough to provide us with an excerpt from the book as well as an exclusive interview.

TSP: How did you get your start in writing and what are your plans beyond this book and the websites you write for?

RJ: I’ve been writing since grade school, thanks FCAT, and along the way I was told that I was good at it, so combined with a natural interest in baseball it just felt right. Not sure about the future, maybe I’ll do some writing on the side, but don’t look for me in the Tribune or Times, I’m simply not as dedicated as Lancaster and Topkin. That’s of course not to say I wouldn’t be interested in certain situations, but writing as my profession? Highly unlikely.

TSP: Who are some of your influences, writer wise?

RJ: Michael Lewis, I’ve always wanted to write a book like Moneyball, Will Leitch showed the world that you don’t have to toil in mediocrity for most of your life before getting a few books published and becoming a cult icon, and Bill Simmons, like Leitch, only with a huge brand backing and less originality nowadays.

TSP: As a Rays fan you've always had an interest in what goes on with the team, but what was the moment or event that made you want to write this book?

RJ: Combination of things, originally it was going to be a DRB post surrounding LaMar’s 10 worst moves, but much like the McGriff mini-book after I outlined it, something I rarely do on paper, I noticed there was so much information that it would be a huge post. While all of that was floating around in my head I got the invite from Leitch to write the baseball preview, and he asked me for an intro, so I just threw the book out there and sure enough it got some buzz from the Deadspin and Rays’ readers alike.

TSP: Everyone focuses on the bad transactions of LaMar's tenure, Bobby Abreu, The Hit Show, Juan Guzman etc...But LaMar laid a lot of ground work for the current team and its future. Just look at his Chuck's draft history Crawford, Baldelli(when healthy), Shields, McGee, Niemann, Davis and how could we forget the Kazmir trade. In your opinion was the LaMar era a failure because of Chuck LaMar the GM or Vince Naimoli the owner?

RJ: One of the things that’s so misleading about the title, and something I’m sure I’ll one day regret for doing is naming the book as a shot at LaMar, it’s hard to blame most of the failures on LaMar since as you mentioned he drafted really well and had his moments in trades and signings. With Naimoli you have an owner who made his millions laying off workers, and he hires an inexperienced GM and coach basically so he can have his way, the Hit Show signings were all him, LaMar even admitted he knew they would fail, but didn’t feel comfortable telling the boss no. Extending further Naimoli wouldn’t allow LaMar to deal fan favorites like Quinton McCracken due to negative PR, in fact he blocked deals for Richie Sexson and Cesar Izturis, but not too long later would okay to McGriff for Manny Aybar and Jason Smith in what was clear salary slashing.

TSP: We've gotten to know you over the past couple of months through popular Rays Fan Sites such as Draysbay & . You seem to be pretty patient with the new front office of the Rays, however after recent comments by Stu Sternberg that the payroll (34 million in 07) would only be raised 20% or so this offseason do you feel that in another 10 years you will be writing Stu-berculosis or Andrew Friedman Syndrome(AFS) as the sequel to Lamar-itis?

RJ: I would hope Rayvolution would be the title, but sure at times I’ve leaned into the green (blue?) too much, recently I don’t want to say I’ve flipped the switch, but it’s easy to get carried away when comments that aren’t appeasing are made, particularly when the team isn’t playing and nothing is happening.

TSP: With all of their young talent obviously everyone would like to see players such as Crawford, Kazmir,Upton, etc remain here for their entire careers but we know that's not possible. How do you see the roster shaking out over the coming years?

RJ: Hard to say, but I doubt you see two of the three outfielders here pass 2013, I think guys like Fernando Perez, Desmond Jennings, and Eleem Salem will come in handy in that situation.

Pitching is a toss up, but I could see us winning without Kazmir, but as LaMar’s jewel I’d like to see him stick.

Let’s hope we’re like the 90’s Yankees, and Longoria / Upton are our Jeter / Williams combo.

TSP: If you were in charge would you have picked up Joe Maddon's option for 2 more years? Why or Why not?

RJ: Probably, although I’d make sure he has upgrades wherever possible, particularly the bullpen and bench.

TSP: What do you think of the recent resignations of some of the more veteran and well respected General Managers such as John Schuerholz, Bill Stoneman, Terry Ryan...etc.?

RJ: Most often thought that crosses my mind when I hear one: So is this the team that hires DePodesta?

TSP: The Diamondbacks made a great run this season using mostly young
players, do you see the Rays making a similar run in the next few
seasons? Or is the AL East too tough of a division to claw out of?

RJ: There are some similarities there, but the D-Backs’ pen had five guys with mad nuts years, if you can tell me that Salas, Reyes, Wheeler, Balfour, and Dohmann all have ERAs below 3.3 next year then I’d say we’d be in Wild Card contention entering September. The key to winning is to holding leads, a good pen = more leads held = more wins. Having no bullpen and the lead is like a cockroach and a nuclear blast; if it’s close then bye-bye bug, the more distance away and the bug can survive the heat, in some cases just barely. Winning the AL East? Not sure, but nothing is impossible in baseball.

TSP: And Finally we'll let you off easy with...when will the Rockies lose a game?

RJ: They’ll lose game one of the World Series before storming back and winning the series then proceeding to give Mike Coolbaugh’s widow the winnings

The Stat Pack would like to thank RJ for sitting down and discussing the Rays and his book with us. Please check RJ out at Draysbay & Beyondtheboxscore

And as promised here is an exclusive excerpt from RJ's up coming book "Lamar-itis"

The next deal was sending Bubba Trammell and Rick White to the New York Mets for Jason Tyner and Paul Wilson. Surprisingly I like this deal, though that isn’t saying it’s a dead push. Trammell bombed in New York, Tyner never had the stats to bomb, Wilson had some of his better seasons here, including not a single one with an ERA higher than 4.9, and White had a good year and a half run for New York before moving on. I’d say it’s a quite equal deal.

Tyner would become a fan favorite for reasons that are quite obvious. It wouldn’t be until years later, in 2006 when David Eckstein won the World Series MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals, and afterwards the plethora of ‘heart and hustle’, ‘size doesn’t matter’, ect. stories would be written. Tyner stands 6’1”, 170 pounds, that’s five inches taller than Eckstein, yet they weigh the same. Tyner as of 2007 has claimed that never, not even in little league, has he hit a homerun, that’s over In 2004 Tyner hit his first homerun at Richmond in over 2,632 at-bats through high school to the majors, and he’s yet to hit a homerun at the Major League level, over 1,158 at-bats without a four bagger. Eckstein’s longest drought without a homerun in the Majors is 101 games, which doesn’t even equal half of Tyner’s struggle. The undersized Eckstein plays shortstop, where ‘smaller’ players are supposed to play, Tyner plays the entire outfield and even DHs a load for the Twins, yes he DHs, nothing makes up for a lack of power like Jason Tyner’s grittiness, why is it again that Eckstein is a national hero, but Jason Tyner is just a ‘child’ playing a man’s game? Even more items to love about Tyner, his middle name is Renyt, which if you notice is ‘Tyner’ spelled backwards, his first pro hit was off of Mike Mussina, he tied the U.S. National Team’s record of hits in a single game with five in 1997, and of course he’s left handed and fast!

The next move is quite irritating, Mark Guthrie and Steve Trachsel to the Blue Jays for Brent Abernathy. Guthrie was still pitching at least at a league average 4.5 ERA, Trachsel while not great was having a Paul Wilson like 4.58 ERA year, and both would go on to produce for years after the deal, but Abernathy…In his first 79 games Brent looked like the real deal, hitting .270, playing decent defense, and then 2002 hit, and Abernathy playing in 117 games hit for .242 and had one more double than he did in nearly 40 less games the year previous. He’d only get 34 at bats in 2003, and posted a .059 average in that time before being waived and sent to Kansas City, he would later end up in Minnesota but yet again his bat failed him. His claim to fame would be my fabled ‘Sandberg to Abernathy to Cox’ infield that is a play off of the infamous ‘Tinkers to Ever to Chance’ poem written by Franklin Pierce Adams in the 1910’s, and so here it is:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Sandberg to Abernathy to Cox.”
Trio of sting rays, playing pitifully by the bay,
Sandberg and Abernathy and Cox.
No real bats to speak of, nor potential to groom,
When all three are on a ball club, break out the broom,
“Sandberg to Abernathy to Cox, not in time.”

I’ll be at the local coffee place all month folks. It was later revealed that the Rays were given a choice between Abernathy and another middle infield prospect, Michael Young. Looking at the career stats, Abernathy played in 232 games, and through 2005 would have a line of .244/.297/.325 with eight homeruns, 79 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases. Young has played in 975 games, .299/.343/.450 with 98 homers and 52 stolen bases while playing second base as well as taking over at shortstop after Alex Rodriguez was dealt, needless to say the Rays made a mistake. As for Abernathy he’d be reunited with LaMar in 2007 as a minor leaguer for the Nationals.The Rays had two players that they’d attempt to build around, two former national team players, including the gold medal winning Abernathy. Neither were much of hitters, although they’d alternate leadoff and second order duties throughout the season.

Again Thanks to RJ Anderson.