Interview: Rich Lederer
Posted by Mike on March 20, 2006
Today, we’re lucky enough to have one of the blogosphere’s most popular writers chime in with some of his thoughts on the Orioles. Rich Lederer is probably best known to many of you as one of the two writers at Baseball Analysts. Along with Bryan Smith, Rich has formed a site where you can find college, minor league and major league analysis; interviews of several notable baseball writers; and a series of poignant abstracts on Bill James’ own Baseball Abstracts that culminate in an interview of the big guy himself.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. As the son of George Lederer, Rich grew up engrossed in baseball culture. In fact, his father served many roles in the baseball community. George Lederer started out covering the Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram from 1958-1968. In addition, he served as the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the BBWAA; on the Board of the national BBWAA; and as the dean of west coast baseball writers. In 1969, George Lederer joined the California Angels organization as the Director of Public Relations and Promotions and served in that capacity until 1978. Koby Clemens isn’t the only one with impressive bloodlines.
I first noticed Rich Lederer as the man behind Baseball Beat; part of the All-Baseball network. Of particular interest was his series of articles scouting Jered Weaver during his days at Long Beach State. I’d try to link them here, but there are simply too many posts with too much information to do it any justice in such a cursory overview. If you’re looking for a starting point, try clicking here. In addition; starting on December 26th, 2003, Rich began a series of articles detailing the injustice of keeping Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame that have been a catalyst towards Blyleven garnering his highest vote totals yet in this past induction cycle. After the success of this and much of his other work, Rich joined up with Bryan Smith to form Baseball Analysts- where you can still find fresh Rich Lederer material three times a week.
Oh, and his high school baseball coach, John Herbold, just happened to be Jay Gibbons’ coach at Cal St.- Los Angeles.
Without further ado, here is the interview that Rich was kind enough to grant me:
OTT: Like many others in the baseball analyst community, you’ve recently pegged Daniel Cabrera as a breakout candidate in 2006. Specifically, you’ve cited his impressive K rate and GB tendencies that put him in elite company. Are there any qualifiers you’d like to put on that statement? How likely do you think a frontline-type season is?
Rich: Cabrera has the potential of stepping it up this year and becoming one of the top pitchers in the game—if not this year, then certainly down the road. Cabrera has flaws, but I like the fact that Leo Mazzone is now his pitching coach. From what I can tell, Cabrera wants to get better and is eager to learn. Both are good signs for his immediate and long-term future. In a nutshell, Cabrera needs to throw more strikes and become a more consistent pitcher rather than just a hard thrower. That said, the guy can really bring it. He throws as hard as any starting pitcher in the AL. In fact, Cabrera threw more pitches at 100+ mph than anyone else and was second (only to AJ Burnett) as far as 95+. Give me a big, hard-throwing pitcher who strikes out batters and induces groundballs, and I will show you someone who has a high ceiling. In short, I like his chances to succeed quite a bit.
OTT: Another name you’ve bandied about as a breakout candidate is Jay Gibbons. I think people may be more surprised to hear that name than the aforementioned Cabrera. What makes you inclined to think Jay could improve on his 2005 season?
Rich: What I like most about Gibbons is his bat. Although he is a liability defensively and on the bases, Jay can flat out hit. Like Cabrera with his Ks and GB, Gibbons has a rare combo of skills that I find really intriguing. Last year, he was 14th in the AL in HR rate, yet was the 10th most difficult batter to strike out. Put it another way, Gibbons was fourth in the majors in HR/SO, (among players with a dozen or more home runs). The top three? Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, and Aramis Ramirez. If that isn’t enough, Gibbons was 31st in the AL in runs created per game despite the fact that he had just a .268 batting average on balls in play. You have to go all the way down to the 63rd batter (Nick Swisher) to find someone with a lower BABIP. Assign a league-average BABIP to Gibbons and he would have hit over .300 last year (instead of .277). If healthy, I don’t see why Jay couldn’t hit .290 with at least 30 HR this year.
OTT: Given that, do you care to defend the contract given to Gibbon’s this off-season (4 years/$21.1 million)?
Rich: Sure. I think it was a good deal for both sides. Gibbons gets the security of a long-term deal now, while the Orioles lock him up in what would be his free agent years in 2007-2009 at no more than the current market for such hitters. Five to six million per year seems pretty reasonable to me given the fact that run-of-the-mill third outfielders like Jeromy Burnitz, Juan Encarnacion, Jacque Jones, Reggie Sanders, and Preston Wilson all signed one-to-three-year contracts for that type of money during the off-season.With salaries spiraling upwards at about 10% annually, I think one could make the case that the 2005 version of Gibbons would have more than matched the $5M, $5.7M, and $6.2M that he is scheduled to earn in the last three years of his deal. If I’m right about what Gibbons might do this year, then I have no doubt that he would be worth quite a bit more in the open market for his 30-32 year-old seasons than the Orioles are obligated to pay him.
OTT: On the surface, Bruce Chen had a breakout season in 2005 – leading the O’s staff with a 33.7 VORP. Do you think he can maintain that and continue to perform as a solid #3 starter or do you see his absurdly low .262 BABIP catching up to him?
Rich: I’m not real big on Chen. Unlike Cabrera, Chen is neither a strikeout nor a groundball pitcher. I realize there’s more than one way to get batters out, but his style is always going to lead to a lot of home runs by the opposition. His propensity to give up the long ball (33 HR in 197 IP in 2005 and 123 HR in 698 IP for his career) is about twice as high as what you’d expect from a good pitcher.Don’t get me wrong. The guy isn’t terrible. He just doesn’t have a whole lot of upside. There is a reason why Chen has been involved in more trades than the New York Stock Exchange. He didn’t buy into Mazzone’s philosophy when the two were in Atlanta in 1998-2000 and hasn’t gotten along with a number of other pitching coaches at his eight stops this decade. Chen is older, more experienced, and perhaps more willing to work with Leo now that he has essentially adopted the idea of not only throwing strikes more often but down and away.
OTT: It looks like Erik Bedard might be getting overlooked a bit as a breakout candidate himself. Personally, I’m looking forward to him working with Leo Mazzone almost as much as Daniel Cabrera. Durability has been a concern, but his injury last year wasn’t to any part of his arm (knee) and he is only entering his third season back from TJ surgery. Can you see him taking another step forward in 2006 and becoming a legitimate #2 type?
Rich: Yes, I like Bedard a lot. He was on the verge of a breakout season last year when he sprained his knee in May. His before (5-1, 2.08 ERA with a 3.7 K/BB ratio) and after (1-7, 5.44, 1.70) splits tell it all. Over a full season, Erik won’t be as good as he showed early last year but neither will he be as bad as what he appeared to be from July through September. Bedard struck out 5.41 batters per 100 pitches in April and May. He would have ranked 24th in the majors among starters had he continued that pace all year. I think he could be really, really special.
OTT: A lot of Orioles fans seem worried about the bullpen this year. How do you like Chris Ray’s chances of succeeding as a big league closer in 2006 and beyond?
Rich: Well, Mike, I can understand why Orioles fan would be concerned. Ray appears to have what it takes to be a big league closer but is unproven in that role. Chris blew the four save opportunities he had last year and doesn’t have much experience closing games, even at the minor league level. But, goodness gracious, what a job he did at Bowie! He flat out dominated “AA” hitters to the tune of a 0.96 ERA while allowing less than a hit every two innings and striking out almost 30% of the batters he faced.
Once in the majors, Ray had some problems with his control. His minor league walk rate was certainly acceptable, so I’m not overly worried about it. If Chris throws strikes and can get left-handed batters out, he will be a very good closer.
OTT: After several years as one of the best set-up men in baseball, LaTroy Hawkins took a slight step backwards last year. Is this the start of his decline phase or do you see him returning to form in 2006?
Rich: Oh, I think it is fair to say that his decline phase began last year. But that doesn’t mean he still can’t get batters out. Hawkins has a live arm and could be effective in a set-up role. His walk rate inexplicably went up last year so I would keep close tabs on his control in the early going as perhaps a pre-cursor to what kind of year he might have in 2006.
OTT: Melvin Mora’s contract is up after this year and there have been talks of an extension in the three to four year range. He is entering his age 34 season and presents a very interesting case in the study of career paths. On the one hand, he is athletic and has a varied skill-set, which usually bodes well for how a player will age. On the other hand, he was an extremely late bloomer, which often indicates the opposite. What kind of player do you think Mora will be through 2009?
Rich: Mora has been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles for a number of years now. His 2004 season was certainly underappreciated by MVP voters. He had a Jekyl and Hyde season last year. Melvin performed well up to the point when he pulled his hamstring in late June, then went into a two-month slump before hitting like the Mora of old (rather than an old Mora) in September. Seven stolen bases in the first half and none in the second half paint a pretty good picture as to the type of year he experienced.
A fully recovered Mora should hit .280-.300 with 20+ HR in 2006. That said, I would hesitate to give him a three- or four-year extension at full market value at this stage of his career. One or two years, yes. Three or four, no. For what it’s worth, his most similar players (according to Baseball Reference.com) have not performed well from age 34-on.
OTT: What do you make of the battle for CF among Corey Patterson and Luis Matos? I’ve argued that the Orioles should think outside the box and embrace a Roy Halladay-esque (circa 2000) bump down to the lower levels of the minors, forcing Patterson to confront his plate discipline issues. Do you see any hope for him returning to level of play he showed in 2003 and 2004?
Rich: No, not really. Patterson certainly isn’t going to turn things around magically just because he is now in Baltimore. The scouts have always been in love with Patterson’s tools. He is like the pretty girl that everybody wants to date. But Patterson looks a lot better than he plays. Sure, the guy can run and hit for power. But his pitch recognition and plate discipline are horrendous.
I’d say you’re spot on, Mike. Allowing Patterson to work through his problems in the minors is probably the only way he ever becomes a useful player again.
OTT: The corner outfield/1B jam is another interesting battle. What can O’s fans expect out of Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine, and Richard Hidalgo? Who would you pick as the two favorites to emerge with regular playing time? (EDIT: Question was submitted before Hidalgo went all Mondesi on the Orioles.)
Rich: (Laughing) I think you can stick a fork in all three. Millar is next to worthless outside Fenway; Conine didn’t really hit just three home runs last year, did he?; and Hidalgo…well, if the guy couldn’t hit in Texas, there’s little reason to suspect that he will hit in Baltimore. I’ll let Sam Perlozzo earn his keep by making these decisions.
OTT: How soon can we expect Nick Markakis and Val Majewski to make that situation even more crowded?
Rich: You would have a better handle on Majewski than me, but it won’t be a crowd once Markakis is ready. However, Nick has had only two months playing above High-A so he still needs some additional seasoning. At the earliest, maybe Markakis gets a shot in the second half. But I think a September call-up is more likely.
OTT: How would you have handled the Miguel Tejada saga this off-season? Do you feel his value might be higher in July? What kind of return can/should the Orioles expect if they choose to trade the best SS in baseball?
Rich: Taking each question one at a time…I would not have traded Tejada for Mark Prior, as rumored. I love Prior but wouldn’t want to assume that he would be healthy this year. I also would not have agreed to swap Tejada for Manny Ramirez, especially if Boston wasn’t willing to even out the money.
Tejada is going to have to show any potential suitor that his relatively poor second half last year was a fluke in order for the O’s to get more out of him in July than last winter. As far as what they might get for him in a trade, one would hope an impact player and a couple of prospects but that might be overly optimistic in light of similar deadline deals in the recent past.
OTT: What are your predictions for the Orioles in 2006?
Rich: I look for the Orioles to win around 78-82 games and finish fourth.
OTT: I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear that better times are ahead. Care to indulge us?
Rich: Well, everybody likes to think better times are ahead. But I have a hard time coming to that conclusion. The problem for the Orioles is that they are competing in a tough division. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are all better right now, and the Devil Rays are likely to be better down the road.
I hesitate to say this, but I would expect the O’s to finish last more often than first over the next five years. Put the Orioles in another division and they would clearly have a better chance of succeeding. Gerrymandering, anyone?
I hope you all found Rich as informative and entertaining as I did. I’d like to thank him once again for taking the time to participate. Now go check out BaseballAnalysts.com.