ST. PETERSBURG - OCTOBER 03: Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman of the Tampa Bay Rays talks with the media just before the start of Game 3 of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers during at Tropicana Field on October 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
As the title suggests, Andrew Friedman was kind enough to lend some of his times to answering a few questions about the 2011 season and a variety of other topics. Enjoy.
Erik Hahmann: The team making the playoffs this season was obviously a great achievement. The general consensus in the national media, and around here, was an ~85 win season. How surprised were you, if at all, by the team's success?
Andrew Friedman: We felt going into the season that we had a very good chance of playing meaningful games in September and if things broke right, making the playoffs. Despite the losses we'd sustained over the winter, we had confidence in our group. Of course, playing in the AL East made the postseason less likely but we felt that we had a contending club with a lot of talent. Between our slow start and some tough breaks throughout the summer, our chances started to look more remote. What happened in September was obviously very unlikely. But looking at the season as a whole, the talent was there to do what we did, and to their credit, our players never stopped believing that even when they fell behind.
EH: Could you describe your emotions from the time Dan Johnson stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning in game 162 to the moments after Longoria's home run cleared the low wall in left?
AF: That whole evening was an emotional roller coaster unlike anything I've experienced in baseball, and I can't imagine it will ever be duplicated. On top of coming back from seven down to tie the game with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, those three extra innings were unreal. At one point the Yankees had runners at the corners with nobody out, and Papelbon was one out from a 1-2-3 save in Baltimore. A few minutes later, we were in the playoffs. It was such an emotional swing that it was literally hard to believe it had happened.
EH: Can you give us an update on how the facility in Brazil is going?
AF: We're very excited about the long-term potential of our efforts in Brazil - even as it will take many years for our work to come fully to fruition. The process of identifying and developing talent has already begun.
EH: Over the last five seasons the team has been the best defensive club in baseball. The players always seem to be lined up in the perfect position for every batter. Do you look at some type of Field F/x data to help properly position players, or is it more dependent on the coaching? A combination of both?
AF: It's a point of pride for us to have our players in the right spots as often as possible. As Joe often says, we catch line drives. We'll use every piece of relevant information in deciding where to position our guys, and we rely on the coaching staff not just to convey that information, but to adjust on the fly when necessary.
EH: Could you walk us through the process behind releasing Cory Wade? It seems a spot could have been made for him, and his minor league numbers looked impressive. Was this a case where the stats didn't match the scouting?
AF: At that point, we didn't see a fit for Cory in our bullpen. We had multiple relievers coming off of surgery and hoped to keep our bullpen strong through October and so having a long man who could pick up a starter after a bad outing and go sixty or seventy pitches was important to us. Given how he performed with the Yankees, perhaps we should have found a way to fit him but we didn't think we could configure the bullpen properly.
EH: You've had an incredible string of success in keeping your starting pitchers healthy. What do you attribute this streak to? Theo Epstein recently mentioned in Sports Illustrated that keeping pitchers healthy is a sort of new "market inefficiency." Do you agree with that, and should we all be thanking our lucky stars that you got to James Click first?
AF: There's no question that the health of our starters has been a huge factor in how we have competed over the last several years. Since we have a homegrown rotation, that's a process that starts well before they get to the big leagues, and a lot of people deserve credit for it: our medical staff, our strength coaches and our pitching coaches, both in Tampa Bay and throughout our system. And of course you have to credit the starters themselves. They take pride in what they do and in working hard both in the offseason and between starts. Coming up here and seeing how hard James Shields works, and then seeing that pay off with double-digit complete games, helps our young pitchers immeasurably.
EH: Recently there was a study by Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus on a catchers' ability to frame pitches and how many runs that can save/cost a team over the course of a season. A catcher being able to frame a pitch so that it switches a ball into a strike on a close pitch was worth 0.13 runs on average. The best can save their team many runs a year while the worst cost their team runs by turning strikes into balls. Is this a study you've looked at, and is receiving the ball and framing a pitch a skill that is valued and taught within the organization?
AF: We place a huge emphasis on how our catchers receive the ball. Jamie Nelson, our catching coordinator, pays close attention to each catcher's technique from day one, and he and our catching instructors have drills to address different issues in that area. As with any skill, some players have to work more at it than others. The recent studies confirm what baseball people have been saying for decades: technique matters, and there's more to catcher defense than throwing runners out.
EH: What factors are put into play when determining which players to pursue pre-arbitration deals with, such as the ones signed by Longoria and Davis?
AF: There are a lot of different factors that go into the long-term deals we sign, and it can be a complex process. But first, there are a couple of things that have to be in place. First, the player has to feel that it's right for him. The security of that first long-term contract is something that almost no player ever regrets, but it's an individual decision. Second, we need to feel good about the player, and the person, in whom we're investing. Character, work ethic and competitive drive are important to us and a long-term guarantee on our part represents our confidence in those attributes.
EH: Is it tougher to develop pitching or hitting prospects? The organization has turned out a slew of good arms over the past few years but has seemingly struggled with the bats.
AF: It's not easy developing prospects, period. Once a player gets to the big leagues and has success it may seem easy in retrospect but there are so many things that can go wrong on the way, and so many people who had a hand in making it go right. We've certainly had tremendous success with our pitching program, but we've developed good position players over the years as well, and there are a number of players in our system right now who have a chance to impact our big league club.
EH: In 2008 you mentioned the team would like to get to the point of an 11 man pitching staff. With the starters you have right now, are you there? Or have things changed?
AF: We're always thinking about how we can do things better. To this point, we've found that twelve pitchers has made the most sense. Having twelve allows us to make the right tactical moves on a nightly basis to win games while still supporting our starters and keeping them strong.
Thanks again to Andrew for taking the time to join us.