Nationally-known baseball blogger and numbers geek Rob Neyer joined SB Nation as its national baseball editor on Feb. 1 after 15 years at ESPN. He took time out of his busy schedule at his new gig to chat with me Wednesday about the 2011 Orioles, and I thank him for that.
(Be sure to check Neyer's work at SB Nation, though you probably have been already.)
Neyer and I chatted about a lot of things, from Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and the talented young pitching staff to the Buck Showalter effect and the blueprint for winning in the AL East. Neyer also gave his outlook for the Orioles in 2011, though my headline kind of spoils the big finish. Anyway, here's the interview:
MV: Everyone talks about the effect that manager Buck Showalter has on the development of young players. But what is it about Buck that has historically gotten him results on up-and-coming teams?
RN: I can’t say for sure what it is … but it’s almost magical to me what he seems to do. It’s essentially worked with one exception, his first year in Texas where things didn’t get better at all. The next year, Alex Rodriguez went to the Yankees and the Rangers took a big step just as the Yankees did when he went there and the Diamondbacks did when he went there. I don’t know how he does it. I just know that he seems to be able to do something that has that immediate impact.
MV: By design, the Orioles' success hinges on the development of the young pitchers. How do you evaluate guys like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman, and do you think this group has the potential to carry the Orioles to a World Series one day like the Giants staff did?
RN: I think they do. I also think that it’s a very tall order. It’s incredibly rare. … My standard rule of thumb is that if you have four pitchers, two of them are probably going to get hurt and their development is going to be delayed. [The Orioles staff] pitched well after Showalter took over [last season], and I think he deserves some credit for that. How much? I have no idea. What could Buck Showalter have possible done to make all those guys start pitching better? I don’t know.
But the fact that they did pitch better from August forward does give me some reason to think they will continue to pitch well. I don’t think they’re all going to be aces. I think Matusz is going to be a star at some point. I like Arrieta. And Tillman, you have to think he’s going to develop at some point, too. The problem is that pitchers develop according to their own schedule, not ours.
MV: Speaking of the Giants, Buster Posey raised the bar for Matt Wieters with his eye-opening rookie campaign. Do you think Wieters will live up to the immense hype here or be crushed by it?
RN: I’m not sure people should be [high on Wieters] after the past two seasons he’s had. The case with Posey is, and I think it’s interesting, is that when a catcher comes up and doesn’t play as well as expected, it’s easy for people to say, “Well, it’s harder for catchers because they have to do so many more things.” Then Posey comes up and becomes a star immediately, so we know it certainly can be done. I think a little too much weight was put on Wieters’ last season in the minors, which was obviously outstanding. ...
I will say that he isn’t as good as I thought he would be, and after two seasons like this, you have to start wondering. I thought he would bounce back with a better 2010, but he was actually a little bit worse. The trend line is not heading in the right direction. … Do I think he’s going to have a good season? I do. Do I think he’s going to be a superstar? At this point, I don’t.
MV: How do you see the Orioles' closer situation playing out with Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara and Michael Gonzalez all in the mix?
RN: I’d probably go with Gonzalez based on his track record, but it’s a fluid situation with no one obvious candidate. … I don’t really think it’s all that important who gets the job from the start because it’s going to change and it’s not really going to make or break the Orioles’ season.
MV: Has Nick Markakis reached his ceiling, or will his production increase now that the Orioles have upgraded the lineup around him?
RN: I think he’ll drive in more runs with better hitters around him, but I don’t think they’re going to make him a better hitter. It doesn't work that way. As far as his ceiling, I think we have seen what type of player he is going to be. He’s now into his peak years and I don’t think he’s going to be a better player than what we’ve seen. Now he’ll have some great seasons -- hopefully a little better than what he’s had -- but I think this is who he is.
MV: What about Adam Jones? Do you see star potential there?