A Discussion of Team Chemistry in Baseball; The Essential Element

I have spent a career watching baseball teams as they win and lose. The pivotal event was in 1965 when I watched the Minnesota Twins win the American League pennant.

What was pivotal was that the players took over the team and generated the focus and drive that won the pennant. This player generated focus on winning is baseball culture and that is what wins pennants, not just the individual talent of the players. Baseball with its 162 game schedule, requires this sort of focus and it is player generated, no manager, general manager or owner, with the exception of Charlie Finley, has ever been able to create this chemistry.

Below is a discussion of Chemistry in baseball in the prospective of the current season.


By Bob Nightengale

From field to front office, many believe chemistry still matters in baseball
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports 1:34 p.m. EDT August 24, 2015
In a sport where the desire to quantify every movement only grows with each season, it is a sabermetric aficionado’s worst nightmare.

You can’t measure it. You can’t define it. You can’t put a number on it.

We’re talking about clubhouse chemistry, and the culture that can raise a major league team to extraordinary heights without having the biggest payroll or most talent.

“It’s really undervalued,’’ St. Louis Cardinals veteran starter John Lackey told USA TODAY Sports, “especially in today’s world with all of the numbers guys.”

We can put all kinds of numbers on players’ talent, from RBI to WAR, to ERA to FIP, but when it comes to the heart and soul of a clubhouse, there remains no measuring stick.

“The numbers guys can’t quantify that one,’’ Lackey said, “so they don’t want to believe in it.’’
Key questions as baseball’s pennant chase turns into a sprint

You want to know what chemistry and culture is about, peek inside the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse. They’ve won three of the last five World Series. Maybe they’ve had the best manager in Bruce Bochy, and GM too in Brian Sabean, but never have they had the best talent.

“We’re in a game today where everybody wants to think they can formulate, or come up with some kind of number,’’ says Giants starter Jake Peavy, who like Lackey, has won World Series titles with two organizations. “You turn on some of these baseball shows, and nobody wants to talk about the San Francisco Giants, because numbers can’t explain how we won last year.

“They don’t want to talk about clubhouse chemistry.

“Come on, how to do you put a number on a guy like (Chicago Cubs backup catcher David Ross) and what he brings to the clubhouse? This guy hit (.184) last year, and he got multiple two-years deals on the table. Why is that?’’

Indeed, you step into the Cubs’ clubhouse these days, and no one is talking about Ross’ .186 batting average and seven RBI. They’re too busy raving about his powerful influence on a club featuring four rookies in the everyday lineup.

“He means so much to every single person in here,’’ Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

Go ahead, try to put a number on that.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals have the two finest records in baseball. If you go by the numbers, the Royals were supposed to win just 72 games this year, according to Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, PECOTA. The Cardinals, who have had more injuries to key players than any team, shouldn’t be leading their division, let alone be on pace to eclipse 100 victories, if you go strictly by sheer talent.

“People that don’t understand what team chemistry means don’t work in baseball,’’ Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price said. “It makes me mad, because obviously they don’t know how important it is. Ask the Giants. Ask the Royals. Ask the Cardinals.

“You look at the Giants, and they’re not more talented than everyone else every year, but they’re so close, and together. The Cardinals are the same way. They definitely have talent, but they’re no more talented than a lot of the teams they’re beating every day.

“The Cardinals are unbelievable. They lose their ace (Adam Wainwright). They lose their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in (Matt) Adams and (Matt Holliday). And they’re still winning. They’re just unreal.

“It’s the same thing as the Royals. Yeah, they have talent, but you can tell how close they are by watching them. I pay attention to all of that.’’
Blue Jays cap sweep of Angels with 12-5 win

The Blue Jays placed more emphasis on a player’s character than any time in GM Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure. He shipped out the guy who didn’t fit in. He chose character over talent. There’s a reason why 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins is now in the Blue Jays’ bullpen instead of Jonathan Papelbon.

“We really, really, emphasized that,’’ Anthopoulos said, “more than we ever have. It’s the first time we ever put that level of emphasis on it. The focus of the offseason was that we were going to change the mix a little bit. It’s not diving on anybody else, but it wasn’t working.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s still talent and production first, but the other component is almost as important. Just because you have all good people doesn’t mean you’re always going to win. There are plenty of guys who have a 6-plus ERA who are tremendous clubhouse guys, but they’re sitting at Triple-A.

“Every team goes through ups and downs, and I think with a better clubhouse and with better character, that allows you to handle the downs a lot. That’s the separator. So rather than the floor caving in on you, you stay afloat.

“We’ll find out if it works.’’

Certainly, adding a guy like Price at the trade deadline, and having MVP favorite Josh Donaldson the entire season, may have something to do with the Blue Jays’ success, too. Yet, manager John Gibbons can’t stop raving about Donaldson’s leadership skills, and Price is revered throughout the game.

For whatever reason, the Blue Jays are 18-4 since consummating the Price deal.

“We were looking for a special type of player, even if it meant passing on some talent,’’ Anthopoulos said, “making sure every player we acquired fit.

“I think it’s important David Price fit into in the clubhouse, but let’s don’t forget he’s got a (2.40) ERA, too.’’

Sure, you’ve got to have talent to win, but talent alone doesn’t guarantee a thing. If the standings were based strictly on talent, you think the Washington Nationals would be trailing the New York Mets by five games? You think the Los Angeles Dodgers, and their $307 million payroll, would be only up 1 ½ games on the Giants? You think the Texas Rangers would be winning the second wild-card spot, or that the Minnesota Twins – projected to lose 92 games – would be just 1 1/2 games out of the wild-card race?

“If you have good clubhouse chemistry, you going to win,’’ New York Yankees veteran starter CC Sabathia said. “It’s not something you can fake. It’s real.

“You look at the Giants. Those guys love each other, and they win. They get a guy like Peavy. You see what (Tim) Hudson has meant for them. It’s the real thing.’’
Sure, numbers are fine for fantasy leagues, but if you want to truly define a player’s value, or recognize the importance significance of clubhouse culture, it’s time to wake up and embrace character, too.

“I think we’re losing part of our game because so many of these people in charge don’t have the scouting background or playing background,’’ Peavy said. “All they have is a great education and they’re really good at math. Some of these front offices crunch all of these numbers, and think they’ve got it all figured out.

“I don’t know the formula for winning, but I do know what it means when teams are inseparable, enjoy their time together, care for each other, and play for the higher cause. I’ve seen it. I’ve been part of it.

“You can have all of the education you want, and break down every number you want, but unless you get to know what’s inside a player, you really don’t know the player.’’

The Royals certainly noticed the tepid external expectations. Public relations director Mike Swanson, in his recent pre-game notes, reminded everyone of Baseball Prospectus’ projected 72-90 record. The Royals have already won a league-leading 75 games, and could clinch their first division title in 30 years by Labor Day.

“Fortunately, games are won on a field and not on paper,’’ Swanson wrote in the Royals’ notes distributed to the media, “thus a computer ‘time out’ might be appropriate for some.”
“We had our Moneyball movie, and they didn’t even win,’’ Peavy said of the Oakland Athletics. “How about let’s make a movie about the good ol’ fashioned baseball people, and how they judge team chemistry, and put together guys that fit in.

“How about a movie about a team that actually wins in the end?’’

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