Ah, so that’s it

JMB · June 1, 2005 at 11:10 am · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s the bad chemistry, says David Locke. Not the horrific starting pitching, not the pathetic bench, not that the team doesn’t walk or hit for power. It’s the chemistry. Thanks, David.


84 Responses to “Ah, so that’s it”

  1. Scraps on June 1st, 2005 1:48 pm

    Who knows, but it can’t be dismissed out of hand.

    “Who knows” seems like the most relevant bit. It’s pure moral-story speculation, the quivalent of saying the M’s aren’t trying hard enough or are spoiled or are distracted by their paychecks or or or or or. None of these explanations can be dismissed out of hand, but so long as there’s no evidence for them, what use are they? Especially when there’s a perfectly sound explanation for which there is loads of evidence: that the team isn’t talented enough to compete.

  2. Tim K. on June 1st, 2005 2:02 pm

    Building on #43 – specifically the idea that chemistry “ignores talent and performance, and promises to fix your club in one fell swoop” – I would say that is the crux of the matter and so none of us should be surprised at the continuing popularity of the idea of chemistry.

    The notion that you can field a team of scrappy players, “gamers” who like each other and play well together, and can go out and defeat a more talented team, is very appealing, almost mythic. It’s very David and Goliath, or Bad News Bears, to stay closer to the game at hand. This feeling, of infinite possibility given the right amount of hard work and pluck, is hard-wired in most people.

    The idea that this team simply isn’t talented enough to compete (while demonstrably true) would strike most people (IMO) as overly cynical, maybe even un-democratic (we are all created equal, as you may have heard). So I say, just let it be. Let’s concentrate on improving our understanding of the game rather than wasting our time trying to prove a negative.

  3. Idahobob on June 1st, 2005 2:02 pm

    #23, in essence I agree with you completely. But we should be careful when discussing effects we have difficulty measuring. This is the fence where rational analysis and everything else irrevocably fall on two different sides. An effect which cannot (at present) be measured, or cannot be EASILY measured, is not necessarily non-existent. We measure effects every day in our laboratory which were unmeasureable (not to mention inconceiveable) just one hundred years ago. The task is developing better and more accurate techniques for measuring effects, and hopefully delineating them from those which are phantoms of wishful thinking. And that brings us back to Locke…

  4. Kirk on June 1st, 2005 2:03 pm

    #51: “Especially when there’s a perfectly sound explanation for which there is loads of evidence: that the team isn’t talented enough to compete.”

    I think many here are misinterpreting what Locke is saying; he’s not saying the team should be winning but isn’t because the chemistry stinks; he’s saying the team is underperforming (and there is evidence to support this contention), and suggesting chemistry as a cause.

    I didn’t think this team was talented enough to contend going into this season, and chances of success have further been hampered by poor decisions on roster make-up (the horrible bench, the bad decision to carry 12 pitchers). Losing Madritsch hurt. Boone and Moyer could be expected to decline due to age. Some players are peforming about to expectations, both good (Ichiro, Sexson), mediocre (Winn, Ibanez, Franklin) and bad (Bloomquist, Valdez). No one is over-performing, and quite a few are under-performing (Piniero, Meche, Olivo, Beltre).

    Beltre in particular is under-performing. I don’t think any sensible fan was expecting him to repeat his ’04 numbers, but it was reasonable to think he’d post something like a .285/.335/.495 kind of line. The fact he is so much worse so far than that expectation leads to much speculation on what’s wrong. Is he hurt more than he’s letting on? Is it primarily psychological? If so, what are the factors?

    And while there may be some dispute on what to expect out of Olivo, I don’t think anyone figured he’d struggle as much as he has so far, so similar questions are valid for him.

    I have no idea if chemistry is actually a factor in the M’s performance so far this season, but I’m not going to deny the possibility simply because we can’t accurately measure it. Now, if there is observational evidence that suggests the clubhouse chemistry is just fine (as Jim has said) then this raises serious doubts about chemistry as a culprit. Perhaps Locke is talking out of his a– on this particular case, but there are probably times when such a conclusion is correct.

  5. LB on June 1st, 2005 2:21 pm

    #33: In the NY/Boston game on Saturday, Joe Torre put in his scrubs when NY was down by 12 runs. When you are down by 12, a grand slam means that you are still two grand slams away from tying the ballgame.

    Last night, Hargrove put in his scrubs when he was down by 7. When you are down by 7, a grand slam means that you are one rally away from tying the ballgame. There is a huge difference between 12 runs and 7 runs.

    I will criticize St. Joe (Torre) when he deserves it. His failure to try to steal against the Wakefield/Varitek battery in extra innings ALCS game 5 deserves criticism. His failure to bring Rivera into the 8th inning of that same game until there were runners at the corners and nobody out deserves criticism. His failure to bring in a relief pitcher (used to dealing with inherited runners) to get him out of the bases loaded jam facing Johnny Damon in ALCS game 7 (instead of bringing in Javier Vasquez to give up a first pitch grand slam) deserves criticism.

    For resting his regulars when he was down by 12 runs against Boston on Saturday, I give Torre a free pass. For throwing in the towel last night, Grover deserves no such pass.

  6. LB on June 1st, 2005 2:24 pm

    #39: Don’t overlook the death of draftee Len Bias from a cocaine overdose when you analyze the demise of the 1980’s Boston Celtics.

  7. DoesntCompute on June 1st, 2005 2:39 pm

    If you have a team that is underperforming, I would look at the management. I’m not talking about in game management. I am talking about behind the scenes. How were the Sonics so successful this year with the same players as last year when most of those players are average? McMillan was able to reach the team this year. He was able to get them to buy into the system. He was able to help Lewis find consistancy. He was able to get role players to play above their level. Some of this was done by fixing mechanical aspects of player’s games. Other parts were done by working on the mental.

    I believe there was a mental aspect to Cirillo’s failure in Seattle. He had some decline due to age but he also was wound so tight that the drop was off a cliff and not more gradual. Management can be blamed for not finding a way to break him out of that funk. Cirillo is having some success now that he has moved on. If his problem was purely age, that would not happen.

    The Mariners right now have poor talent (with some exceptions) that is underperforming. Even if you argue that not everyone is underperforming, there is nobody who is exceeding expectations. I say this points to the leadership of the team. An average team will have people who exceed, meet, and fall short of their talent level regardless of what that talent might be. If you have a team where most are falling short and none are exceeding, you have a problem that does not lie with the players. The coaches aren’t doing their job.

  8. Feldor on June 1st, 2005 2:51 pm

    Doesn’t Compute – If we’re using Nate McMillan as an example, it took Mr. Sonic three years to get his team to buy into his system. By this logic, Hargrove should be given more time. Also, you can’t blame Hargrove or Baylor for Cirillo’s failures.

    If any lessons need to be taken from the Sonics, its that you need to keep a good nucleus of young players together and allow them to grow into the game. I think guys like Beltre (if he ever learns to lay off that pitch that’s low and away), Reed, and Felix are a good start in that direction if we can keep them together and have a little patience.

  9. roger tang on June 1st, 2005 3:01 pm

    Hmmm…the relevant Sonic observation is that this year he was finally allowed to coach more in his style and with less interference from upper management….if you believe some of the skuttlebutt….

    In any case, Ms upper management (up to and including ownership) can certain use a bucket or two of blame.

  10. Russ on June 1st, 2005 3:18 pm

    Isn’t talk of trading Boone overly hopeful? Who is going to trade to obtain a poor fielding, slow base running, non-hitting 35 year old second baseman and take on salary besides the M’s?

    He’s either DFA’d or with us to the bitter end of the season. No one is picking him up with his contract without us eating most of the dollars.

  11. Russ on June 1st, 2005 3:23 pm


    Throwing in the towel when down 7 runs is Grover seeing the truth. 7 runs is twice our normal run production for 9 innings. For most days, it would take us 18 innings to even tie the game, let alone go ahead.

    Grover did the right thing, he got some rest for the old tired guys and we got to see some fun ball played by kids who like the game.

  12. DoesntCompute on June 1st, 2005 3:44 pm

    #58 – Yes it took McMillan 3 years but what I was trying to say was that something clicked this year. I am not in that locker room. I can not say what it was. It may have just been a growth process by McMillan that he figured out what works best for him. Regardless, you had umpteen free agents playing as a team under a system that didn’t always benifit their stats personally. That is an achievement that McMillan should be recognize for.

    I was not trying to blame Hargrove/Baylor for Cirillo’s failures. I was trying to provide both a positive example (McMillan) and a negative example (Cirillo) to show how management can affect players both ways.

    I believe that when you have many players underperforming and none overperforming the blame can be laid at the feet of the manager and coaches.

  13. firova on June 1st, 2005 3:48 pm

    By far the worst Locke article I’ve ever read. Can the word “chemistry” be consigned to the same bin as “clutch” and wiped clean from the limited vocabulary of sports reporting? No one can think of a better way to describe this “idea”?

    I agree with #31 though. Locke did a good job of using analysis to breakdown the Sonics success this year. He demonstrated that the Sonics were not in fact a running team, which the national press assumed because they were scoring points at a near-Phoenix level, but because they shot the ball well, had a high rebound differential, and didn’t turn the ball over. An extremely efficient offensive team. Also, his work on Reggie Evans and Danny Fortson’s rebounding was good. It makes this column a complete mystery to me.

  14. roger tang on June 1st, 2005 4:04 pm

    Yeah, a brain fart from someone who usually has a clue and is probably the most stathead friendly of the local sports hosts.

    On the other hand, his job is not necessarily to analyze, but to entertain and this was his “entertain and put away the calculator” column.

  15. Man From Nantucket on June 1st, 2005 4:04 pm

    I just don’t think basketball analogies apply well to baseball. In basketball, a huge part of success is getting individual players to buy into the team’s system. Baseball managers have far less impact on team performance than a head coach in basketball. Bottom line, the 2005 Mariners were poorly constructed with reliance upon pixie dust and happy thoughts that players would stay healthy and perform to levels that could not rationally be expected. There appears to have been little thought given to contingency planning.

  16. Ralph Malph on June 1st, 2005 4:40 pm

    How about Boone and $4 million to the Yankees for Robinson Cano? Yes it would be an awful deal for the Yankees but Boonie is a Yankee type player.

  17. LB on June 1st, 2005 4:41 pm

    #61: It was fun to see 0-fers from Dobbs, Hansen, and Morse? Gee, I guess I don’t recognize fun when I see it.

    The guys who put runs on the board late in the game last night were not the bench players. The bench players came in and made outs (or, in the case of Morse, walked).

  18. Paul on June 1st, 2005 4:49 pm

    Please stop using the sinking of the Titanic as an analogy! It’s just plain wrong! As far back as 2003 the team showed signs of decline due to age and now it has come to haunt us. This iceberg was visible from here to Anaheim whereas the captain of the Titanic did not see the danger that lurked ahead.

    A better analogy is the current solution proposed by our fearless leader to solve social security. Rearranging accounts on the S.S. Bush is what Bavasi and Co. are now doing in the vain attempt to get competitive by 2006 and beyond

  19. Paul on June 1st, 2005 4:52 pm

    Cano is better than Boone. The Yanks don’t want anyone on our team except Reed.

    The time to trade Boone was from August 2002 until August 2004 (before the 2005 option kicked in.)

    The Twins need a 2b. I don’t think Cuddyer is their preference.

  20. Steve on June 1st, 2005 4:52 pm

    Re Boone and other July trades of players with large contracts.

    The calculus for a mid-season trade is a bit different than it is in the off-season. In July a team is looking for an acquisition to give them a boost for the remainder of the season. The acquiring team then looks most closely at whether the player they are acquiring is will be substantially better than what they have currently.

    In the case of Boone, let’s figure (hope) that he’s essentially league average in value at this point in his career. If the acquiring team has a big holse at 2B, and acquiring Boone can be expected to generate a couple of extra wins over the current situation, the contract isn’t nearly so big an albatross. It doesn’t mean the other team is going to go crazy (though sometimes that happens), but it does mean that he might be tradable. And if the Mariners are willing to pay most his salary, he might actually net a decent return.

    Given the Mariners payroll management practices, they really should be looking at paying Boone’s salary (or taking on salary for this year) to net better, young prospects in transactions. Since they don’t roll over money from year to year, spend the money now to get players for the future.

  21. Paul on June 1st, 2005 4:56 pm

    Sorry, it appears Nick Punto is the Twins 2b.

  22. Russ on June 1st, 2005 5:02 pm


    At least I didn’t have to watch Boone, Valdez and Olivo strike out…again and again and again.

    It is a far greater joy to watch a player in his first MLB AB’s then to watch Boone kill another rally. It wasn’t the outcome, it was that at least Grover gave something new a chance.

  23. Evan on June 1st, 2005 5:03 pm

    67 – I wish more of our bench could draw a walk.

  24. Brett Farve on June 1st, 2005 5:09 pm

    #70 and others talking about trading Boone…

    Hoping Boone plays better in June/July is the best chance that the M’s have for getting anything other than a warm body for him.

  25. Steve on June 1st, 2005 5:47 pm

    re my comments #70. I don’t know if I was clear. In the off-season, a team looking to fill a hole has a much wider range of options and is taking a longer term perspective. At that point, a league average 2b who is making a huge salary (e.g., Boone) is not attractive at all – the payroll can be deployed in other ways. Occasionally there is a GM who will do such stupid things, but the Cam Bonifay’s are continually getting thinned out of the GM ranks.

    In mid-season, the options are much more limited and the time frame is shorter. If a guy like Boone is available and would provide a significant upgrade, the salary can be justified. All the team needs do is make the playoffs, and the added revenue will more than pay for the salary.

  26. dw on June 1st, 2005 6:06 pm

    All these posts and not one mention of the REAL reason chemistry is so terrible: NO SPEZIO.

    Spezio is the key to this team’s chemistry. Spezio does all the little things to help the team win, like:
    – Bunting the runner so that there’s a guy at third with two down and Willie F. Bloomquist coming up to DRIVE HIM HOME
    – Hustling to get balls that poor defensive third basemen like Adrian Beltre and Brooks Robinson couldn’t get
    – Cutting the crusts off Willie F. Bloomquist’s grilled cheese sandwiches and making a happy face with Ryan Franklin’s pancakes and bacon
    – Hitting a clutch homer in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, which he may just do again given the right moment and the right grooved pitch
    – Of course, SANDFROG!!!!

    If he weren’t on the DL, the team would have a winning record and the the pitchers would throwing lights out. That’s how important he is. And once the team comes back, his sub-.200 average and INCREDIBLE TEAM CHEMISTRY will lift the Mariners into FIRST. MARK THAT DOWN. FIRST. BECAUSE HE’S JUST THAT GOOD, AND CHEMISTRY WINS GAMES, NOT HITTING OR PITCHING. AND DAMNIT, THE YANKEES WANT HIM. YES, THEY DO. AND THEY CAN’T HAVE HIM. NOT FOR ROBINSON CANO AND A TRUCKLOAD OF CASH. NO, NOT FOR THAT. BECAUSE HE’S SPEZIO.


  27. Steve on June 1st, 2005 7:10 pm

    Spiezio – he’s tanked so much that whenever SF came to bat before going on the DL, Rizzs couldn’t even call him ” one of the best clutch hitters in baseball”.

  28. Mords on June 1st, 2005 11:29 pm


    However you spell his name, he’s certainly not Spezio.

  29. firova on June 2nd, 2005 7:22 am

    Chemistry Update:
    Koren Robinson appears to be freely available talent. Wouldn’t trust him with a glove, however.

  30. John D. on June 2nd, 2005 10:27 am

    DL is absolutely right. What this team needs is a little more jello in the toilet. (Or at least some blackening in the cap.)

  31. Brian Rust on June 2nd, 2005 12:51 pm

    The issue of team chemistry Locke is talking about goes beyond a warm-and-fuzzy clubhouse. The “chemistry” that makes champions is an enrivonment in which everyone is expected to work their ass off to improve their game for the team’s sake. In this environment leaders are players who, in addition to their great talent, are always working hard to improve their game, even at the expense of their own ego.

    And lately I’ve been noticing a leader with a huge hole in his game. It’s not Boone or Beltre, either. It’s Ichiro. He is DEAD LAST among regulars in OBP with runners on first, or runners on first and second:
    Winn .444 (54 PA)
    Sexson .425 (40 PA)
    Ibanez .424 (59 PA)
    Bloomquist .333 (6 PA, for comparison purposes only)
    Reed .280 (50 PA)
    Beltre .269 (52 PA)
    Boone .265 (49 PA)
    Valdez .222 (27 PA)
    Olivo .167 (30 PA)
    Ichiro! .154 (39 PA, and I do mean “!”)

    The question for chemistry is, is he working on it? Is hitting double-play balls a bad habit developed during his Sisler chase? Is he satisfied with #8 and #9 making so many outs because it’s better for his BA? Is he willing to have more discipline at the plate (as is asked of everyone else) to see some pitches he can drive? Would it kill him to take a walk once in a while? Has he turned into an old-fashioned prima donna?

    I realize I might get banned (excommunicated?) for heresy here, but I’ve had this uneasy feeling lately that he’d lead the bigs in GIDP if not for his own foot speed. It’s time for Ichiro to step up his leadership and sacrifice his ego a bit for the team. For the chemistry.

  32. bagchucker on June 2nd, 2005 2:31 pm

    “That is why chemistry within a locker room is overblown. More often than not, teams succeed or fail regardless of how well the team clicks.

    There are numerous great teams that couldn’t have had a team dinner without a brawl ensuing. That didn’t stop Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant from winning championships together.”

    He said caveat emptor. What do you want from the guy?

  33. bagchucker on June 2nd, 2005 2:42 pm

    also, #36 cracked me up!

  34. bagchucker on June 2nd, 2005 2:51 pm

    #38 I have been wondering for three years now why Bryan Price has the reputation he has, why he is regarded by the organization as some kind of pitching guru. The only reason I can come up with is Piniella did not chew him up and spit him out. That gets you a year, not five.