Evaluating Chemistry

DMZ · May 19, 2008 at 6:59 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

Chemistry is not an apt word choice
I’m using it here because it’s the commonly cited term. But in real world chemistry, you look at what things are made of, how they act, and the changes that happen when you mix things. Given elements a, b, and c in specific proportions, you can predict what will happen. The concept of chemistry in baseball falls short compared to its scientific namesake in every way:
- We can’t know what players are made of
- We can’t know what teams are made of
- We can’t predict how players, or teams, will act
- We can’t predict what will happen with the addition or subtraction of any player to a team

Definitions of chemistry
There are generally two kinds of team chemistry. There’s good chemistry, where a team works well together and makes everyone better, and there’s bad chemistry, where players don’t like each other, characterized by factions in the clubhouse.

But then there’s good-bad chemistry, where players hate each other so much they work really hard to show the other players up, and the end result is they all work their ass off, glare at each other a lot, and win a ton of games.

And bad-good chemistry which is when everyone’s friendly and comfortable and doesn’t try hard enough to win, and spends their time hanging out together instead of working out, and they joke around instead of concentrating in drills.

There’s young team optimism chemistry, where a rebuilding franchise is learning the game, improving, working well together, keeping their head up even through the losses. They may not know they’re not supposed to win so much.

Then again, they might not know how to win. That happens, too.

And there’s winning team chemistry, where they expect to compete each day and win a championship.

And losing team chemsitry, where they’ve all given up and don’t really try.

Team chemistry is observed changing in-season, too. A team on a losing streak will find something wrong with whatever chemistry they had working up to that point. If they’re optimistic and have faith, they’re not realistic or working harder. If they’re working harder and depressed, they’ve lost faith and are flailing about. If they stick together, they’ll be ignoring to the problems they need to confront. If they admit that one part of the team or one player is struggling, they’ll be turning on each other.
If they start winning, whatever they were doing during the losing streak was key.

Quantifying and Predicting Team Chemistry
Until you can predict before a season starts which teams will have good or bad chemistry – from past seasons, knowledge of the players, even watching them through spring training – then what exactly can chemistry be? If it’s how a team came together, or fell apart, something you can only see and use in an after-the-fact explanation, then it’s a story, not an effect. And moreover, as it’s usually applied, as an explanation of how teams that did surprisingly well succeeded and how unexpectedly bad teams failed, it’s an argument that the chemistry doesn’t cause wins or losses but is itself caused by winning and losing. This makes sense – winning makes competitive people happy, and losing brings out the worst in them. It even fits with the changing characterizations of team’s in-season chemistry.

Or let’s not even say that you need to predict which teams will have good or bad chemistry at the start of the season. Let them play for half the year. If you could at mid-season determine which teams playing badly to that point had maintained a good clubhouse attitude, and so would have a great second half, the evaluation of team chemistry might be useful and significant. But even here, given a half-season of data, prediction fails. We’re forced to wait until the season’s end to find out why one sub-.500 team went 55-35 in the second half to make a run while the other continued to struggle, unnoticed. That first team will then have had good chemistry, while the latter did not.

This is true even in the short term. Events are used to explain a team’s fortunes while similar events that don’t produce the same results are ignored. If a player is arrested for drunk driving and the team goes into a three-game losing streak, the distraction will inevitably be used to account for the losses. If it doesn’t, the team’s chemistry saved it. If they win three games, the negative attention brought the team together. But if you can’t predict that a player’s arrest will have an effect, then how much can you know about a team’s chemistry?

If chemistry can’t provide any additional predictive information on which team will win a game, or a series, all the way up to a season, even if you’re aware of what kind of chemistry and how strong it is, then what use is it to know?

One of the strongest anecdotal arguments in favor of chemistry is the frequent testimony of managers, players, and people around championship teams that there was something special about that team. That there were players willing to “go the extra mile” or “do whatever it took” and “stay focused” and so on, and that made all the difference.

This doesn’t exclude the after-the-fact attribution, that chemistry’s an explanation for winning or losing as much as it might be a cause. Looking back at a team that won it all for reasons why it succeeded, of course the positive attitude of bench players will seem to have contributed.

But you can take teams with similar attitudes in spring training, or early in the season, and see that their results vary greatly when they play the games. Teams with enthusiastic veteran benches don’t all perform three games better than expected. Teams with self-aggrandizing defensively limited corner infielders don’t all perform four games worse.

If you took a survey of every major league team going into a season for entirely intangible qualities, like satisfaction with teammates, music in clubhouse y/n, volume of music in decibels, difference in clubhouse noise levels post-win and post-loss, number of clubhouse leaders and number of clubhouse jokers, and its value in predicting regular-season records would approach zero – and the only factors that would matter at all would be things like “veteran presence” or “championship experience” because teams that bring in high-profile free agents are disproportionately competitive.

The counter to this is that while you can know on a general level what a team’s chemistry is like, without knowing the actual, detailed interactions between teammates, you don’t know the real picture and therefore any survey like that is meaningless. Or that the guy thought to be a leader turned out to be a goofball (which, again, is a after-the-fact justification).

Compare the qualifications and components of chemistry though to any other metric, and we quickly see that chemistry’s effects, if they exist, are pretty limited.
- Is it better to have an offense that walks more, or that plays louder music after wins?
- Is it better to have a pitching staff that strikes out more hitters, or a team that includes two clubhouse leaders and at least one clubhouse jokester?
- Is it better to have a defense that makes more outs on balls put into play, or one that goes out to dinner together after games?

Now of course, those aren’t the choices you make: you can have a walk-happy offense score more runs and all dance around to salsa music after wins. But in a more general sense, teams do make these choices: when teams weigh a player who can contribute X and could be replaced by a cardboard cutout for interviews against one who offers 75% of that contribution but comes with a reputation as a hard worker and good teammate, this is the choice they make, over and over.

It doesn’t matter what level you break it down to – when you compare any frequently-cited thing-that-is-good-for-chemistry to a reasonably quantifiable quality of a team, you’ll find that teams that succeed at the thing we know and can measure do better, while teams with two identified leaders don’t do better than teams with one.

The argument then is that the definition of leader, or whatever the chemistry component is, is too vague, and hard to see. The press covering one team might identify a leader who isn’t as strong as the leader on another, for instance. If that’s the case, though, and it’s so difficult to establish standards for who’s a leader and who’s not, if an objective observer can’t come in and determine whether someone’s contributing or not, and someone who observes the team daily and spends much of their working hours in direct contact with them can’t either, then how obvious and significant can that leadership be?

And even in a case where everyone agrees that a particular player is a colossal jerk and difficult to be on the same team with (Barry Bonds, say) we still can’t determine an effect. As a group, players who join the team from no-jerk teams don’t perform worse, and players leaving the team with the jerk don’t perform better.

This is a stark contrast to other, measurable effects. We can determine the level of play in a minor league by tracing the performances of players moving up and down and sideways to other leagues of the same classification. We can track the different talent levels in divisions and leagues by how players perform, and project how a player going from the NL West will perform in the AL East. We can make good guesses at how a pitcher’s line will change moving from team to team based on the rough tools we have for measuring defense, but there’s no way anyone’s been able to measure what moving from team-with-bad-attitude to team-with-good-attitude might do.

And if we can’t see an effect in a case where everyone agrees that one player’s a bad influence, and as bad an influence as can be, where we can’t predict how players joining that team will suffer (or if they’ll suffer at all) how can we ever measure the effect?

Moreover, you can’t predict what a player or several players will contribute
Teams frequently consider a player’s reputation in the clubhouse or their playoff experience as factors in who to try and trade for and sign in the off-season or even during a pennant drive. But there’s no guarantee that adding these players will help at all. The players come over and turn out to be jerks, or ineffective players. How they’re perceived might change:
- A player who is vocal and tries to get other players to work harder will be a leader on one team and an annoying jerk on another, and sometimes on the same team from year to year.
- A player who is quiet and works his ass off will be cited as leading by example and an inspiration and then selfish and a failure for not being more vocal.

There’s no better example of this than the 2004 Mariners. The organization believed that they needed more veteran leadership and brought in Scott Spiezio, known as a huge work-ethic and makeup guy, to replace Jeff Cirillo, who had a terrible time here and was fingered as a clubhouse problem. They signed Rich Aurilia, also a good clubhouse guy with playoff experience. Ron Villone and Mike Myers for veteran left-handedness in the pen. Raul Ibanez signed as a free agent from Kansas City where he had a great reputation as a clubhouse presence and community leader. Eddie Guardado had a huge reputation as a great teammate and professional who kept everyone loose.

And they already had Dan Wilson, a clubhouse good guy, and Mark McLemore, a long-time veteran leader, a scrappy local boy with dirt on his uniform in Willie Bloomquist, and the steady presence of Edgar Martinez. They dumped Carlos Guillen, who the organization felt was a bad influence on other players.

It was a club overflowing with chemistry. If ever there was a team specifically constructed to maximize its raw chemistry and be better in total than on paper, it was the 2004 Mariners.

It went 63-99.

If a team can make that many moves to bring in great chemistry and leadership guys – and all of those moves were considered great clubhouse moves at the time – and fail on the field so spectacularly, does it make sense to consider chemisty as a significant factor in building a team?.

Baseball is not an office
Many people argue that a pleasant work environment makes people perform better, and I agree. I’ve been more productive when I worked with people I liked and wanted to do well for. But this is not the same at all. Baseball is largely a series of solitary events, unlike most other team sports.
My job is largely social, depending on my ability to communicate with other people, collaborate, and sometimes I go off and do something like write a design or research something by myself. A huge part of my job relies on having good relationships with people I work with.

When a hitter’s up at the plate, their ability to hit the ball doesn’t depend on their relationship with any other player, even if that other player is running from first to second at the time. Most fielding plays require minimal interaction, and most of that is “stand at first so I can throw it at you.” There’s very little room for a player to get in another’s way, and certainly not in the way you see in basketball, where a point guard could effectively keep the ball out of another player’s hands if he wanted.

Pitchers and catchers need to communicate well, but catchers who can’t get along with their pitchers to the point that it drags the pitcher down wash out very quickly and are moved to other positions if they can hit. Even catchers known as jerks are able to work with their staff effectively.

Why chemistry might not matter to the performance of major league players
This is a lot like one of the arguments against the existence of the clutch hitter (someone who consistently performs better than expected in critical situations): if a player’s performance is dramatically affected by his teammates, or if he does things that affect the performance of his teammates, he doesn’t make it to the major leagues.

Many players have little choice in their teammates through their career until they become free agents. Take a domestic player. They may have some sway in which high school they attend, but they can’t pick their teammates. They can choose their college, if they attend, but again, they’ll know very little about what it’s like to play a season with them until it happens. Even word-of-mouth on last year’s team can’t identify recruits in the same recruiting class as the player. Then once they enter a major league system, they’re assigned to teams at the team’s wish for another six, seven years.

If a player can’t stand players from Puerto Rico, and they pout and don’t perform well if they have to play with them, they’ll be tossed out of the organization quickly. Same thing if they stink in day games because they’re too hungover every morning, or if they get into fights with teammates when they go 0-for in a game. The more talented they are, the more a team might try to get them help before they discard them, but discard them they will. Even players like Milton Bradley, who got into fights with umpires, manage to be decent teammates. Weird is okay, levels of annoyingness are okay, and inflated egos are okay – as long as they don’t result in serious disruptions to the team that affect performances.

Players are also evaluated and coached on their ability to take losses well, to not get too arrogant over wins, and to not be rattled after making a fielding error. Just as a player who makes one error and cracks is unlikely to rise to the major leagues, a player who mentally checks out if their A-ball team is 10 games out of the A-ball division race isn’t going to get promoted, if only because their season performance won’t merit it.

Chemistry doesn’t matter much to the career choices of major league players
One argument for chemistry’s effects is that while it might not affect a team’s performance or a player’s performance, it affects what players are willing to sign with that team, and for how much.

This is pretty clearly not true.

Players sign with competitive clubs with supposedly bad chemistry.

Players sign with struggling clubs with bad chemistry.

They also sign with clubs with supposedly good chemistry.

In almost all cases, they sign with the team that offer them the most. The majority of their equation is the money, but for many players the team’s proximity to their home or their families is important, or their familiarity with a team’s coaching staff.

While players will say that a team’s makeup played a part in their choice, it never results in a significant discount in the money they take, and certainly not in the way we see players taking less to play for the hometown team.

Take, for instance, the Giants. The Giants have featured Barry Bonds since 1994. Bonds is often described in the media as a clubhouse cancer, a difficult teammate, and increasingly since 2000, been one of the central figures in baseball’s steroid controversies.

But the Giants were able to pursue and sign the players they wanted. Since the steroid circus really started, J.T. Snow signed there in 2003, and most prominently, they landed Barry Zito. Now, sure, you can go through the signings and say, for instance, that Zito wanted to play in the Bay, so the Giants had an advantage – but that concedes that “playing in the Bay + the contract offered – playing with Bonds” was better for him than “playing in New York + contract offered + not playing with Bonds”.

The cost of “playing with Bonds” was not insurmountable.

Taking the example of Zito again, it doesn’t appear to have even been valued that highly, even.
I concede though that this is one of the stronger arguments. There are teams like the Cardinals who managed through a long history of success, a supportive fan base, and good management to make themselves an attractive destination for players even though in the Cardinals’ case they didn’t have the best facilities at the stadium. Players don’t mind being traded there, which means that they’re less frequently listed in limited no-trade clauses, and in turn the Cardinals don’t have to buy out a player’s reluctance. Free agents make a point to listen to the Cardinals’ contract offers. That’s an advantage that helps the team, if in subtle ways.

But this is not the effect that chemistry is commonly held to have: that a team’s chemistry directly affects the way they play and their success on the field.

And if a team’s chemistry had a significant effect on a player’s performance and players knew that, the premium to sign free agents would be extremely high, because they would know that their stats would be taking a huge hit, making them less marketable.

Chemistry doesn’t matter enough to see
No one’s going to argue that working environment could have an effect, and that happy teams could perform better than unhappy ones. But the effect clearly isn’t huge, or we’d be able to see it and talk about what it does. You’d see that a player with leadership gets better performances out of his teammates. We don’t see that. You’d see players joining a team with good chemistry improving from where they were, and we don’t see that. Managers who excel at running the clubhouse would take those effects with them as they changed teams. And on, and on, and on. We don’t see these things: every hypothesis I’ve seen for how we might measure the effects of chemistry on player or team performance have come up with “there’s no evidence”.

The very best thing we can say is that chemistry, if it exists in the form we’re arguing about — the team’s fortunes are affected by the composition of its parts – has such a small effect that it’s lost in other, larger, more measurable events.

I’ve had this argument over and over, and it always runs like this:

“You’re discounting chemistry because you can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

“Yes. But it does mean that it can’t be that large, because then we’d see it.”

“Just because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“Yes. But it does mean that it can’t be that large, because then we’d be able to measure it.”

(and so on, forever)

I’ll borrow an analogy from Carl Sagan.

I have a dragon in my backyard.

You can’t see it because it’s invisible.

You can’t detect it using infrared sensors or anything else because it’s magic.

Its wings doesn’t cause the grass to flatten because it’s super-small.

You can’t feel the flames of its breath because it’s so tiny the heat dissipates harmlessly.

It’s biting you right now but you can’t feel the microscopic teeth.

Do I have a dragon in my backyard or not? Or should I worry that my neighbor’s dumping toxic waste over the fence? Team chemistry, as it’s often argued by talking heads on television, is the most important thing for a winning team to have. But you can’t measure it, you don’t know which teams have it, you can’t predict which players create it, or which combination of players will result in good or bad (or good-bad or bad-good) chemistry, and at no point can you use what knowledge you have of a team’s makeup to make useful predictions.

And yet this is exactly the kind of choice that teams make: they don’t evaluate defense well, so they have a vague idea that all those doubles dropping around their left fielder might cost them runs, but they worry about the effect moving him to DH might have on the team’s makeup, so they do nothing.

That’s a choice between a huge, measurable thing and an intangible no one can quantify, which if it has any effect is too small to be measured, predicted, or otherwise dealt with.

Or to put this another way: the things we know are out there and make a huge difference in the game are so much more massively important, and chemistry such a slippery, unpredictable monster with such a small effect that it’s silly to expend energy on it until you’ve done everything you can with the things you know are out there and can be controlled.

What’s next?
If you believe in the effect of chemistry, here’s the question I’d put to you: how important do you think it is, and how would you go about proving its existence? If you can prove that team chemistry is significant, you’ll have made one of the most interesting breakthroughs in baseball research we’ve ever seen.

Otherwise, we should be able to all agree that whether or not we think team chemistry exists in the most conventional sense, as an intangible force generated by the personnel put together which acts on a team, pushing their performances one way or another, that while it might make an interesting storyline, it’s not nearly as important to a team’s fortunes as whether or not they can hit, pitch, and field.

Thanks to Dave for feedback on an early draft

Comments

61 Responses to “Evaluating Chemistry”

  1. Badbadger on May 19th, 2008 7:38 pm

    Chemistry is primarily important for people who want to sound knowledgable about baseball. It allows them to pretend that they are privy to mystical knowledge about a team that no one else can detect.

    My personal opinion is that anyone who is one of the thousand or so best baseball players on the entire planet must necessarily have the concentration skills to hit, catch, or throw a ball without thinking about the mean thing someone said to him in the clubhouse earlier on in the day.

  2. b_rider on May 19th, 2008 7:53 pm

    The most important point you made: There is no chemistry in baseball because it’s not a sport where players have to work together on a regular basis. Chemistry in soccer, hockey, basketball, sure. You have to have a sense of where your teammates are going to be, where they want the ball/puck, what kinds of plays you can make together. In baseball, it’s just you and the ball, for the most part. Catch it, throw it, hit it.

  3. will_k on May 19th, 2008 7:58 pm

    Chemistry has always struck me as infantile, at least in the ways the Mariners tend to be using it. Were seasoned, professional players really going to revolt if Ibanez was dropped for Adam Jones in LF last season?

    Great post.

  4. JerBear on May 19th, 2008 8:00 pm

    Wow. That’s a great post, Derek. I get so tired of this organization spouting meaningless rhetoric about the elusive, hypothesized, intangible greatness of “veteran guys in the lineup” that have “been through the wars” and are great “clubhouse leaders” – mostly because it comes directly at the expense of actual baseball knowledge and evaluation. And it’s even more frustrating to see it taken hook, line and sinker by such a majority of the fan base. When everyone falls for these fairy-tales year after year, the management have no reason to ever change their ways. And you can’t argue with those types, because, well, the arguments go pretty much like the one you outlined in the post. One of the fan questions in Jim Street’s mailbag feature today was:

    Why is Willie Bloomquist not an everyday player? In my opinion, he is one of the best players on the club and he deserves so much more playing time. He could really help the Mariners so much!

    And if you were to ask this idio-I mean, person, “Why do you think he’s one of the best players on the team? Why does he deserve so much playing time? How could he really help the Mariners so much?” They wouldn’t be able to point to a damn thing other than their feelings, or his grit and personality, or some imagined aura of clutchness. No stats, no measurable defensive or offensive value. Nothing. I’m gonna start banging my head on my desk now.

  5. boomdonkey on May 19th, 2008 8:02 pm

    Great post Derek. I also agree that the best point is that baseball is a very individualized sport, more so than most other sports, and even most social environments. I think this issue needs to be played up just as much as the virtual impossibility of measuring chemistry in baseball.

  6. MKT on May 19th, 2008 8:17 pm

    I have pretty much no disagreement with this article, except for one of emphasis. There is a sense in which chemistry indubitably does exist, and does matter, and it is the simple fact that people do not want to work in miserable work environments and prefer to work in hospitable ones. Derek does indeed address this, albeit with just a single paragraph:

    I concede though that this is one of the stronger arguments. There are teams like the Cardinals who have managed through a long history of success, a supportive fan base, and good management to make themselves an attractive destination for players even though in the Cardinals’ case they don’t have the best facilities at the stadium. Players don’t mind being traded there, which means that they’re less frequently listed in limited no-trade clauses, so the Cardinals don’t have to buy out a player’s reluctance, and free agents make a point to listen to the Cardinals’ contract offers. That’s an advantage that helps the team, if in subtle ways.

    But this is not the effect that chemistry is commonly held to have: that a team’s chemistry directly affects the way they play and their success on the field.

    Well yes, people who make incorrect claims about chemistry are indeed incorrect, i.e. that good chemistry directly leads to more wins. But just because most people fail to see (or at any rate mention) the true effects of chemistry, doesn’t mean that those true effects don’t exist. The effects are there, they simply are not acknowledged by most people.

    In almost all cases, they sign with the team that offer them the most. The majority of their equation is the money, but for many players the team’s proximity to their home or their families is important, or their familiarity with a team’s coaching staff.

    Again no disagreement that money is the majority part of the equation. Just a question of emphasis: there are a lot of additional intangibles which can affect players’ choices — availability of Spanish-speaking teammates, front office policies towards artifically retarding players’ promotions as mentioned in Dave’s article a couple of weeks ago, post-playing career opportunities (the Dodgers e.g. make it a point to connect players to their Dodger Blue history), etc. None of those are enough to determine a player’s choice — collectively they are still less important than the simple money issues — but they are not irrelevant.

  7. ecdlanddude on May 19th, 2008 8:26 pm

    Amen!

  8. John in L.A. on May 19th, 2008 8:37 pm

    What a giant off-day treat this post is. Thanks.

    I’d like to add to the differences between baseball and other team sports. Or expand your point, I guess.

    One of the main ways that “team leaders” can have an impact in sports like football is play-to-play motivation – adrenaline. If you have someone that can somehow, through example or personality, affect the motor of those around him, that can have a big impact, I think. Berserker pass rushers, maybe. Blood lust.

    I’ve never seen any evidence that adrenaline helps someone hit a fastball.

    I think pumping someone up is the easiest way to have a noticeable impact in football… and I don’t think it is helpful or desirable in baseball. Not much anyway. Over-amped pitchers tend to get wild and over-amped batters tend to swing at crap.

    Maybe the ability to calm people down would have a better impact… but, really, how many major leaguers need calming from their teammates on a day to day basis?

  9. John in L.A. on May 19th, 2008 8:49 pm

    Well yes, people who make incorrect claims about chemistry are indeed incorrect, i.e. that good chemistry directly leads to more wins. But just because most people fail to see (or at any rate mention) the true effects of chemistry, doesn’t mean that those true effects don’t exist. The effects are there, they simply are not acknowledged by most people.

    What makes this significant? How many players, as a percentage, used chemistry to make their decision in where to play?

    I think that DMZ was being extremely generous in his definition of chemistry in the St. Louis example. Their history, fan base and good management seem to be separate issues, to me, anyway. Those qualities open it up to historical franchises like the Yankees, without really addressing the issue of chemistry.

    Narrowing it down to team chemistry – meaning primarily how the players work together – I don’t see chemistry having much of an impact at all.

  10. yellowmoth on May 19th, 2008 8:51 pm

    I was already drooling over the slick exposure of the many logical fallacies and pseudoscientific jargon that saturate modern sports (this phenom ain’t unique to the ball diamond!!)

    Then you had to drop the Carl Sagan analogy in. Well played. Early candidate for post of the year.

  11. Joe on May 19th, 2008 9:06 pm

    But the “St. Louis is a great place to play” version of this argument — call it “Cardinalesque Chemistry” — to the extent it might be true, only matters in terms of payroll and the front office. In other words, it may have some influence on how much it costs the Cardinals to assemble the team, and it might even have some effect on who they get to play on that team, but it doesn’t have any significant effect on the outcomes of games once that team takes the field. Sure, you can argue that the Cardinals are better because player X is on the team and they didn’t have to pay as much to get him so they had more money for something else, or whatever, but you can make those arguments about any team (and the Cardinals could’ve just opened the pocketbook a little more, too). Nobody thinks the McAfee Coliseum is a nice place to play, and you would expect that would work against the A’s, but they continue to put together winning teams on less payroll than the Cardinals. Just as “talent” beats “chemistry” on the field, “intelligence” beats “chemistry” in the front office.

  12. HamNasty on May 19th, 2008 9:28 pm

    I would say the only chemistry on a baseball field would be between a SS and 2B turning double plays. I only use chemistry for a lack of a better word. It is just matter of learning where the 2nd baseman or SS want the ball when they turn two. The pitcher feeling comfortable with his catcher is important but I believe that is just preference of style.

    I don’t think how a organization treats a play falls under chemistry. But to me it is a science word and never made sense to use in sports. The best “chemistry” I had with a team was the worst team I was ever on record wise. When ever I hear someone say it I just get confused because it never related to anything on the many sports teams I have played on.

  13. Hooligan on May 19th, 2008 9:32 pm

    Derek has written his Russian novel, and a masterpiece it is.

    With a little arm twisting (or with some medieval torture in Joe Morgan’s case), most people will probably agree that chemistry is usually preceded by success. I’ve heard Morgan claim that winning breeds chemistry, and that chemistry, in turn, breeds more winning. If that were true, then a team with a winning streak and a common bond would be a lock to sweep the World Series.

    As Derek mentioned, chemistry’s effect on success becomes more tangible as you move away from baseball and into other team sports. Basketball, particularly, is a sport where successful franchises actually plug guys into roles and see great results. The Spurs consistently feature top-tier talent surrounded by excellent role players, allowing them to execute a flawless offense while playing great defense. Poor franchises (the Nuggets and Nicks come to mind) may have overwhelming talent, but are unable to find complimentary players that plug into specific complementary roles effectively. And negative chemistry rears its ugly head.

    Joe Morgan may argue that the same principle that governs basketball (surround your superstar with great teammates who may be less talented than other options, but meld better) also governs baseball. He would be wrong. Why? Because basketball, by its structure, limits the amount of total contributions that a pool of players can make. If Pierce gets hot and launches thirty shots, Garnett will have to shoot less. So an excess of talented players has diminishing returns. But in baseball, Adding David Ortiz to a team with Manny Ramirez doesn’t decrease Manny’s ability to contribute. He’ll still get the same number of plate appearances…no diminishing return. As Derek noted, baseball is a game of isolated events. Talent is the trump card.

    That explains USSM’s collective cringe when we hear about the importance of clubhouse presence, learning specific roles, and team chemistry. Sure it matters to the players and managers…they have to travel and work with each other, so we can’t expect them to be objective. They care more about enjoying their comrades over a six month season than they do about adding .080 in OPS from a guy they perceive as being immature or disagreeable.

    So I guess my point is that Isaiah Thomas would make a much better baseball GM, and Bavasi would be better suited for the NBA.

  14. fetish on May 19th, 2008 9:35 pm

    toure-de-post.

  15. fetish on May 19th, 2008 9:40 pm

    RE: Basketball chemistry

    I think the “Jailblazers” were actually a better example of chemistry gone wrong. They were actually a very good team, constructed well, that succeeded for a time but eventually fell apart. Rasheed Wallace was a bad guy on that team, and it turns out, he’s kind of a good guy who has issues with authority – when he’s not surrounding by weed dealing, gun-toting, dog fighting teammates.

  16. firova2 on May 19th, 2008 9:48 pm

    The word, along with its companion offender “clutch,” really doesn’t work, as Derek notes at the beginning. Why hasn’t any word or phrase been found to replace it? Perhaps because the concept itself is a fiction. In any case, it is interesting that what “chemistry” is talking about has much more to do with the social sciences: psychology and sociology in particular rather than a hard science such as the actual field of chemistry. Perhaps the ill fit came about through usage by players, managers, broadcasters, and even writers who had never actually taken a chemistry, psychology, or sociology class, but who appropriated the term to give a scientific sheen to something inherently undefinable.

    So, all you baseball-loving psych and soc majors out there–what are some other possible terms? I wonder whether there is a term that would describe the concept of group harmony that would be both limited to the realm of the non-quantifiable and moderately useful in a game of armchair therapy.

    And then we should dismantle and replace the word “clutch.” Just where did that come from, anyway? Paid sportswriters continue to use that word rather than come up with something else. Don’t they ever ask themselves why? Maybe this should be put to Mr. Baker.

  17. enazario on May 19th, 2008 9:54 pm

    Let’s not get carried away with chemistry in other sports arguments lest we commit the same sins against which Derek so eloquently wrote. People also love to talk about chemistry in basketball and football but when cold, hard statistical analysis is made more often than not teams with talent win regardless of chemistry.

    The problem with people like Joe Morgan (whom I like by the way ) and indeed most fans is that they hate to reduce the sport to a series of equations. The same way humans detest reducing the brain as a machine that follow deterministic patterns. It is far easier to romanticize that which we do not understand

    For me, however, there is nothing wrong with deconstructing baseball to try and understand it. Is it less enjoyable because we know what makes it tick? It’s like saying that a star is less beautiful because we now understand the atomic fusion process that drives it.

    Great post.

  18. JMHawkins on May 19th, 2008 10:54 pm

    Chemistry isn’t the right word for it. The only impact “chemistry” has on baseball is (poorly) chronicled in the Mitchell Report.

    The word you really want here is “alchemy.” A bunch of people acting like they know what they’re doing and going through the motions of acquiring and using knowledge, but ultimately substituting mythical hope as a shortcut to avoid actual effort and sacrifice. Being a blacksmith is hard, hot, unpleasant work that requires skills developed over years of learning, but at the end of the day you’ve made a plow or a bridle or some other useful item that someone will happily pay you money for. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to just pour some distilled sheep guts over a bar of lead and have a lifetime’s fortune of gold appear?

    Paying $20M a year for the true +5 wins superstar means you have to cut loose those two middling, overpaid +1 or 2 win “veterans” you have making $9M/year each and find a kid from AAA to hold down an everyday job. Signing the guy just entering the prime of his career and likely to get better is much more expensive than signing the 30-something coming off a major injury, even though two years ago they had similar stats. Much easier to sign second-tier FAs with name recognition and hope they’ll rebound.

    Alchemy is about being unwilling to make the sacrifices required to do the things that really work. It’s about convincing yourself some hokus pokus you don’t understand and can’t really control will somehow make you rich. Or smart, or immortal.

    This team has great Alchemy…

  19. Colm on May 19th, 2008 11:08 pm

    You like Joe Morgan?!
    I admire Joe Morgan hugely. He was so good as a player he was all but peerless, but most people have no idea. Sure, he’s a Hall of Famer, but people don’t realize that he’s an elite class of HoFer. He is to second baseman what Willie Mays was to center fielders.

    But as a commentator – every time he opens his mouth I want to shove a turnip into it.

    Well written Mr. Zumsteg. Much apprecited.

  20. Hooligan on May 19th, 2008 11:38 pm

    17-

    Nope, chemistry (complimentary play, established roles, team unity) is significant enough in basketball that you can’t just amass the most talent and expect to win.

    If the Sonics bring in four guys to mix in with Durant, say a PG, SG, PF and C, each of whom averaged 25 points per game with their previous squads, how many points will that team score? Wouldn’t you think that their production would fall off a wee bit? That’s why there is value in guys like Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen. They can’t contribute nearly what younger, more athletic players can, but their ten points and four rebounds blend very well with their better teammates’ numbers.

    In baseball, adding all of the free agent talent in the world only makes the team better, because players don’t offset each other’s contributions. That’s why chemistry, as Derek explained, isn’t worth chasing. In basketball, talent may still be paramount, but chemistry can be cultivated by properly assembling a roster. USA basketball is warming up to that of late.

    Put simply, winning consistently in baseball demands acquiring the best talent. Winning consistently in basketball demands acquiring the most talent that functions as a unit.

  21. Benne on May 19th, 2008 11:43 pm

    Great work Derek (and Dave). This post is most deserving of a “buy the authors a refreshing beer” link. What I find most impressive is that you managed to deconstruct the myth without getting condescending, which is always my biggest flaw when I get into these types of debates with….less educated baseball people.

    Alchemy—I like it. I will now go around using that term and correcting people whenever they mention “chemistry.” Hopefully it will catch on.

  22. John in L.A. on May 19th, 2008 11:53 pm

    17 – I agree, depending on how loosely you define chemistry.

    What statistical analysis are you referring to?

    Football is so interdependent (I know less about basketball, so I won’t talk about that) that it is really difficult to sort out the statistics. What would B. Sanders have done behind E. Smith’s o-line or with his quarterback? Or one defensive end with a different counterpart? It’s just all a mess to sort out.

    If you mean everyone getting along, then sure, I agree. But I also believe that a player with on-field leadership abilities – the ability to coordinate and motivate his teammates can have a big impact in football. Many, many times more than in baseball.

    I think that’s one of the problems with baseball fans… they see “hunger” matter in football and don’t see why it doesn’t in baseball.

  23. Milendriel on May 20th, 2008 1:18 am

    20- The other thing about basketball, too, is that statistics to properly evaluate individual defense are very elusive, perhaps at this point even moreso than in baseball. The interdependence of the 5 players on the floor has a lot to do with this. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to say that chemistry matters because of how much communication and coordination good team defense requires.

    17- What intrigues me about the chemistry issue is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the complexity of stats, but their mainstream popularity. Take batting average, for example. Joe Posnanski wrote an awesome article about this. Batting average is way more arcane than people realize, but most people don’t have a problem with it. I think the thing is, when people first develop interest in a sport, they most often learn about it in the context of mainstream statistics like batting average. When someone comes along and says, “You know what? Batting average sucks. Not only that, but Player A you thought was good because of his batting average? He sucks too,” people get irrationally defensive (fandom isn’t really rational, even for stat lovers). Whether it’s taking refuge in nebulous chemistry or accusing others of dehumanizing the game, people simply don’t want to admit that their way of understanding the game may be flawed or flat-out wrong. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

    Stats aren’t about a person’s ability to understand them, but their willingness to do so. To me, the whole chemistry thing is an example of this.

  24. thefin190 on May 20th, 2008 1:39 am

    I would feel if chemistry did exist, that it would be developed by the players themselves, rather than management trying to force it by putting people with good personalities together and hoping they like each other. Good point about the 2004 Mariners, they sound like an arranged marriage to me.

    Very well written Derek.

  25. scraps on May 20th, 2008 5:16 am

    Chemistry may matter more in basketball, bu it’s still overrated, and mostly explicable by things that are measurable now or will turn out to be measurable. And analysts have actually been making great strides in measuring defensive play.

    The theoretical point guard who won’t pass to a teammate, for example, will wash out of the league, or severely damage his rep. Mostly players are doing the best they can to win, and when they aren’t it’s noticeable (Vince Carter tanking in Toronto).

    Chemistry may have more effect in basketball than baseball, but just as in baseball one of the surest ways to go wrong is to try to plan chemistry, or “fix” it. Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire may well hate each other off the court, but that team was a machine on the court; trading Stoudamire made the team worse, and has probably destroyed it in the long run. Bringing Jason Kidd in for his supposed veteran leadership made Dallas worse. Bringing Kevin Garnett in doubtless did wonders fo Boston’s chemistry, but that’s not why they brought him in, and there’s no reason to think chemistry is the big difference. Garnett was the same player in Minnesota, and the same great guy; where was the chemistry there? Kobe Bryant is described as a leader or a problem in proportion to the Lakers’ success. He got the MVP this year on the he’s-never-won ticket, but I think it’s likely he wouldn’t have won without the Pau Gasol trade. Pau Gasol: a dog in Memphis, one of those talented players who’s supposedly not a winner; now with the Lakers, his all-around skills are suddenly praised. And everyone writes that the chemistry between Bryant and Gasol is great, not, gee, maybe we were wrong about Gasol.

    I do see one big difference between baseball and basketball that can effect the impact a player can have: Basketball has more variance in philosophy of the game. A point guard might fit very well in one team’s system and lousy in another. A good second baseman is a good second baseman anywhere.

  26. scraps on May 20th, 2008 5:17 am

    Augh, trading MARION, not Stoudamire.

  27. scraps on May 20th, 2008 5:23 am

    As for football: How about the Giants? One year the team has apparently lousy chemistry, backbites each other, everyone hates the coach, and the media assumes his job is in jeopardy most of the year. The next year they unexpectedly get it together to win the Super Bowl. Was the chemistry somehow fixed? I’ll bet they still hate the coach.

  28. terry on May 20th, 2008 7:02 am

    From what I can tell, the Ms had great chemistry from April 8th through the 17th but poor chemistry April 2nd through the 7th.

    Their team chemistry absolutely killed them from April 30th through May 13th.

  29. pygmalion on May 20th, 2008 7:21 am

    I agree with just about everything in the post (not that anyone really cares that I agree, but still, there it is). It really was a tour de force and developed just about every point that needs to be made about the problems with relying on chemistry in baseball. The point about baseball being a series of isolated events is especially good, and (as someone pointed out) with the exception of turning the double play, this immediately rules out any important role for chemistry in baseball. Of course, even turning the double play doesn’t need there to be much chemistry in terms of “veteran presence” or whatnot, but rather just a developed intuitive understanding of where the other player is and how he will react to different events.

    One point, however, I definitely disagree with. The assertion that “chemistry” is not a good term for the phenomenon in question seems to depend on an artificial restriction of the word “chemistry” to one of its particular meanings – the special science, chemistry – at the expense of another one of its established meanings. There is just no real reason for this. Most of the different senses for “chemistry,” including the one in use in baseball and other sports, are equally old and on a par with each other. The only use of the term “chemistry” with any real historical precedence is to refer to the science of alchemy, but this use is so moribund it’s listed as obsolete.

    First of all, sometimes “chemistry” refers to chemical processes – e.g., the processes by which a plant metabolizes nutrients can be referred to as the plant’s “chemistry” without any suggestion that we understand this process (although now we do have some idea of this), or even that we could understand the process.

    Thus, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we can apply this usage of the term figuratively with the meaning of “an instinctual, apparently unanalysable, attraction or affinity between people or groups of people; the combination of personal characteristics that creates this,” and it is in this manner that we arrive at the usage we see in sports to indicate different players varying responses to and affinities for other players.

    This usage did not originate with baseball players, managers, or journalists. Its modern usage goes back at least as far as George Bernard Shaw, and the usage itself may be as old as the term “chemistry” itself (going back to Queen Elizabeth in the year 1600, if David Hume’s History of England is to be believed). So I don’t see why we should have any complaint about the term.

    Otherwise, an awesome take-down of the bogus reliance on this concept in baseball.

  30. jlc on May 20th, 2008 7:52 am

    Derek, thanks for taking the time to frame this slippery subject the way you did, so it can be rationally discussed.

    I do think there’s chemistry on baseball teams (I especially like the good-bad, where teammates hate each other and try to show each other up–I suspect that part happens more than we think). I even think it very, very occasionally contributes to a successful or nonsuccessful season. (The example that always comes to my mind is Willie Stargell and the Family team). Maybe once a decade or two. Meaning I think it’s essentially meaningless in the analysis of baseball.

    Having gritted through the Jailblazers, I know it can have an effect on basketball teams, but I don’t think it’s because it’s because basketball is more of a team sport. I think it’s because their are fewer players and coaches in the locker room. A 25-man team, that is somewhat free-flowing through the season with DLs and callups is just too big for chemistry to sweep through the clubhouse and carry people away.

    I also wonder if the daily grind of baseball also works against the concept of chemistry. These guys spend 7 months together. Familiarity might not breed contempt, but spending that much time together means you see everybody on their good and bad days and there isn’t as much opportunity for a charismatic leader to rise above and lead the charge.

    I suspect the most important of Derek’s categories is when teams either believe they are going to win, or believe they can’t win. I think superstitions are bigger in baseball than most places, because so much of the game is based on activities that you fail at much of the time (7 out of 10 for good hitters, pitchers throwing balls, etc.). There may be a few games that are lost because there’s a team spirit that they’re afraid they’re going to lose games. If that’s true, I would think it would happen on teams where they were doing unexpectedly badly to start with, so again, teasing out any chemistry aspect to it isn’t really worth the effort. Looking at the pitching, offense, and defense is what’s going to tell you why they were losing to start with.

  31. msb on May 20th, 2008 8:13 am

    could we acknowledge that it isn’t just the Mariners who think of ‘chemistry’ in this way, and try to do things to improve ‘chemistry’? This is a long-standing baseball tradition.

  32. Jeff Nye on May 20th, 2008 8:21 am

    could we acknowledge that it isn’t just the Mariners who think of ‘chemistry’ in this way, and try to do things to improve ‘chemistry’? This is a long-standing baseball tradition.

    Sure, as long as we also acknowledge that the Mariners are one of the worst offenders in modern-day MLB as far as massively overstating any actual effect that ‘chemistry’ might have.

    Thanks for this post, Derek; I envision it getting linked in many, many future comment threads. :)

  33. huskyskins on May 20th, 2008 8:36 am

    [hijack]

  34. msb on May 20th, 2008 8:41 am

    Sure, as long as we also acknowledge that the Mariners are one of the worst offenders in modern-day MLB as far as massively overstating any actual effect that ‘chemistry’ might have.

    but do we actually know that, or are we simply aware of this local emphasis because it is an easy thing to write about by hometown pocket lint?

  35. okobojicat on May 20th, 2008 8:43 am

    Great, awesome post. So large, I had to consume it in two sittings.

    [W]e should be able to all agree that whether or not we thing team chemistry exists in the most conventional sense, as an intangible force generated by the personnel put together which acts on a team, pushing their performances one way or another, that while it might make an interesting storyline, it’s not nearly as important to a team’s fortunes as whether or not they can hit, pitch, and field.

    Because this is the most important part of the piece (smartly placed at the end).

    I think that their is such a thing as team chemistry, however, quantifying that and comparing that to talent levels and using it as justification for certain decisions is stupid.

    For example, take a couple players who have about equal talent levels, similar ages, projected to produce about the same and cost about the same, one who is generally regarded as a great guy, and one who is generally regarded as someone who creates resentment in the clubhouse. A smart team would take the non-clubhouse cancer, because in theory it should help their team and he’s easier to market (unless he’s Allen Iverson or something).

    However, if the decision is between a 25th-man who can stand all of the infield positions but can’t hit vs. a decent hitting 1B/LF who has no known chemistry issues (good or bad) and the team already has a back up infielder, team chemistry should not factor at all in this decision.

  36. the other benno on May 20th, 2008 8:45 am

    Very good post.

    I think that most of the intangibles in baseball essentially boil down to one thing – concentration. There is no such thing as ‘clutch’, there are only players who have the concentration to maintain their normal levels of play regardless of the stess/leverage of the situation. There is no such thing as ‘chemistry’, there are only teams that find a collective way to maintain their concentration regardless of stress/leverage of the season. Whether that comes through everyone being in sync and promoting a positive attitude, or through everyone hating each other and wanting to show each other up or some variation between doesn’t really matter in the end.

  37. okobojicat on May 20th, 2008 8:51 am

    msb:

    but do we actually know that, or are we simply aware of this local emphasis because it is an easy thing to write about by hometown pocket lint?

    I think you can point to the Rays last year for examples of teams making decisions based on chemistry: trading away Delmon Young and Elija Dukes. In hindsight, that looks like an excellent decision because the team is playing a lot better. However, that team got better because its pitching is better now, and Upton, Pena, and Longoria are all great players. As Derek put it so well, where chemistry stops and talent starts is an impossible line to find.

    Also, a lot of teams emphasize chemistry as a marginally factory in decision making for one players vs. another. For example, Greg Maddux the last four years had gotten a little bit more cash than he probably deserved because he brought a ‘chemistry’ to the staff.

  38. huskyskins on May 20th, 2008 8:57 am

    How prevalent is the use of “chemistry” by GM’s across MLB? Are there franchises that obviously ignore it, to their betterment? Are there teams that rely on it, to their detriment?

  39. gwangung on May 20th, 2008 9:06 am

    Also, a lot of teams emphasize chemistry as a marginally factory in decision making for one players vs. another.

    I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. With all things being equal, “chemistry” as a decider is an acceptable criterion.

    It’s just that it seems that the local yokels tend to use “chemistry” as an equal criterion to talent, that chemistry can substitute for talent.

  40. The Ghost of Spike Owen on May 20th, 2008 9:36 am

    Is there any way we can hack Baker’s blog and just put up a big link to this post? Because that would be awesome.

  41. cheapseats on May 20th, 2008 9:42 am

    Chemistry… alchemy.. voodoo… those are things you use to describe teams that manage to win, whether they’ve got the stats or not.

    If they’ve got chronic flub-a-dub defense and toothpick bats, it’s more than a sign of lack of chemistry.

    It’s a sign that they suck.

  42. tangotiger on May 20th, 2008 9:59 am

    Derek, fabulous post. That’s all I have to say.

  43. Hooligan on May 20th, 2008 10:27 am

    I don’t think that Dukes can be applied to this discussion in any way. His situation went far beyond “clubhouse chemistry.” If ever there was a player in the league with talent who should be cut or traded without worry, it’s Dukes.

    But as for Bonds, or Kent, or Hamels…I’ll take two, please.

  44. WTF_Ms on May 20th, 2008 11:16 am

    Man that was a long post…..

    I think “chemistry” is something that is easy to see, or NOT see, but anything in between is very hard to tell.

    When the team is winning, and everything is going well, you never hear about “chemistry” being bad…as soon as a losing streak starts, here come the “bad chemistry” comments, this player is a “cancer”, etc…

    This team may get along pretty well, we’ll all never know, because we’re not on the team…there’s always going to be something happening in a large group of very well paid guys in a small space over time…

    I say we leave it at that, and don’t try to “evaluate” it….it’s either there, or not.

  45. jzalman on May 20th, 2008 11:35 am

    Man, long posts breed long comments. Great post Derek, thanks.

    JMHawkins, Alchemy is perfect.

  46. Jim Thomsen on May 20th, 2008 11:39 am

    My theory is the the Mariners play the “chemistry” card as a way of maintaining the wall of mystique between baseball insiders and outsiders.

    As outsiders — i.e., statheads — become more knowledgeable about what makes players and teams good (or bad), the very real possibility that they know what’s better for a team than the team does exists as a palpable threat to those in charge.

    The best way they can counteract the surge of objective logic — and thus maintain their imprimaturs of authority — is to claim superior knowledge of things they claim only they can know. That’s why you hear a lot of vague but emphatic talk about “makeup” and “chemistry” and “intangibles.”

    Because those in charge know there’s no way to tell them that they don’t know what they say they know, and therefore no way to refute the insiders’ assertions that such intangibles are of paramount importance — more so than statistical trends.

    Because huddling in fear behind the veil of mystique are a bunch of baseball emperors who may well have no clothes.

  47. Red Apple on May 20th, 2008 11:50 am

    Speaking of chemistry, this post has an atomic weight of 196.966569.

    Well done, Derek!

  48. pygmalion on May 20th, 2008 1:12 pm

    Red Apple said:

    Speaking of chemistry, this post has an atomic weight of 196.966569.

    Wow! It’s pure!

  49. Jared on May 20th, 2008 1:15 pm

    [uh huh]

  50. John in L.A. on May 20th, 2008 1:21 pm

    Interesting point, Jim.

    Scraps… about football… like I said, if you are defining chemistry narrowly, like you seem to be – how well they get along with each other – then I agree completely.

    But if you are using a wider defintion like DMZ did – say somewhere between just camaraderie and the St. Louis example – then I disagree.

    Players have a much, much greater impact on other players in football than they do in baseball.

    If you are a left guard, say, the guy playing center and the guy playing left tackle have an enormous impact on your job performance. So do the backs, and a blocking tight end. And a quarterback with a quick release or receivers that can get open faster have a huge impact on your job performance as a simple left guard.

    Football is incredibly interdependent.

    I really believe fans are totally screwed up about baseball because they are trying to apply things they see in football. A scrappy, slow, small linebacker with brains and drive like Zach Thomas can play his way to the pro bowl, maybe to the hall of fame. Football is full of guys like that.

    In baseball they become WFB.

    Also, it takes a special kind of motivation and character to throw yourself into the kind of beating that happens every play in football. Baseball’s more of a focus thing – and focus is not contagious like adrenaline can be.

    But Bloomquist can be as scrapy as he wants and he is never going to im

  51. John in L.A. on May 20th, 2008 1:46 pm

    Well, clearly I am an idiot. I’m not even sure what that last line was meant to say.

    “But Bloomquist can be as scrapy as he wants and he is never going to im me again. I’m off his buddy list.”

    “But Bloomquist can be as scrapy as he wants and he is never going to impede our opponent’s victory.”

    Dunno.

  52. Evan on May 20th, 2008 3:06 pm

    Carl Sagan totally stole that from Bertrand Russell. Though Russell asked whether there was a rhinocerous in the room.

  53. Evan on May 20th, 2008 3:08 pm

    By the way, Derek – this post is probably the best article written about baseball by anyone this year. Well done.

  54. samson on May 20th, 2008 3:53 pm

    [see comment guidelines]

  55. coasty141 on May 20th, 2008 5:12 pm

    -I want to preface this post by saying I do not think talent needs to be sacrificed in order to have good chemistry.-

    I’m going to be overly dramatic but what the hell.

    Let’s say your wife and children whom you dearly love got hit by a car as you are walking the streets of Seattle. Physically, there is no harm to your body; however, I highly doubt you would be able to perform a skilled job such as hitting a baseball.

    On a less dramatic scale let’s say you are a MLB player and former all- star on the downside of your career. You’re getting paid 14 million a year and you are the face of the franchise. Your team is in a pennant race. Personally you are slumping and the manager tells you are headed to the pine. You don’t play for a few games and every night you talk to you daughter and she asks you how many homeruns you had that day. It kills you to know that your time is coming to and end and you press harder every day and get less and less positive results.

    I’m not going to say that suffering an emotional nightmare such as loss of a loved one is the same thing as having playing time limited but they can both have an effect on you as a person. Different people will be affected differently. Different people will perform differently. There are 750+ MLB players and not all of them are good people. Not all of them get along when they are grouped together in squads of 25. Some people are not happy when around other people. In life we make choices not to hang out with those people on our free time or not work with them in a job environment.

    The reason Bavasi is slammed for bad moves on this website is because Derek or Dave disagree with his moves and feel there is a compelling case for an alternative. Nonetheless, the decisions are Bavasi’s to make. We are talking about Bill’s work environment and Bill’s life. From all accounts of what I have heard Mr. Bavasi is a grade A person and it does not surprise me that chemistry matters to him. Bavasi, wants a working environment people enjoy and cares about peoples well being. He’s not going to bring any individual into the organization if he is not comfortable working with that individual (BB).

    So yeah chemistry shouldn’t matter because baseball is nothing more that a series of isolated events which only test a player’s physical talents and preparation. However, players still need to be managed, decisions need to be made, and individuals who have feelings need to be dealt with in the game of baseball. Derek challenged his readers to make the break through and find proof that chemistry matters. I’d like to challenge anyone to spend a MLB season with people they don’t enjoy in an environment they don’t feel comfortable in. It would be hard to find 25 people with above average MLB skills to meet this demand.

  56. Chris88 on May 20th, 2008 6:03 pm

    Hey look! A ridiculously long post discussing chemistry and what it is and isn’t. I’ll bet someone took several months to write this.

  57. diderot on May 20th, 2008 6:15 pm

    sorry…hit the wrong key.

    To finish the thought, Columbus, Newton, Darwin, Mendel and the entire Manhattan Project team should have just closed up shop and gone home, because what they were seeking was ‘invisible’.

    So, to recap, I agree with the destination, but the logical path to get there is flawed.

    Go ahead…flame away.

  58. coasty141 on May 20th, 2008 9:17 pm

    Thinking more about my post #55

    I do believe that you need neutral/positive culture for your players and to be successful over a long term period. I do not believe that a team will get better results on the field due to what is perceived as good chemistry.

  59. scraps on May 20th, 2008 9:38 pm

    John, I see what you’re saying, but to me that’s not chemistry, that’s a mix of skills.

    Even in baseball, you can point to examples lie that. Like, Raul Ibanez makes pitchers look bad.

  60. Librocrat on May 20th, 2008 10:14 pm

    I just realized – the chemistry in “The Office” is identical to what the Mariners FO ended up with.

  61. Benne on May 20th, 2008 11:49 pm

    I just realized – the chemistry in “The Office” is identical to what the Mariners FO ended up with.

    I was thinking more of “Office Space,” where Bavasi strolls up to Clement’s cubicle and says “ummmmmmm, yeah, we’re going to send you back down and give Vidro his job back.”

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