CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: S... (03/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (03/24)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (04/01)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: PECOTA vs... (03/27)

March 27, 2014

Baseball Therapy

Advances in Chemistry?

by Russell A. Carleton


Let’s talk about the ESPN: The Magazine team chemistry rankings. For those who haven’t seen them yet, I suggest going here, but if you’d like to skip to the good part, the centerpiece of ESPN’s predictions about the 2014 season is that they adjusted them for team chemistry. The article actually (seriously, no really) says that the Tampa Bay Rays are projected to win 1.7 extra games this year because of chemistry. This will be enough to win them the AL East.

Right then.

This is evolution at a speed that would disprove some tenet of special relativity. I only wish I knew more about special relativity so that I could tell you which part. We’ve gone from chemical atheism (“Chemistry doesn’t matter. Winning breeds chemistry”) to chemical agnosticism (“Chemistry is this vague mysterious thing that you can’t easily measure and it might or might not have an effect.”) to fully drinking the chemically laced Gummiberry Juice (“Chemistry is worth 1.7 wins.”). Whoa.

I should probably cop to a couple of things. I have a bit of a head start on this one. Last summer, BP’s own Sam Miller wrote an article on team chemistry in—funny enough—ESPN the Magazine, in which I was quoted. He also talked to Santa Clara University professor Katerina Bezrukova, who spoke of her work on group dynamics, specifically how “fault lines” can appear based on any number of factors to divide members of a group from one another and can determine the success or failure of a group.

Since I’m thrilled to meet anyone who lives at the corner of Baseball Street and Psychology Lane, I contacted her and we chatted behind the scenes. I looked a bit into the #GoryMath and the theory behind her research. It’s not my area of expertise, but the theory was at least pleasantly plausible and the math that she (and her colleagues) used made sense, at least for what they were trying to investigate about workplace interactions in general. Like a lot of things in science, it needed more work before I would fully buy into it, but it passed the silliness test.

Flash forward to a few days ago, when the same Katerina Bezrukova and her collaborator Chester Spell re-appeared with their model, and some numbers to attach to it. They suggested three dimensions to team chemistry, including a demographic factor, an isolation factor, and an ego factor. To take the demographic factor as an example, they looked at race, nationality, and age. Methodologically, it seems that they ran a proximity/similarity matrix within each team based on those characteristics. The idea is that if a player is surrounded by other players who demographically resemble him, he will have more people to talk to, and that will lead to better living through chemistry.

The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.

Not a subscriber?

Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.


Cancel anytime.


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!


That's a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

JParks

Seems like it should be fairly easy to apply at least a cursory test to their hypothesis. Go back a decade or so and check their model performance vs any number of the sabermetric win prediction models. Did they use any of this sort of testing in developing their model?

Mar 27, 2014 03:50 AM
rating: 2
 
philly

"There’s a big difference between “I think this will have an effect of half a win plus or minus three” vs. “I think this will have an effect of half a win plus or minus a tenth of a win.”"

BP has been writing about baseball stats for ~15 years and never once supplied these kinds of error bars.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's an extremely important thing to do, I just hope you have time to scurry back into BPs figurative glass house. ;)

Mar 27, 2014 04:21 AM
rating: 6
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I do wish BP (and everyone else) would publish error bars. I get why BP (and everyone else, including ESPN) doesn't. It's mostly a space issue, but the old stats prof in me says if mean, then standard deviation.

Mar 27, 2014 07:11 AM
 
Richie

Exactamundo. Test #1 is to apply it to past teams. They didn't even bother doing that? Then it's worthless.

Mar 27, 2014 08:50 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

In fairness, they may have behind the scenes. They didn't report it in the article. Until they either say "We didn't do that" or reveal their methods (and results) the proper thing to do is reserve judgment.

Mar 27, 2014 09:35 AM
 
jj0501

It is a provocative line of thought that could, and should, forward the conversation on chemistry. Hopefully it doesn't get twisted to meet other agendas. The assumption that similarity breeds harmony & chemistry could have merit but I, too, would like some quantification based on previous results.

Mar 27, 2014 05:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Johnson Magic

Seems ironic that just as ESPN brings Nate Silver into the fold, they publish this piece with such, ahem, "tenuous" statistical methodology.

Mar 27, 2014 06:57 AM
rating: 2
 
mabenson00

I was mostly annoyed that they called out the A's for only having one non-white pitcher (Abad IIRC), when Jesse Chavez was always going to be on the team.

Mar 27, 2014 09:35 AM
rating: 0
 
TKohl

Here goes Puig, single handedly ruining the Dodgers again

Mar 27, 2014 09:46 AM
rating: 0
 
gjhardy

I wonder if you could come up with a better "chemistry" rating simply by running a super-secret player poll in which they rate their manager on how much they respect him and like playing for him. Not to beat a dead horse here -- OK, I am going to beat a dead horse -- but you could call it the "Valentine Rating" or something like that and even run it around 14 February, before the team has endured any slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in actual games.

Mar 27, 2014 10:23 AM
rating: 1
 
BrewersTT

Regression results without any accompanying information on model structure or diagnostics are just about useless. Yes, one acquires shiny exciting coefficients to use, but one gets those no matter how well the model fits the data and whether or not it displays any predictive ability. Here, we have to take it on faith that those doing the study know what they're doing, and I've certainly seen many counter-examples among academics.

Mar 27, 2014 12:02 PM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Until they "show their work" I am going to assume that they are mostly just making "stuff" up.

Mar 27, 2014 12:22 PM
rating: 1
 
oldbopper

I am surprised that there is nothing here about last year's Red Sox. It was a goal of the front office to bring in strong clubhouse presences and it appears to have worked, but how do you quantify Johnny Gomes and his great line, "One day closer to the parade". It is clear that when he is on a team, that team seems to exceed the projections, and often by a great deal, but what other factors might enter the picture. I would also wonder what influence one or two outsized personalities might have. Big Papi's talk to the team in the dugout during last year's World Series was remarkable. I had never seen such a scene in a long career of watching baseball. Dustin Pedroia also appears to have a similar type of personality and commands a great deal of respect in the Boston dugout. John Farrell appeared to be a very positive, and calming, influence after the Valentine disaster. That begs the question of who sets the tone in a clubhouse, the players or the manager. IMHO, I agree that there is something here but that something lives in a sort of Never-Never Land that exists but doesn't and cannot be conjured up. Achieving that nirvana that is great team chemistry is serendipity and attempts to quantify it are like trying to prove the existence of Sasquatch.

Mar 27, 2014 12:32 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Around the turn-of-the-century, I did a stint in the Israeli Army.
The typical Israeli has European or Middle Eastern skin colouring, but in the mid-80s and early-90s, groups of Jewish refugees from Ethiopia emigrated to Israel. As you should be able to imagine, these Ethiopians looked neither European nor Middle Eastern.
Today, they make up a bit less than 2% of the country's population. A typical army unit has between 50-200 people. By law of averages, one would expect the average army unit to have between 1-4 Ethiopians. This was not so. While I never saw the official order, all of my anecdotal experience tells me the following is - or at least was - true.
Army units were not allowed to have single soldiers of Ethiopian descent. They either had multiple, or they had none. In my own unit, we were once assigned a fresh young Ethiopian soldier. Within three days, she was transferred back out to a more duochromatic unit.
I look at the question of when the first MLB player will announce his homosexuality in a similar way. There will not be one guy who comes out. There will be multiple emerging simultaneously.

Mar 27, 2014 16:56 PM
rating: 3
 
Dodger300

If economic parity does lead to better team chemistry, the Houston Astros will earn a zillion bonus points, since there isn't a highly paid player in the bunch.

Mar 27, 2014 22:45 PM
rating: 2
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: S... (03/27)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (03/24)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (04/01)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: PECOTA vs... (03/27)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Avoid: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Infographic: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 175 ...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Diamondbacks Third Baseman is...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Bad Bullpen Teams ...
Prospectus Feature: A.J. Preller's Offseason...
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Eyes of March

MORE FROM MARCH 27, 2014
Premium Article Skewed Left: PECOTA vs. Vegas
Premium Article Minor League Update: Spring Training Games o...
Fantasy Article The Darkhorses: Strikeouts
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Three Murky Closer Situat...
Fantasy Article Tout Wars Recap
Fantasy Article My Model Portfolio: Hopefully, No Scrubs
Fantasy Article My Model Portfolio: The Wright Guys

MORE BY RUSSELL A. CARLETON
2014-04-01 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Complete Value of a Co...
2014-04-01 - Baseball Prospectus News: Introducing Mongol...
2014-03-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Preview: NL West 2014 Preseason P...
2014-03-27 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Advances in Chemistry?
2014-03-24 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Complicated Recoveries...
2014-03-17 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Viability of Burying a...
2014-03-10 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Baseball Questions We'...
More...

MORE BASEBALL THERAPY
2014-04-15 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Why Sabermetrics Needs Tra...
2014-04-07 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Beware of the Intentional ...
2014-04-01 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Complete Value of a Co...
2014-03-27 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Advances in Chemistry?
2014-03-24 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Complicated Recoveries...
2014-03-17 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Viability of Burying a...
2014-03-10 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Baseball Questions We'...
More...