I want to try something a little different this week. Oddly enough, I have to confess that it was inspired by Yordano Ventura. Ventura and his Kansas City Royals, who apparently think that they’ve won an American League Championship recently, have gone from the feel-good story of October 2014 to the feel-kinda-creepy-when-you-watch-them story of April 2015. Ventura is now serving a seven-game suspension for his role in a brawl with the White Sox and earlier was involved in a beanball war with the A’s.
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.
Last week, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote a rather curious column in which he asked a very simple question. Why do Major Leaguers high five each other so much? The issue came to light after the Milwaukee Brewers had to ban high fives for a little bit after an outbreak of pink eye in the clubhouse. (Makes sense, since pink eye is very transmissible.)
There's a new list of recommended ways to prevent serious elbow injuries. Now, how do we implement them?
On Wednesday, we had a news story involving Drs. James Andrews and Glenn Fleisig and Tommy John surgery. Normally when that’s the case, it means that someone’s season is over (and sadly, that’s been happening a lot lately). But this time, it was the good doctors responding to what they termed an “epidemic” of ulnar collateral ligament transplants (the actual name for Tommy John surgery) and offering some helpful tips to prevent the elbow injuries that require the procedure.
A look at the ESPN: The Magazine team chemistry rankings.
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.
Think your team has a great clubhouse culture? That's what they all say.
We’re 27 days away from the first pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. We’re also 27 days away from the first reporters reporting,* which means we’re no more than 28 days away from reading quotes about team chemistry.
Chemistry is confusing, and not just for those of us who haven’t played professional sports. Even among players, opinions on its value fall along a wide spectrum from “essential” to “superfluous.” On one extreme, you have Eric Hinske, who believes that one can’t win without chemistry (and whose presence was, conveniently enough, perceived to promote it):
On Thursday’s episode of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast, host Buster Olney, while discussing the Cardinals’ NLDS victory over the Pirates with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, made a comment that sabermetricians do not often discuss matters of team chemistry or clubhouse culture. (Well, maybeonceinawhile…) Olney then proceeded to talk about how he believed that one reason for the Cardinals’ success, both within the NLDS and more broadly over the past few years, has to do with the culture that the club has worked to cultivate. Olney cited, among other things, that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, himself worthy of some legitimate MVP support this year, is also one of the hardest workers on the team. Olney pointed out that Cardinals management (Tony LaRussa and, later, Mike Matheny) has gone out of its way to specifically ask its star players to set an example for the rest of the team. He reasoned that other players on the team see this sort of commitment from Molina and are inspired to commit themselves to similarly hard work, and pointed out that it’s rare for sabermetricians give much credence to this as a reason that some teams win while others fall by the wayside.
Just because teams can't necessarily measure clutchness and chemistry doesn't mean they don't have to think about how to buy it.
Baseball knowledge expands rapidly, inside the organized professional realm and out. We know things about outfield defense and batted balls and catcher pitch-receiving and pitcher skill and the best way to score a run that we did not know 10, 20, 50 years ago. There is also plenty we do not know, sometimes particular to baseball and sometimes dealing with general human knowledge as applied to baseball. (Think about questions of psychology, for instance.) The question, or one of the questions, if you're in a front office, is how these areas of knowledge intersect with your willingness to pay D dollars for player P.
Ben and Sam talk about Tim McCarver's impending retirement and share their thoughts on broadcasting, then discuss whether changes in players' routines have reduced the importance of clubhouse chemistry.
An attempt to quantify the effect a good clubhouse guy has on his teammates.
Brandon McCarthy thinks that Brandon Inge is worth 10 wins or so to a team behind closed doors. Jonny Gomes, too. Participating in a player panel at the SABR Analytics Conference earlier this month, McCarthy posited that if Inge and Gomes had been removed from the 2012 Oakland A's, they might have fallen from a 94-win team to a 70-win team, purely by virtue of being deprived of the effect the two players had in the clubhouse. According to WARP, Gomes was worth 2.2 wins last year, while Inge was worth 0.6. So, assuming that if neither had been on the team, they would have been replaced by... well, replacement level players, that means that Inge and Gomes somehow combined for 21.2 wins just by being good guys in the clubhouse.