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March 27, 2014 6:00 am

Baseball Therapy: Advances in Chemistry?


Russell A. Carleton

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.

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Why good team chemistry isn't necessarily what we think it is.

It’s one of the great unanswered questions in sabermetrics: Does team chemistry affect what you see on the field? I have a better question. What the heck is chemistry? I tend to be wary of words that have no explicit meaning, because they can mean anything, and undefined variables make for bad research. Ben Lindbergh recently found quotes uttered before the 2013 season from representatives of 25 of the 30 teams in MLB, who believed that their team had fantastic chemistry. Twenty-four of those teams did not win the World Series. In fact, some of them had really awful losing records. Ben found “great chemistry” quotes from the Astros, Marlins, Cubs, Twins, Mariners and White Sox, all of whom lost 90 games in 2013. If great chemistry is so important to a team, how is that possible?

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