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Kevin Millar, chemistry and the Cubs

Feb 6, 2010, 10:33 AM EDT

Kevin Millar.jpgKevin Millar makes the case for his value to the Cubs:

“Everybody is looking at stats … I get it. But my point is when you’re making a team
and trying to bring in a bunch of different personalities I think
everybody’s got a certain amount of intangibles that they bring.

“Obviously, I’ll bring some leadership qualities. I’ve won a World
Series. Having a chance to play with guys like Ryan Dempster and Derrek
Lee, we came up together in Florida. It’s trying to make a family
atmosphere and trying to get everybody to pull on the same rope and
trying to get everybody to believe that we can do this.”

There’s a saying among lawyers: when the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law.  In Millar’s case you can substitute with “skills” and “chemistry.”  The skills, unfortunately, are no longer there:  Millar is a first base/DH type who can’t hit enough to carry that job, and there’s little reason to think that he’ll add anything positive from a baseball prospective to the Cubs’ 2010 season.  It appears based on his comments that even he knows that, and to that extent it’s actually refreshing to hear that he is not deluded about his abilities the way so many other close-to-the-end ballplayers have been before him.

But what about the chemistry? Does it matter? Is it worth giving Millar a spot on the roster?

I won’t go so far as some of my sabermetic colleagues and suggest that chemistry is totally  meaningless. After all, we’ve all worked with jerks before, and while a jerk can’t necessarily make you any less good at your job, in the aggregate, one can bring down the group’s performance.  By all accounts, Kevin Millar is a great guy to have in the clubhouse, and as long as you’re not giving him too many plate appearances, it’s nice to have a fun guy around, especially after a summer with Milton Bradley on the team.

But really, chemistry is almost always a retrospective application that, in the context of baseball, approaches meaningless.  Teams that win are later said to have good chemistry (except when they don’t have good chemistry).  I’ve yet to hear anyone refer to a team that went 76-86 as having good chemistry. And of course, unlike basketball and football, where the whole concept of chemistry was probably invented, baseball has comparatively few true “teamwork” moments. You basically have the double play and relay throws and a whole bunch of individual as opposed to team moments.

At the end of the day, you have to ask: would anyone be talking about Kevin Millar and all of the intangibles he brings to the table if Dave Roberts had been tagged out at second in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS?

  1. YX - Feb 6, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    I actually haven’t see any (non-pretend) sabermetic people say that “chemistry is meaningless”, just it hasn’t been quantified.
    It’s common sense, really. If everyone at your work place are arseholes, you wouldn’t enjoy it as much and wouldn’t be motivated as much, productivity would suffer. The fact that they are paid millions to play a game doesn’t change that.

  2. APBA Guy - Feb 6, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    Shockingly, last year’s A’s were said by many observers here to have had good chemistry. They guys appeared to get along great, aside from Holliday there was nobody there who obviously didn’t want to be there, and even he tried to get along by all accounts. Their record:
    75-87.

  3. Bret - Feb 6, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Don’t you mean if Dave Roberts was thrown out in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS?

  4. Gordon & Barb Young - Feb 6, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    I agree that team chemistry is very important, almost more important than talent. The Yankees lost much more than they have realized when Bernie Williams, Tino Rodrigues and Paul O’Neill left. Johnny Damon was a help, talent and chemistry wise, but he didn’t turn the Yankees around by himself. I think Nick Swisher and A J were the last pieces of the puzzle to improve the chemistry, then the talent could do the rest.

  5. Phil - Feb 6, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    The Yankees lost much more than they have realized when Bernie Williams, Tino Rodrigues and Paul O’Neill left.
    Yeah, but think of how much the got back when they traded for Alex Martinez.

  6. Old Gator - Feb 6, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    You know, I think maybe since it is baseball we’re talking about, we should stop throwing the word “chemistry” around like this. I mean, haven’t we had enough trouble with…chemistry in this game? Well, yeah, if you want to bring up Wade Boggs and Margo Adams, or Peterson and Kekich, or the issue of strange in general, I guess you could say we’ve had some issues with biology as well. And of course, if we’re talking about the effects of oxygen depletion and decreased atmospheric pressure in places like Coors Field, I guess you could also say we’ve had issues with physics. And then there’s geology – just ask the Giants and Athletics about that. Nor should we forget meteorology – rainouts here in Macondo at Joeprodolsharklife Stadium aren’t due to some Santeria deity pissing on your head, you know?
    .
    When you get right down to it, the sciences have been nothing but trouble for baseball and its fans. Hell, the sabremetrics geeks are still scratching their heads trying to find that elusive even integer of Pi, and they’re sure it’s out there someplace. It’s too bad George W. Bush couldn’t have remained in office for another decade or two; his fundamentalist asshole advisers would have had the time to throw science into the dumpster altogether along with evolutionary biology. Then we’d be discussing all baseball-related phenomena in terms of angels in the outfield.

  7. GimmeSomeSteel - Feb 6, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    When you hinted at great teams with no “chemistry”, my non-New-York-centric mind thought of the early Seventies Oakland teams first. They literally fought each other in the clubhouse, but won five straight AL West titles and three consecutive World Series under two managers.

  8. Steve - Feb 6, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    The bad chemistry in baseball occurs on teams that have either no feelings or repressed dislike. If it’s out in the open, it’s fine. But get into the dog days of summer, and it’s like any other job — your energy level is affected after months of repetitive work. And baseball is a surprising amount of work that most fans don’t see.

  9. TimberLee - Feb 6, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    … and I probably would have done better in high school chemistry if I’d had more baseball.

  10. willmose - Feb 6, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    You are all wrong! The Cubs do need chemistry. With just the right chemistry, the whole team could blow up!

  11. search engine optimisation - Feb 8, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    Hello, nice post. I look forward to your next post. Thanks, Julie

  12. Matthew C. Kriner - Feb 8, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    Most articles you see these days are very poorly written and lack a sense of direction. This article on the other hand is very well written and on focus

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