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Chemistry Watch: The Giants and Marlins claim to have it

Feb 12, 2013, 9:40 AM EST

Periodic Table

Ah, team chemistry. The ultimate example of post hoc ergo propter hoc in baseball. We always credit winning teams with having it after the fact and, in most cases, attribute the actual winning to the chemistry. And if you try to fight against that you get a million people saying, in effect, “scoreboard!”

With that in mind, Brandon Belt had this to say when asked about all the moves the Dodgers made in the offseason:

When Belt was asked about the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers, he replied, to a thunderous ovation, “All I can say is, you can’t buy chemistry.” That statement will be sure to end up on a few blue bulletin boards.

Hey, if you want to say that the Giants won two of the past three World Series because of team chemistry as opposed to good pitching, timely hitting and a roster full of talented ballplayers that’s your prerogative. I’m eager to see you show me exactly what it was about those teams that evidences good chemistry that was not a product of, as opposed to a cause of, winning. But you can credit chemistry all you want.

But maybe we don’t need that. Maybe we’ll have an actual example of a team with great chemistry that is not attributable to winning: the Miami Marlins, who Joe Capozzi writes are all about character and chemistry and all of that stuff going forward. And character matters! Just ask coach Tino Martinez:

Although the 2013 Marlins are young and inexperienced, new hitting coach Tino Martinez said he sees parallels with the New York Yankees team he played on that won the 1996 World Series.

“We didn’t have a lot of superstars. We had a young Derek Jeter, a young Bernie Williams, a young Andy Pettitte. We had a great group of guys who worked hard every day,” Martinez said.

Sure. That was all about attitude. It had nothing to do with the fact that the team had no less than three first ballot Hall of Famers on it and multiple other players who either will be in the Hall of Fame or who will stay on Hall of Fame ballots for many years.

Anyway: let’s watch the Marlins’ chemistry all year and see if it maintains on a 90+ loss team. And, if for some reason the Giants don’t make the playoffs this year, let’s make a point to see when, exactly, the chemistry left them.

  1. Kleinz 57 - Feb 12, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Don’t be ridiculous, Craig. Of course the Marlins have chemistry.

    Remind me, what do you add to bleach to get chlorine gas? Ammonia? The Marlins have that.

  2. kirkvanhouten - Feb 12, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    I think the most apt quote about team chemistry came from Sir Ozzie Smith (I presume he’s been knighted by now).

    “Let me put it like this: You know, people ask me how do you spell chemistry, I spell good chemistry w-i-n. When you win, chemistry is always there… When you’re losing it’s just like anything—you fight with your brothers… with the daily grind of everything, the more you win, the better things are.”

    Good teams tend to have better chemistry because they’re good teams. They aren’t good teams because they have chemistry.

  3. Charles Gates - Feb 12, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    I thought a team having chemistry was a euphemism for a team using PEDs.

  4. sdelmonte - Feb 12, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    I always think about the “chemistry” of The Bronx Zoo. They had chemistry in the same way nitroglycerine does.

    • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:30 AM

      Good point. The Red Sox “25 guys, 25 cabs” teams were good too, and they were famous for their lack of chemistry. And it’s not like those are obscure examples. It’s weird how people who talk about “chemistry” never seem to remember them.

  5. gotmelk - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    It’s not the chemistry that’s makes them win, it’s the fact that they are a good team that also has chemistry. Could you imagine if there was a clubhouse that hated each others guts and they’re trying to win a division down the stretch, it’s just not gonna happen.

    • jerryball22 - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      Ummm Kent and Bonds weren’t exactly best buds and they had success…the 86 Mets were a disaster off the field and that worked out alright for them…

    • kirkvanhouten - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:22 AM

      Yes, I can. They were called the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s. They won 3 consecutive World Series and their dislike of each other and lack of chemistry is very well documented.

      From a strictly logical standpoint, how much effect would your relationship with another player affect your ability to hit a baseball?

    • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      As noted above, Bronx Zoo Yankees, and the “25 guys, 25 cabs” Red Sox of the mid-70s.

      The 1912 Red Sox went 105-47 and won the WS. And their clubhouse was famously divided on religious lines: Irish Catholics vs. Southern Baptists.

      The 1940 Cleveland Indians were known as the “Crybabies”. The players got sick of their manager Ossie Vitt constantly berating them and revolted, petitioning the owner to fire Vitt in the middle of the season. They went 47-40 the rest of the way and were in the pennant race all the way to the final day.

      I’m pretty sure the 1907-09 Tigers, winners of three straight pennants, weren’t all best buddies with Ty Cobb.

      The Black Sox were good, but they weren’t a tight clubhouse.

      The 1947 Dodgers started spring training with several players insisting they wouldn’t play with Jackie Robinson. Several guys asked to be traded, and were, but not until after the season ended in the cases of Dixie Walker and Eddy Stanky. And yet the Dodgers won the pennant.

  6. Robert H. - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    I think you overstate your case when you say “no less than three first ballot Hall of Famers.” I assume you’re referring to Boggs, Jeter, and Rivera. But it’s not like those guys–or anyone else on that team–had MVP seasons in 1996 specifically. Boggs was on his way downhill and Jeter and Rivera were kids. They were good, but not stars. (Actually that might’ve been Mo’s best year by some measures, but he wasn’t even closing yet.)
    I’m not a big believer in chemistry, but I think Tino’s right that there wasn’t any one huge star on that team, rather there were a lot of guys with solid contributions. No one in the lineup had even 4 WAR per bref, but there were 5 guys between 2.5 and 3.8. I don’t know how that compares with other championship teams, but it certainly speaks to a lack of superstars.

  7. Glenn - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    Chemistry gives a team momentum and grit so they can be better in the clutch.

    • kirkvanhouten - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:26 AM

      …and you are basing this on what exactly? And no, I don’t consider “straight from your ass” a reliable source.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:37 AM

        Oh come on, the only way that sarcasm would be more obvious is if the name was Joe Morgan instead of Glenn…

      • kirkvanhouten - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        I gracefully accept this rebuke and hereby apologize for my terrible sarcasm detecting abilities.

    • indaburg - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:27 AM

      That’s right. Old school, baby.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:21 AM

        At all times, I have chemistry and grit in my purse (beano & emery boards).

      • indaburg - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        Beano? We don’t need an iPhart. I know who did it now.

      • cur68 - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        Busted!

  8. Old Gator - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:27 AM

  9. kirkvanhouten - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    A couple of quotes from people who actually study this type of thing:

    “So much of psychology and sociology emphasizes the importance of communicating and creating strong bonds to improve group performance, but in a lot of situations that is just not how it works,” said Dr. Calvin Morrill, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied group behavior in competitive corporate situations and in high schools. “Baseball is an odd mix of an individual and team sport, and an ideal example of where a diffuse team with weak ties to one another may help the overall functionality of the group.”

    “Winning is more likely to create team unity than vice versa, Torre has said repeatedly, and the evidence backs him up, said Dr. Richard Moreland, a professor of psychology and management at the University of Pittsburgh. Team cohesion is a hard thing to measure in the first place, Dr. Moreland said, and dozens of studies of sports teams find that, although having players who feel team unity helps performance, “it is not a strong effect, compared to the effect of performance on cohesion.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/07/sports/baseball/07psych.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5088&en=eda8081a39f14d22&ex=1267938000&partner=rssnyt&_r=0

  10. unclemosesgreen - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Chemistry matters much more in other sports, baseball is more like a series of individual confrontations than a group effort.

    For instance in basketball, bad chemistry often leads to poor ball rotation on offense and decreased productivity. There is a similar effect in soccer that breaks down the passing and off-ball movement on teams with infighting issues. In football, offensive linemen have been known to let defensive linemen charge past to destroy chemistry-challenged quarterbacks. I don’t really see any similar problem in baseball. Give me the best 25 players to manage, and I don’t care if they like each other or not.

    • Cris E - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      This isn’t necessarily always so much about liking as trusting. If you don’t trust the guys hitting behind you to shorten up their swings and move a base runner then you might not try to do it either. Late in a game why be the only one not playing for the HR? I’m not talking about making Productive Outs, I’m talking about ill-chosen over-swings. If you “know” what the next guy is going to do and you don’t like it there can be a temptation to get out of your own game and do too much. You’ve got a guy at first and K-HR guy like Mark Reynolds hitting behind you it’s easy to hear a little voice saying “He’s going to K, so swing hard.”

      You can have pitchers trying to strike out the world if they don’t trust the fielders to make plays or relievers to pick them up. Catchers call for fastballs to prevent SB and fielders play out of position to cover for other guys. Even if the next guy isn’t terribly weak, you might still find yourself messing up your own game because you don’t think he’ll do his job, and then the team has two holes instead of one.

      It’s not a two win difference or anything, but there can be more to chemistry than liking or not liking each other.

  11. geoknows - Feb 12, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    How in heaven’s name would anybody in Miami, or anywhere else for that matter, know whether the Marlins have chemistry? It’s a bunch of guys who, for the most part, have never played together and probably barely know each other.

  12. raysfan1 - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    The Marlins know the equation
    NaOH + HCl –> H2O + NaCl.
    Therefore they have chemistry.

    • Old Gator - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Yeah, they produce that stuff to sprinkle on our wounds.

    • indaburg - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      But the Marlins’ chemistry will smell like SO2.

  13. ptfu - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    The Dodgers are all about chemistry! The element “LA” has its own row named after it on the periodic table, for crying out loud. LA is literally on its own level. The Dodgers are merely following LA’s chemistry :-)

    • Old Gator - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:26 PM

      Twenty five electrons in the K-shell.

  14. losanginsight - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Thanks for the bulletin board material.

  15. Marty - Feb 12, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    I’ll take the opinion of the professional baseball first baseman with a World Series ring over the bald headed blogger.

    • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      What about the opinions of the players for the Bronx Zoo Yankees, the early ’70s A’s, the 1947 Dodgers, the 1907-09 Tigers, the 1912 Red Sox, the 1940 Indians, and the many, many other teams that won a bunch of games despite having terrible chemistry? What about the opinion of former professional shortstop Ozzie Smith, quoted by an earlier commenter?

      I am really looking forward to you explaining how Ozzie was misquoted, and how it’s just myth-spouting bloggers who think that the Bronx Zoo Yankees, early ’70s A’s, the 1947 Dodgers, etc. had bad chemistry. But don’t explain just yet, let me get my popcorn first.

      • Marty - Feb 12, 2013 at 3:05 PM

        Jeremy, even bald men get laid once in a while.

      • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        But if bald men get laid repeatedly, and men with full heads of hair fail to get laid repeatedly, and a guy named “Ozzie” who everyone agrees has been hugely successful at getting laid says that getting laid has nothing to do with how much hair you have, would you respond by just shrugging and going “even bald guys get lucky once in a while”.

        I’d ask you how many more winning-but-fractious teams you’d like to have pointed out to you, and how many more quotes from Hall of Famers saying that winning creates chemistry rather than reverse you’d like to have. But I’m not going to bother. Clearly you’d rather just troll, and spout the cliches that you grew up with, rather than offer any evidence for your views. Never mind what that moron Ozzie Smith thinks. He never played the game. Plus he’s bald.

    • aiede - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      Bald or not (and Craig’s dome really is breathtaking in person, it’s a good thing Allison bought him a Tigers cap to cover it), I’ll take his unbiased opinion over that of Martinez. Part of Tino’s job is to find nice things to say about the product the Marlins are putting on the field this season.

  16. 49ersgiants4life - Feb 12, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Those old examples don’t really work because the guys who were superstars weren’t really getting paid the way superstars are today winning was a lot more important back then there are tons of MLB players who sign huge contracts and then become complacent not just talking about the dodgers either the angels made huge signings last year and were suppose to win the World Series and if you don’t think a pitcher and catcher need chemistry then I don’t think you understand baseball

    • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      Um, most of your comment has nothing to do with team chemistry, it has to do with individuals not living up to big contracts and you attributing that to them getting complacent (as opposed, I’m guessing, to them getting old and/or injured, which is mostly why guys don’t live up to big contracts).

      But let’s grant for the sake of argument that wide disparities in pay on a team are a cause of lack of chemistry. On that view, how can any team in the majors possibly have any chemistry at all? Every team, even the Pirates, has guys making many millions/year, and guys making the minimum.

      Plus, even back before free agency, there were guys who made many, many times what their teammates made. In 1930, Babe Ruth made $80,000 while the average salary was something like $5000. How did Babe Ruth stay focused on what was, at the time, an absolutely massive salary? How did the Yankees manage not to implode with jealousy?

      And as a Giants fan like yourself surely knows, Barry Bonds wasn’t too popular with his teammates, and made a lot more money than most of them, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him, and them, from playing well and winning a lot of games…

  17. bh192012 - Feb 12, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Try not to mix arguments here. There are at least 2 differnt ideas people are arguing here. Whether good team chemistry can help a team and whether bad team chemistry can hurt a team. Also ya’ll will want to factor in whether you’re talking in absolutes or not. Realistically if there is any effect from good/bad chemistry, it’s a small effect. A team of children ball players with good chemistry will not beat a MLB team with bad chemistry!

    I think ’12 teams of Red Sox and Marlins are some examples of where bad chemistry can hurt a team. Teams that seemed like they should be much better, but were less than the sum of their parts. There seemed to be antagonistic friction between management and players. It seemed to stunt their growth or lower their ceiling.

    The A’s seemed like the opposite where they had “good chemistry” even at the beginning of the year when they were not winning, but it seemed to help keep them treading water until they started to break out. Friendly competition between players kept them growing.

    I don’t think it’s a big effect, maybe a couple wins +/- over the course of a season. I think it’s not universal either, it all depends on how specific players react to the environment. Some players have tougher skin than others.

  18. stoneygroove - Feb 12, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Chemistry is obviously hard to define…but whatever it is the Giants have it. I’m not sure of the percentage it plays when you throw in great pitching, timely hitting and talent, but it is there. To deny that they play looser and more flexible in terms of position/rotation/batting order than teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and Tigers is silly. Did you see Verlander react to his pitching coach when he had the nerve to come to the mound in game 1?

    • Jeremy Fox - Feb 12, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      Wait, so now chemistry is something that successful teams have *by definition*? So it’s just a synonym for “playing well”? Or it means playing “loose”? Or it means “flexibility” in terms of position, batting order, and order in which you set up your rotation? Boy, it’s almost as if people are so sure that “chemistry” is both good and important that they’re willing to define it as “anything I can think of that seems to be good and important”. I look forward to “chemistry” being defined as “having lots of players who are good at hitting home runs”.

  19. 4cornersfan - Feb 12, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    As Dmitri Mendeleev famously said: “The magnitude of the atomic weight determines the character of the element, just as the magnitude of the molecule determines the character of a compound body.”

  20. snowbirdgothic - Feb 12, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Presumably by “Chemistry” they mean the Marlins will be reuniting Semisonic for a post-game show at some point this year.

  21. aroomadazda - Feb 12, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Regardless of whether or not having good chemistry can help a team win a few more games, it sure seems like it would at least help the players enjoy themselves more. All things considered I would rather play on a winning team with good relationships that a winning team with clubhouse tension. So, from Brandon’s perspective, why not say that. Can’t hurt.

  22. mazblast - Feb 12, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    To use an old paraphrase of an old advertising slogan, “Better lovin’ through chemistry.”

    Personally, I think the Marlins are more likely to find the Miami “chemistry” scene much more to their liking than the team’s internal “chemistry”.

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