Monday, October 12, 2015

0 comments Advanced Statistics Loses Again to Team Chemistry

I am always amused at articles that say, "There is no way Sabermetrics can say whether a team will have chemistry or not," as if there is a way to measure chemistry and it's only Sabermetrics or advanced statistics that come up short in an attempt to quantify team chemistry. Chemistry can't be measured all, so there is no telling if a team will have it or not until that team plays together. Bob Nightengale writes an article about how chemistry in baseball still matters. It's still real to him, dammit!

As always, there are the "numbers can't measure chemistry!" quotes from players, as if it's news that something which can't be measured can't actually be measured. Chemistry matters, sure, but anyone claiming they know how to create chemistry between players on a team is lying. But yeah, it's only advanced metrics that fall short in measuring how much chemistry a team has. Teams never know if they will have chemistry until practice or games actually start.

In a sport where the desire to quantify every movement only grows with each season, it is a sabermetric aficionado’s worst nightmare.

Sunlight and not being able to use a computer. The worst of all worlds.

You can’t measure it. You can’t define it. You can’t put a number on it.

So it's the worst nightmare of pretty much any coach, GM, or owner because there is no way to know what the result will be. 

We’re talking about clubhouse chemistry, and the culture that can raise a major league team to extraordinary heights without having the biggest payroll or most talent.

How to get it? Nobody fucking knows. What is known is that Sabermetricians can't measure it and that means Sabermetrics are useless. Sure, traditional statistical metrics can't measure it either, but who cares and let's all move on now. 

“It’s really undervalued,’’ St. Louis Cardinals veteran starter John Lackey told USA TODAY Sports, “especially in today’s world with all of the numbers guys.”

It's undervalued because there is no way to tangibly get chemistry and it can't be measured by any metric. So there is no way to value chemistry, hence it is undervalued. It's like anyone who enjoys working with the people they work with. It's not undervalued to enjoy the people you work with, but it's something that either happens or doesn't when working with a group of people. You can hire individuals who you think will fit in, but you never know for sure if a new hire will like his/her co-workers. This is as opposed to knowing when you hire someone who has a Masters Degree in Accounting, it's a safe assumption that he/she does actually know something tangible about Accounting that could help the organization. 

We can put all kinds of numbers on players’ talent, from RBI to WAR, to ERA to FIP, but when it comes to the heart and soul of a clubhouse, there remains no measuring stick.

Because there can't be. Chemistry is intangible. Assigning specific importance to chemistry is fine, but emphasizing how statistics can't measure it is shockingly obvious. Hustle and grit can't be measured either, which pleases many old-school sportswriters and professional athletes when they prepare to write a column about a gritty, white player whose heart is bigger than his talent level.

“The numbers guys can’t quantify that one,’’ Lackey said, “so they don’t want to believe in it.’’

Okay Piggy, nobody said those who used advanced statistics don't want to believe in chemistry. In fact, Alex Anthopoulos is a noted user of advanced statistics and he is quoted in this article many times about the importance of chemistry. So you know, John Lackey should probably focus a little bit more on pitching and a little bit less on trying to believe he understands the position of Sabermetricians regarding team chemistry. 

You want to know what chemistry and culture is about, peek inside the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse. They’ve won three of the last five World Series. Maybe they’ve had the best manager in Bruce Bochy, and GM too in Brian Sabean, but never have they had the best talent.

The team with the most talent doesn't always win the World Series, but attributing the difference in the team with the most perceived talent and teams with lesser perceived talent simply to chemistry is probably an oversimplification.  

“Come on, how to do you put a number on a guy like (Chicago Cubs backup catcher David Ross) and what he brings to the clubhouse? This guy hit (.184) last year, and he got multiple two-years deals on the table. Why is that?’’

Because he's a veteran clubhouse presence who has experience working with pitching staffs and he isn't going to be expensive. 

Indeed, you step into the Cubs’ clubhouse these days, and no one is talking about Ross’ .186 batting average and seven RBI. They’re too busy raving about his powerful influence on a club featuring four rookies in the everyday lineup.

David Ross does more for team chemistry than the Cubs starting catcher, yet David Ross isn't the starting catcher. Why is that? Oh wait, that's right. This discussion of chemistry is supposed to entirely ignore talent. Ross had less than 400 at-bats over the last three years (as of the time this column was written), since he's so valuable in the clubhouse, then why do you suppose he's not in the starting lineup everyday? Probably because catchers with greater talent are getting the majority of the at-bats.

Chemistry is important. Absolutely. John Lackey should also realize that David Ross doesn't need to be on the field to help his team, while those players who do have skills that can be quantified are the ones getting the majority of the at-bats. So the whole "they can't quantify chemistry" argument has merit as long as those players whose contribution can be quantified aren't having their substantial impact on the team's success ignored.

“He means so much to every single person in here,’’ Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

Go ahead, try to put a number on that.

$2.5 million this year. That's his salary. That's the number on how much his contribution means to the Cubs. 

If you go by the numbers, the Royals were supposed to win just 72 games this year, according to Baseball Prospectus’ projection system, PECOTA. 

PECOTA is wrong again this year. They had the Royals at 80-82. Though it's important to know the Royals play in the only division in the majors where only one team has a positive run differential (the Royals), so there is a case to be made that the Royals are going to beat the PECOTA projections handily, but they are also in a weak division. It doesn't take anything away from them, but these are "projections" not "certainties based on data and information that is never wrong."

The Cardinals, who have had more injuries to key players than any team, shouldn’t be leading their division, let alone be on pace to eclipse 100 victories, if you go strictly by sheer talent.

I would completely and utterly disagree. The Cardinals, even prior to the season had one of the strongest and deepest pitching staffs in the majors. It is discussed at length how the Cardinals have great minor league depth (THE CARDINALS WAY!) and when injuries occur they can survive them easier than most MLB teams. If a person is going to be so ridiculous as to look to individual talent on a baseball team rather than the depth of talent on a team's roster, then obviously a team with few players who have a high level of individual talent would be misjudged. Teams should not be judged by sheer talent on the roster though. Teams should be judged by talent at each spot on the roster and the depth of that talent on the roster. The Cardinals have talent at each spot on the roster and they have depth. Going by sheer talent is a dumb way to evaluate a team in the first place. 

“People that don’t understand what team chemistry means don’t work in baseball,’’ Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price said.

Right, everyone knows a team needs good chemistry to help them be successful. A team also needs talent. Teams that win titles have both. To indicate advanced statistics are useless because it can't measure a team's chemistry is to make it an "either/or" argument and entirely miss the point. I don't expect much else from baseball players though. They are traditionally stuck in the past and not open to new ideas. 

“You look at the Giants, and they’re not more talented than everyone else every year, but they’re so close, and together. The Cardinals are the same way. They definitely have talent, but they’re no more talented than a lot of the teams they’re beating every day.

I would absolutely disagree with this. How come the Giants' team chemistry doesn't allow them to win the World Series during odd-numbered years? Does the team just forget about their chemistry in those years or something?

And as I stated before, it has been discussed at-length in multiple publications how the Cardinals have great organizational depth, so I would argue they are more talented than the teams they are beating every day.

“The Cardinals are unbelievable. They lose their ace (Adam Wainwright). They lose their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in (Matt) Adams and (Matt Holliday). And they’re still winning. They’re just unreal.

Again, the Cardinals were very deep in the starting rotation prior to the start of the season. There is a reason they could afford to trade Shelby Miller. The media always wants it both ways. They want to talk about how great the Cardinals are at producing players through their minor league system, while also claiming the team has lesser talent than other teams. 

The Blue Jays placed more emphasis on a player’s character than any time in GM Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure. He shipped out the guy who didn’t fit in. He chose character over talent. There’s a reason why 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins is now in the Blue Jays’ bullpen instead of Jonathan Papelbon.

Well yeah, nobody likes Jonathan Papelbon. I do like how Nightengale is using Anthopoulos as the example of a GM who loves chemistry, since he is a GM who has in the past emphasized Sabermetrics. It's almost like a team has to have talent AND chemistry. That couldn't be true though. 

“We really, really, emphasized that,’’ Anthopoulos said, “more than we ever have.

Yes, they went against having talent for chemistry by trading for Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. What rebels they are to favor chemistry over talent in these cases. They traded for one of the best players at shortstop, third base and pitcher for the chemistry it gave the team, while blatantly ignoring whether these guys are talented or not.

“Every team goes through ups and downs, and I think with a better clubhouse and with better character, that allows you to handle the downs a lot. That’s the separator. So rather than the floor caving in on you, you stay afloat.

“We’ll find out if it works.’’

Obviously you can't throw a team together that hates each other or won't complement each other. That much is obvious. Winning creates chemistry and so figuring out how a team can win (find some talented players is always a good start) is important too. 

Certainly, adding a guy like Price at the trade deadline, and having MVP favorite Josh Donaldson the entire season, may have something to do with the Blue Jays’ success, too.

Nah, I'm sure the fact they are two of the best at their position in terms of skill level has nothing to do with the Blue Jays' success. 

Yet, manager John Gibbons can’t stop raving about Donaldson’s leadership skills, and Price is revered throughout the game.

What helps Donaldson be a leader? The fact he's also a really good baseball player. Players who are good at baseball can naturally set a good example for the rest of the team to follow. 

“We were looking for a special type of player, even if it meant passing on some talent,’’ Anthopoulos said, “making sure every player we acquired fit.

“I think it’s important David Price fit into in the clubhouse, but let’s don’t forget he’s got a (2.40) ERA, too.’’

Irrelevant. Don't try to measure David Price's chemistry by putting it in terms of his ERA. 

Sure, you’ve got to have talent to win, but talent alone doesn’t guarantee a thing. If the standings were based strictly on talent, you think the Washington Nationals would be trailing the New York Mets by five games?

If the Nationals had the hitting that the Blue Jays have, do you think they would be trailing the Mets by five games? The Blue Jays have scored more than 150 more runs than the Nationals. But I'm sure that's all chemistry-based run scoring. 

“If you have good clubhouse chemistry, you going to win,’’ New York Yankees veteran starter CC Sabathia said. “It’s not something you can fake. It’s real.

“You look at the Giants. Those guys love each other, and they win. They get a guy like Peavy. You see what (Tim) Hudson has meant for them. It’s the real thing.’’

I would have to again ask why the Giants can't seem to win the World Series during odd numbered years with a roster that doesn't change dramatically. Is their chemistry just forgotten during certain years? 

Sure, numbers are fine for fantasy leagues, but if you want to truly define a player’s value, or recognize the importance significance of clubhouse culture, it’s time to wake up and embrace character, too.

I think most people recognize the value of character and embrace this value. The fact statistics are used to evaluate players doesn't mean clubhouse culture is ignored.

“I think we’re losing part of our game because so many of these people in charge don’t have the scouting background or playing background,’’ Peavy said.

One minute David Price says people who don't understand how chemistry works don't work in baseball and the next minute Jake Peavy says there are some who work in baseball who don't understand chemistry. By the way, the Giants use analytics. I wouldn't be surprised if Jake Peavy didn't know this and just thought the Giants had hired nerds so there would be someone around to give a swirlie to, because giving swirlies to nerds is a well-known way to help a team's chemistry.

“You can have all of the education you want, and break down every number you want, but unless you get to know what’s inside a player, you really don’t know the player.’’

Yes, probably. But when scouting high school or college baseball players it is nearly impossible to know how their personality will fit into that MLB team's personality and clubhouse culture 2-6 years from now. What is possible to project is that player's talent. It doesn't mean talent is the end-all, but it does explain why players aren't drafted based on chemistry instead of perceived talent. 

The Royals certainly noticed the tepid external expectations. Public relations director Mike Swanson, in his recent pre-game notes, reminded everyone of Baseball Prospectus’ projected 72-90 record.

“Fortunately, games are won on a field and not on paper,’’ Swanson wrote in the Royals’ notes distributed to the media, “thus a computer ‘time out’ might be appropriate for some.”

Hilarious. Swanson may be forgetting the Royals were one failed rally away from being knocked out of the idiotic Wild Card game. Yep, talent had something to do with the Royals going to the World Series.

“We had our Moneyball movie, and they didn’t even win,’’ Peavy said of the Oakland Athletics. “How about let’s make a movie about the good ol’ fashioned baseball people, and how they judge team chemistry, and put together guys that fit in.

Great idea. I get the feeling Jake Peavy isn't a threat to appear on "Jeopardy" any time soon. Unless the topic is "Good ol' fashioned baseball people" I'm thinking he's probably better at throwing a ball than he is a-thinkin' with his head. 

“How about a movie about a team that actually wins in the end?’’

I believe that movie was made 25 years ago and it is called "Major League." Or maybe it is called "The Natural," "Bad News Bears," "Angels in the Outfield," "Little Big League," "Rookie of the Year," or one of the dozens of baseball movies made about a team that actually wins in the end. Great point, Jake Peavy.

There should be a movie called "Chemistry" where a team of baseball players who don't have the talent to play in the majors are all traded to the same team, then win the World Series because they all get along so well. Jake Peavy would love this.

You can't measure team chemistry, so maybe someone should create a dating website for baseball players so GM's can know which players will have the most in common and therefore enjoy spending time with each other. It can be like for athletes. Or is that too much like trying to measure chemistry? Maybe other MLB teams should try to create the chemistry the Blue Jays have by trading for three great players and seeing if that helps them win more games. I don't know, getting really talented players could work to help a team win more games.