Nation STATion: Chemistry equation

Nation STATion: Chemistry equation
October 27, 2011, 4:44 pm
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This season Nation STATion has focused on the numbers in and around the Red Sox. We have so much more information now than ever before. I heard Bill James say that while we have more stats and knowledge, what we still dont know about the game is huge, we are like a small island of information in the middle of the ocean.

One area that we cant seem to use numbers to get a handle is team chemistry. There are those who assert that team chemistry is a myth, kind of like global warming and evolution. They state that winning teams have great team chemistry, while losing teams dont and that only proves that teams get along better when they win. While that may be true, invariably that looks at the results and attributes characteristics in retrospect.

I expect more from smart businessmen. I expect guys like Reed Hastings and Theo Epstein to understand the role relationships play in the success of an organization. If you cant find what team Hastings is affiliated with, youre looking in the wrong place. Hasting is the CEO of Netflix and it was his idea to divide its movie rental service into two businesses, one offering streaming movies over the Internet, the other offering DVDs in the mail. Subscribers revolted and hundreds of thousands dropped the service and the stock plummeted. Hastings forgot about the chemistry his company had with its customers who didnt give a second thought to the Netflix monthly charge on their credit card until the relationship was disrupted.

Theo did the same thing with the Red Sox a year ago. Faced with a team that finished in third place in 2010, he and others in charge forgot that faced with daunting injuries, the Sox in 2010 were like the Little Engine that could. They battled and battled until they had nothing left to give. A far cry from the 2011 team, wouldnt you agree?

Theo, like Hastings, looked at the numbers and figured he could make it work. He could make NESN more relevant and the team more successful by bringing in BIG NAMES, even though the team he had did not need the names, they needed pitching and health.

Theo had two team leaders in the two veterans: Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. Check through any article you want from Texas and Detroit and they will support that contention. But Theo was determined to get Adrian Gonzalez over the offseason and there is no way you can convince me that the Sox would have not been a better team in 2011 with:

Kevin Youkilis at first
Adrian Beltre at third
Victor Martinez at DH, catcher, and first

And without . . .

Acquiring Adrian Gonzalez
Re-signing David Ortiz
Signing Carl Crawford

Then . . .

The Sox would have had the prospects to trade for Doug Fister instead of him going to Detroit and Boston settling for Erik Bedard.
The Sox would be in the mix to get Gonzo, Albert Pujols, or Prince Fielder this offseason.

Before the start of the 2010 season, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times interviewed Bill James and he specifically asked James about the Sox and the issue of team chemistry. This is part of James response:

I know that we spend an immense amount of time worrying about it," James said. "I think the average person has a hard time relating to it, in part because: a) the amounts of money involved are so phenomenal that people think that with that much money you have no problems. And b) it's a game. It's fun to play baseball. That's what people think. I think most people can understand that if you have 210 work days, and 230, and you had to travel with the people that you work with, there would be a really, really low tolerance for eccentric behavior in the workplace. You may have co-workers that you don't exactly get along with, but that's what weekends are for and you only deal with them seven or eight hours a day. In baseball, there really ain't no weekends, and you have to be around those people a really great amount of time. And if they grate on your nerves, it gets to be a really long season.

James added that when he is asked in a public forum is, can the people who work with you make you less productive or more productive? He responds:

Baseball would be a quite remarkable activity if it was the one place in the world where your co-workers didn't have any impact on how productive you were. But in fact, baseball is a high-stress occupation and those sort of stress-inducing activities have a sort of, just have a huge impact on how the team functions, I think.

Despite understanding this, if there is a consistent foible in Theos player personnel decisions, its that he always opts for the less dynamic personality and he sees that as a strength. For example:

Dice-K remained a loner amongst his fellow pitchers, so much so that it went beyond the language barrier.
J.D. Drew is so disengaged that if he didnt keep hobbling off the field you wouldnt even notice him.
David Ortiz has a great personality but he seems self-centered, plus as a DH, hes not on the field.
The Captain did not play regularly and always seemed more cerebral than emotional.
Adrian Gonzalez is a deeply religious man who looks to outer sources for his strength and seemed somewhat overwhelmed with the hubbub in the Hub after playing in near anonymity in San Diego.
Carl Crawford played in the AL East, but while Tampa has a warmer climate, he seemed to have trouble with the constant heat of attention in Boston. He never seemed to have fun.
It appears as if Kevin Youkilis shows more annoying characteristics than leadership skills.
Marco Scutaro has always been viewed as a placeholder for the next shortstop whether it be Jed Lowrie or Jose Iglesias.

That left it to the kids and while I would be quite content with 25 Dustin Pedroias, he was regarded as Titos boy and could only do so much. Jacoby Ellsbury still was estranged from the team as a result of his miserable 2010 experience and carried little weight despite carrying the team with his bat.

One veteran the Sox management looked to was Josh Beckett and he proved to be more of a good ol' boy than team leader. Jonathan Papelbon, who has grown up with the Sox, was out in the bullpen only to be used when a game was in hand. Tim Wakefield seemed absorbed with his 200th win. Jon Lester was a follower not a leader, and John Lackey was falling apart physically and psychologically.

So, now Terry and Theo are gone and it will be up to Ben and Larry to put together a team and find a leader. I can tell you that it wont be found on a spreadsheet or in a mathematical formula. At least, as of today there are no numbers for leadership. There just is a need for it on this team every bit as much as they need starting pitching and a right-handed bat an without all three this team will struggle in 2012.