A stat-savvy player talks about the value of Michael Young, intangibles and clubhouse chemistry

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I and a lot of other sabermetrically-inclined writers have taken our shots at clubhouse chemistry and the lionization of players who are thought to be far better than their numbers suggest due to any number of intangible factors.  I and those same sabermetrically-inclined writers have also developed a fondness for Diambondbacks’ pitcher Brandon McCarthy because he is one of the more stat-savvy players out there (and because he’s active and interactive on social media and the like).

But if you think McCarthy is going to fall in line with our thinking on the clubhouse chemistry and soft/intangible factors thing, you’re wrong. To the contrary, he will tell you straight up that those things matter to players on a team and have value that the so-called smart set usually fail to acknowledge.  I had an offline discussion with McCarthy to this effect a few months ago, and — though it hasn’t stopped me from ripping Michael Young and all of that in my usual ways — did make me appreciate that it’s not just the fanboys of those gritty leader types who think that way.

Now, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic goes on-the-record with McCarthy who explains why he understands how Young got MVP votes and how much clubhouse leaders matter. After explaining some of the little things Michael Young does that most of us don’t see in terms of giving advice to other players, he talks generally about good clubhouse guys:

It doesn’t have to be veterans at the top or guys that everybody regards as good clubhouse guys, but it’s just good people – and the more of them that are around usually the better things will kind of go. I think. It’s one of those things that I think misses in the sabermetric community, especially among the super snarky writers. But it is there. You don’t have to build a team around that, but I’m a big believer in at least having one or two of those guys on every team. Not overpaying him necessarily, but getting him in there. Guys that just have that infectious nature, they get in there – they’re good cancer, they spread everywhere – and guys are like, ‘I love that guy.’”

It’s certainly not anything that is quantifiable and for that reason I am and will continue to be skeptical when baseball writers and awards voters make claims about just how valuable that sort of thing is. And I simply will never buy that that sort of thing comes close to equalling let alone outweighing actual on-the-field production when it comes to helping teams win ballgames.

But I can see where he’s coming from and I can see how these factors can be important to ballplayers. We all want to work in supportive, friendly and collaborative environments and for that reason these things are valuable.

UPDATE: McCarthy makes a clarification:

Athletics hire third base coach Matt Williams

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The Athletics have hired former MLB manager Matt Williams, the team announced Friday. Williams will take over third base coaching duties under manager Bob Melvin, filling the vacancy left by Nationals’ bench coach Chip Hale after the 2017 season.

Williams is no stranger to the Bay Area, but this will be his first time sporting the green and gold. He got his start in pro ball with the rival Giants in 1987, where he manned third base and collected four All-Star nominations before jumping ship to the American League in 1997. After a one-year stint in the Indians’ organization, he returned to the NL to finish off his 17-season career and eventually hung up his cleats with the Diamondbacks in 2003.

Post-retirement, Williams has crafted a resume that almost over-qualifies him for a coaching gig. He led the Nationals to a cumulative 179-145 record from 2014 to 2015 and earned props as NL Manager of the Year after bringing the team to a first-place finish in 2014. In 2016, he split the season as a first and third base coach in the D-backs’ organization, then accepted a studio analyst position with the Giants for the 2017 season. Although he has yet to suit up for the Athletics in any role, he’s not unfamiliar with skipper Bob Melvin. The two were teammates on the Giants’ 1987-88 roster and spent some time in Arizona together when Melvin took a coaching job there in the early 2000s.

While next year’s reunion will be fun to watch (unless, I suppose, you’re a Giants fan with a long memory), Williams may not have his sights set on a coaching role forever. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea reported back in July, the 51-year-old knows what it feels like to win as a manager, and it’s a position he might be open to pursuing in the future.

“For me, my most comfortable space is in uniform,” he told Shea. “I’ve done the ownership thing and front-office stuff, and that’s fun. The most gratification I get is swinging a fungo and throwing batting practice and being on the field. It’s what you know and love. I look at myself as a teacher first and foremost. At the end of the day, I think that’s how I have my greatest influence.”