Tying to find that elusive team chemistry

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From Paul White in USA Today, a story about teams wanting good chemistry. To the point where, just maybe, they’re willing to sacrifice production to get it. Whatever “it” is:

 The code words for this quality can vary by clubhouse.

Indians manager Terry Francona uses “atmosphere” to describe what he wants Giambi to help establish. The Arizona Diamondbacks re-made their roster this offseason and the buzzword around the team is “grit.”

It also goes by “chemistry” and “culture.” And it’s sought by organizations as varied as the Tampa Bay Rays, who see their no-rules clubhouse as a crucial piece of their formula , and the New York Yankees, who depend on the Derek Jeter and others to foster nearly a century of tradition the franchise values as a distinct advantage.

Whatever “it’ is requires an all-in approach from clubhouse inhabitants.

I don’t quibble at all with the notion that, all things being equal, people work better in good environments with people they like than they would in a bad environment with those people. All things aren’t equal, of course, and even though no one is claiming you can quantify that good team mojo, I hope that everyone would agree that a significant talent discrepancy between clubs with bad and good chemistry is more than made up for with the talent.

I think this article itself bears that out, using as it does Jason Giambi’s travels as an example. He played for winning teams in Oakland, which had no rules in the clubhouse and “a frat house atmosphere.” He played for winning teams in New York that were all business and no nonsense. He played for a winning Colorado team that likely fell in between. So too is it the case across baseball. There have probably been just as many “25 players/25 cabs” kinds of teams that have won as there have been teams with “good chemistry,” however that’s defined.

None of which means that wanting that good chemistry is wrong. Jeez, think about anywhere you’ve ever worked and ask yourself whether you would have preferred it if everyone got along really well.  It’s just that I think, always and forever, there will be a much stronger correlation between teams with talent and winning than there will be with teams with “good chemistry” and winning, and that’s the case no matter how defines that term.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.