Kevin Millar, chemistry and the Cubs

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Kevin Millar.jpgKevin Millar makes the case for his value to the Cubs:

“Everybody is looking at stats … I get it. But my point is when you’re making a team
and trying to bring in a bunch of different personalities I think
everybody’s got a certain amount of intangibles that they bring.

“Obviously, I’ll bring some leadership qualities. I’ve won a World
Series. Having a chance to play with guys like Ryan Dempster and Derrek
Lee, we came up together in Florida. It’s trying to make a family
atmosphere and trying to get everybody to pull on the same rope and
trying to get everybody to believe that we can do this.”

There’s a saying among lawyers: when the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law.  In Millar’s case you can substitute with “skills” and “chemistry.”  The skills, unfortunately, are no longer there:  Millar is a first base/DH type who can’t hit enough to carry that job, and there’s little reason to think that he’ll add anything positive from a baseball prospective to the Cubs’ 2010 season.  It appears based on his comments that even he knows that, and to that extent it’s actually refreshing to hear that he is not deluded about his abilities the way so many other close-to-the-end ballplayers have been before him.

But what about the chemistry? Does it matter? Is it worth giving Millar a spot on the roster?

I won’t go so far as some of my sabermetic colleagues and suggest that chemistry is totally  meaningless. After all, we’ve all worked with jerks before, and while a jerk can’t necessarily make you any less good at your job, in the aggregate, one can bring down the group’s performance.  By all accounts, Kevin Millar is a great guy to have in the clubhouse, and as long as you’re not giving him too many plate appearances, it’s nice to have a fun guy around, especially after a summer with Milton Bradley on the team.

But really, chemistry is almost always a retrospective application that, in the context of baseball, approaches meaningless.  Teams that win are later said to have good chemistry (except when they don’t have good chemistry).  I’ve yet to hear anyone refer to a team that went 76-86 as having good chemistry. And of course, unlike basketball and football, where the whole concept of chemistry was probably invented, baseball has comparatively few true “teamwork” moments. You basically have the double play and relay throws and a whole bunch of individual as opposed to team moments.

At the end of the day, you have to ask: would anyone be talking about Kevin Millar and all of the intangibles he brings to the table if Dave Roberts had been tagged out at second in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS?

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.