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:

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.