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.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.