Carleton: How would we know that a team has good chemistry?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on February 3, 2014:

It’s one of the great unanswered questions in sabermetrics: Does team chemistry affect what you see on the field? I have a better question. What the heck is chemistry? I tend to be wary of words that have no explicit meaning, because they can mean anything, and undefined variables make for bad research. Ben Lindbergh recently found quotes uttered before the 2013 season from representatives of 25 of the 30 teams in MLB, who believed that their team had fantastic chemistry. Twenty-four of those teams did not win the World Series. In fact, some of them had really awful losing records. Ben found “great chemistry” quotes from the Astros, Marlins, Cubs, Twins, Mariners and White Sox, all of whom lost 90 games in 2013. If great chemistry is so important to a team, how is that possible?

Anyone can say “We have great chemistry.” It’s usually in response to a question about the team’s “clubhouse atmosphere” (one would hope 79 percent nitrogen, 20 percent oxygen, one percent carbon dioxide and others). Think about it, though. When was the last time that you answered the question “How are you doing?”—especially from a stranger—with anything other than “Fine”? We live in a culture where everyone is doing “fine,” even when they are not. About the most negative thing you might hear a baseball player say would be “No comment.”

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Originally published: February 4, 2014. Last Updated: February 4, 2014.