Buster on changes in attitudes and latitudes:
Talent evaluators within the game will make judgments about fastballs, about defensive skills, about a hitter’s swing. But increasingly, it seems, makeup is regarded as a pivotal factor on whether a player is acquired or dumped — and this might be part of a broader evolution in Major League Baseball, a shift in focus away from the need of the individuals, to an emphasis on the greater good of the organization.
And a lot of executives view these choices as business decisions. For a small-market or mid-market team — clubs which operate with very little margin for error — a problem personality can have a dramatic impact. Imagine a 16-man crew, says one GM, and you have one guy pulling his oar in the opposite direction. “It doesn’t really matter what the other 15 guys are doing,” the GM said. “It just sinks you. You can’t win. You cannot succeed.”
I tend to think that this is more important than a lot of my sabermetrically-inclined friends believe. Or used to believe anyway, because even most statheads these days will acknowledge that the mere fact that you can’t quantify chemistry doesn’t render it unimportant. We’ve all worked in offices with jackasses, and there can be no denying that it has an impact on everyone’s productivity.
But even if we acknowledge its importance, the concept is still often overstated. And Buster, I think, overstates it here:
The most prominent example in recent years might be the Tampa Bay Rays. After the 2007 season, the Rays moved to trade outfielders Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Other Rays felt Young simply was on his own program, conducted himself with sense of entitlement, and simply didn’t work hard enough; in one memorable moment, teammate Carl Crawford, a player with a staggering work ethic, was ready to fight Young out of his frustration that Young simply didn’t try to improve. Dukes played hard, but because of his off-field issues, he seemed unhappy a lot; this sapped energy out of the room.
Young was traded to the Twins, Dukes was moved to the Nationals, and quite suddenly, the team belonged to manager Joe Maddon, who was suddenly free to focus on getting the best out of emotionally invested players and less time on keeping others in line.
I’m sure that in a candid moment Maddon would say that his life was made easier with Young and Dukes gone, but I can’t help but think that “getting the best” out of the Rays’ players was far easier given the fact that the players Maddon had in 2008 had a lot more “best” to give. Do we forget that Matt Garza was kind of a jerk himself last season? Do we ignore the fact that his jerkiness was far outweighed by the fact that he was the Rays’ best starter? Is it possible that upgrading from Iwamura to Evan Longoria at third base and having the entire rotation improve dramatically had a bit more to do with the atmosphere lightening up than simply canning Dukes and Young?
Like I said, I don’t want to overplay this hand, because I don’t doubt that losing perceived troublemakers is increasingly important to teams. But like they say, no one ever talks about how great the chemistry is on a losing team, and when you’re a troublemaker on a winner, you’re considered “colorful.”
(thanks to Jason at IIATMS for the heads up)