Chemistry lesson: How important is the clubhouse mix?

In building a winning baseball team, you need to have plenty of talented players. That part is obvious and a given. But how do aspects like team chemistry and character of the individual players factor in?

Are they important, even if you can’t put a stat on those intangibles like you can a batting average or ERA?

When the Orioles acquired Nelson Cruz, who was coming off a suspension, and Delmon Young last year, some fans wondered how the pair would impact clubhouse chemistry. Now some wonder how the potential addition of Colby Rasmus would impact it, as well.

Last summer, I asked Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about character and team chemistry.

duquette-smiles-sidebar.jpg“That’s important,” he said. “I think the skills that players have are one part of the equation, and the values of the organization and the culture the organization encourages is another part of the equation. When you have good players, and they align their interests with the team and everyone is pulling together, you have the chance to do some really good things.

“The players’ will to work and bring discipline to their job, day in and day out, is a key. We have a culture here that encourages winning and rewards dependability. We have good leadership, too. We have good leadership with our field staff, too.”

The leadership part is important. Last season, both young players like Jonathan Schoop and later additions to the club like Andrew Miller spoke about how they were warmly welcomed into the clubhouse. An effort is made by the veterans to make sure everyone is pulling on the same end of the rope and everyone understands they are important to the team.

A few weeks ago at the Winter Meetings, I asked ESPN analyst and former big leaguer Aaron Boone his take on clubhouse chemistry.

“I think it’s a big part of the pie, frankly,” Boone said. “You have 162 games in 180 days - you know, with spring training, 200 games together. I think it’s important that there is harmony in there. It doesn’t always have to be friendly, it doesn’t always have to be ‘Kumbaya,’ we all get along, we’re all buddies.

“But I think there has to be something in that room that creates an asset for the team. The Orioles, most teams that win and go to the playoffs, the clubhouse is usually an asset. I think it is an important part of the equation and the evaluation process.”

You can’t put a stat on chemistry, advanced or otherwise, but it seems pretty important to me. On the other hand, when do we ever hear of a winning team with poor clubhouse chemistry? If you are winning, the clubhouse chemistry is probably solid. It’s almost the chicken and the egg here. Which comes first, the chemistry or the winning?

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