Chemistry behind Orioles Success

July 05, 2013 | Matt Sroka

In my recent audition with WNST (check it out here:http://bit.ly/18wqJKC), after talking about the leadership skills of Buck Showalter, I touched briefly on the importance of chemistry.  Chemistry is an underrated element of sports.  In an age where everything involved with baseball is able to be quantified and qualified, chemistry is something that, to this point at least, has not been able to be tracked statistically. (Though I’m sure somebody, somewhere is working on quantifying the importance of chemistry… Money Ball 2, perhaps?)  This inability to quantify chemistry can cause some difficulties in projecting how a team will perform or why a team is even successful.  For evidence of this just look at the standings on ESPN and check out the percentage chance of making the playoffs (POFF) for each team.  Can someone please explain why the Orioles being 10 games over .500 have a 45.5 POFF, but the Tampa Bay Rays while be only 6 games above .500 have a 49.0 POFF?  How does this add up?  Well, without getting too technical, POFF is determined based on a myriad of stats including strength of remaining schedule, run differential (Orioles fans’ favorite stat!), home vs. away performance, etc.  Of course, team chemistry is given zero consideration, though history tells us that not only is chemistry an important part to team success, but it is also absolutely essential.

Take for the example the hapless Boston Red Sox of 2012.  They lost 93 games in the midst of constant infighting, mostly, but not all, related to the manager.  This year after trading away some of their best players (Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford) and bringing in a new manager, they are leading the AL East.  So you get rid of  some of your best players and therefore you become a better team?  On paper this doesn’t add up, but the answer is chemistry.  The Red Sox brought in a new manager and removed players that disrupted team chemistry (Beckett can enjoy his in-game beers in someone else’s locker room).  The Red Sox are just one example, take a quick look around baseball and it becomes clear that the teams with the ‘best players’ aren’t necessarily the best teams in baseball (Need I remind you that the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball.  Yet despite having the best record in all of baseball, the Pirates don’t have the best POFF in their division!)

I’m not sure why ‘experts’ always seem to be surprised when underdogs (with chemistry) overcome ‘better’ teams.  It should be intuitive that teams that have chemistry play better than teams without it.  Take your own job for example.  Imagine if you went to a job where you hated the work, hated the people you worked with and hated your boss.  (I hope this was difficult to imagine!)  How productive will you be in this situation compared to a situation where you loved your work, loved your coworkers, and loved your boss?  Intuitively your performance will be better in a job you enjoy, with coworkers you enjoy, and a boss you enjoy.  This is a significant factor in why the Baltimore Orioles have been successful.  Baltimore Oriole players love the game; they love playing with one another; and they love their boss, Buck Showalter.

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