• Where’s The Algorithm?

    Posted by on October 21st, 2011 · Comments (15)

    Via a letter to SI

    Isn’t it ironic that the Red Sox spent $161 million building a team around the concept of sabermetrics, yet G.M. Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona blame Boston’s epic collapse not on statistics but on the lack of good old team chemistry? Where is the algorithm for that?

    Dan Haulman, Lebanon, Pa.

    Well said, Dan. Well said.

    Comments on Where’s The Algorithm?

    1. Jim TreshFan
      October 21st, 2011 | 8:52 am

      I’ve commented on this before. Bill James has long derided the very concept of team chemistry as a chimera or philosopher’s stone. How is it defined? What are it’s components exactly and how accurately can they be measured or weighed? Can it be reduced to a formula applicable to all ballclubs in all eras? It’s not something you consider when drafting your rotisserie or Strat-O-Matic players, so why should it matter in the composition of a real team?

      BTW, has anyone heard if Epstein is taking James with him to Chicago?

    2. Garcia
      October 21st, 2011 | 9:58 am

      @ Jim TreshFan:
      It may not be measurable, but it isn’t hogwash either. At work I switch across big teams every 6/8 months, I’ve been on projects where I’m working around other superstars, we gel, we get work done, and I make friends for life. I’ve been on other projects where you have people that are also superstars, we end up not getting along, we fail, and we don’t deliver.

      I think chemistry is a real thing, but it’s not to impossible to predict. Still, it’s not something you don’t think about.

      Do you really think if you replaced Albert Belle with Bernie Williams that the late 90s era Yankees would have had the same amount of success?

    3. bags
      October 21st, 2011 | 11:04 am

      i dunno. does chemistry create winning. or does winning create chemistry. i’m not sure it is clear cut. people tend to ascribe high ideals to people and teams that win. i’m not sure this really works. would paul o’neill have been a “warrior” if we’d lost a few key games? would smashing water coolers look so good with a slightly different record?

    4. Garcia
      October 21st, 2011 | 12:26 pm

      @ bags:
      The Red Sox were winning when they started their swoon. They were actually winning quite a bit between May – August.

    5. MJ Recanati
      October 21st, 2011 | 12:50 pm

      Garcia wrote:

      The Red Sox were winning when they started their swoon. They were actually winning quite a bit between May – August.

      Which would sort of kill the argument that poor chemistry felled the 2011 Red Sox. After all, no one spoke of poor chemistry from May-August.

      The 2011 Red Sox faltered in September for a variety of reasons: their starting pitching staff was ineffective, replacement-level pitchers had to fill in for injured regulars, the bullpen became overtaxed. One single victory and the team would’ve made the playoffs.

      All this talk of poor chemistry in Boston is overblown and, in large part, is being discussed because people need to point a finger at some root cause when, sometimes, teams go through lousy streaks just because.

    6. Garcia
      October 21st, 2011 | 1:05 pm

      @ MJ Recanati:
      True.

    7. MJ Recanati
      October 21st, 2011 | 1:12 pm

      @ Garcia:
      That’s not to say that the Red Sox didn’t in fact suffer from poor chemistry. It’s certainly possible that the 25 guys on that team didn’t relate to eachother in a particularly meaningful or cohesive way.

      And while I personally don’t believe that chemistry affects team performance in baseball — A-Rod and Jeter may hate eachother but they don’t give away AB’s at the plate or plays in the field because of their enmity, for example — my opinion does not exclude the possibility that chemistry as a concept may exist. Thus, even if chemistry doesn’t affect performance, it doesn’t take away from the fact that when things go to shit — as they clearly did in September for the Red Sox — the lack of chemistry may make it easier for players to just want the season to end.

    8. KPOcala
      October 21st, 2011 | 7:00 pm

      If a statistician can’t find a way to measure something, then it doesn’t exist. Or to put it another way, just because James and other statisticians can’t come up with an analysis doesn’t mean that another, deeper thinker won’t figure out the Golden Algorithm. Way too much certitude at times, among the saber crowd.

      “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality”, Albert Einstein.

    9. Raf
      October 21st, 2011 | 7:46 pm

      MJ Recanati wrote:

      And while I personally don’t believe that chemistry affects team performance in baseball

      At least not anymore. You’ll get a 50 game suspension for it…

    10. Raf
      October 21st, 2011 | 7:47 pm

      Garcia wrote:

      Do you really think if you replaced Albert Belle with Bernie Williams that the late 90s era Yankees would have had the same amount of success?

      It’s possible, given the characters that have come through the Yankees organization before and since.

    11. Raf
      October 21st, 2011 | 7:49 pm

      Compare and contrast the spending sprees and results of the Yankees in the 2008 offseason and the Red Sox in the 2010 offseason.

      Guess it isn’t as simple as throwing money at players to win, eh? ;)

    12. LMJ229
      October 22nd, 2011 | 2:16 am

      I’m not sure it’s bad chemistry that brings a team down but I do think that certain guys can be a cancer that can spread and eat away at a club, eventually killing the morale and work ethic of those around them.

    13. JeremyM
      October 22nd, 2011 | 10:16 am

      Exactly LMJ229. If guys go about their business, chemistry is overblown. But in this case, it sounds like we had guys who weren’t working hard, getting out of shape, and weren’t able to deliver their best. On the opposite end, and say what you will about the guy, but Clemens’ work ethic rubbed off on some other pitchers when he was here, who started working out harder because of his example.

    14. agsf
      October 22nd, 2011 | 3:48 pm

      It’s not well said, it’s moronic. The reason the Red Sox lost was because they were starting a 45 year old pitcher, a rookie, a pitcher that has never proven he could pitch in the big leagues, and lackey, the worst pitcher in the league.

      It had nothing to do with chemistry. If anyone actually believes it was chemistry or beer drinking that doomed the red sox, you shouldn’t be writing about baseball.

    15. MJ Recanati
      October 24th, 2011 | 2:16 pm

      @ agsf:
      I’m inclined to agree.

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