The Washington Nationals and Clubhouse Chemistry

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Clubhouse chemistry. What is it? How do we
define it? And how much does it matter? Those are all questions that baseball
fans ask, particularly stats inclined baseball fans. Clubhouse chemistry is an
open ended term that can mean almost anything and is used more often to
disparage a player or to give a below average player some sort
of redeeming quality. Players labeled good or bad chemistry guys are often
bad players with good qualities or good players with bad qualities. Common
sense though tells us that if we can cut to the heart of the matter that
clubhouse chemistry does matter.  

Baseball is a job
and psychologists have done many studies that have shown that a happy
worker is a productive worker, but in baseball a talented unhappy player is
still likely to be better than an untalented happy player. That last argument
misses the point. When constructing a baseball teams GMs don’t have to pick
from extremes. One of the best executives of all time, Pat Gillick, said when
he looked at a player he considered 60% talent and 40% make-up. More weight is
given to talent, but significant weight is also given to make-up, and that is
because a lot of baseball players are talented.  

Nationals
fans can look at the case of Elijah Dukes who was gifted with all five
tools and natural ability anyone would be envious of, but Dukes wasn’t willing
to put in the work. He never reached his potential, and baseball is full of
these types of players. It is also said that in his time with the Nationals the
clubhouse was an uncomfortable place. When Dukes was cut before the 2010 season
many Nats players called it a relief and said the clubhouse was less tense. How
much did the negative pre

sence of Elijah Dukes have to do with the 102 loss
2009 Nats? Not as much as a pitching staff that was the worst in
baseball.  

Clubhouse
chemistry matters. Players slightly less talented than Elijah Dukes exist
everywhere; but those willing to put in the work will end up being far more
productive players than Dukes ever was. Pat Gillick is right that talent and
natural ability is more than half the equation, but in order for someone to be
a good if not great player they have to put in the effort to expand that talent
and live up to their potential. Baseball is a team sport, but it is also an
individualistic sport. Unless a batter can get a solo homer every time they
come to the plate they either need someone on base in front of them to drive in
or someone to drive them in once they reach base. If the individuals all
perform well then the team will perform well.

There
are a lot of little things involved in the sport of baseball, and the Nationals
have had their share of players that didn’t do those little things all that
well. Take for the example Nyjer Morgan. He would miss cut-off men, get thrown
out on the bases, throw tantrums when he missed fly balls, and a whole lot of
other smaller aspects of the game alluded him. Morgan was also never willing to
accept responsibility. When he did something wrong it was always someone else’s
fault. I am sure many of you have worked with someone like this and they never
make the work environment more comfortable. How much does a
comfortable work environment matter for a team of ultra talented baseball
players?

This
wouldn’t be too hard to quantify or to study. Take one player and dope him up
with dopamine and serotonin and see how they do in batting practice. Then take
the same person and inhibit those chemicals from reaching their brain and see
how they perform. The players union might have a slight problem with us playing
around with a baseball players brain chemistry though, but it stands to reason
that a happy player will do better. Confidence is a big factor in our own day-to-day performance.
Why would a baseball player be that much different? The answer is while they
are genetic physical freaks their brain chemistry isn’t that much
different.       

For
the past few days article after article and column after column has been pumped
out about how the Nats have such great clubhouse chemistry, and while it is
likely significantly better than the Dodgers is it really all that different
from the Reds, Braves, or Giants? No, probably not. The other issue with
clubhouse chemistry is it ends up causing a chicken and egg type of argument.
Are winning teams more apt to like each other and get along than losing teams,
or is it that teams that get along have a better chance to win. A divided
clubhouse full of finger pointing isn’t going to be a comfortable
work environment, but if a small losing streak causes a clubhouse to
degrade that far then the GM didn’t do their job in weeding out the worst character
guys.  

Players like Elijah Dukes and Nyjer Morgan rarely stay in
baseball very long. They have the talent to get to the big leagues but lack
either the work ethic or the responsibility to stay. Most players left playing
on contending teams are intelligent enough to know that they have to at the
very least create a professional working environment in the clubhouse. The Nats
aren’t any better than this than any other contending team, except the Dodgers.
All clubhouse chemistry really is right now is a good narrative before any
games, meaningful or otherwise, have happened. The Nats quest for redemption
from Game 5 is a good story line, but at this point that’s all it is, and even
if the Nats didn’t lose in such heartbreaking fashion winning a World Series would
still be the goal.