By In Stuff

Chemistry and magic

I wrote a little something on the Royals-Athletics game. You can find it here  And now I have to pack for something I knew would happen someday — a trip to Los Angeles for a Royals playoff game.

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36 Responses to Chemistry and magic

  1. Dave says:

    “Something I knew would happen someday”–but did you think it’d happen this decade or next?

    As you write, sometimes the “illogical” happens. For long-suffering fans, I’m hoping for more illogic, a KC-Pittsburgh World Series. I don’t think that’ll happen, but then again, “illogical” happens.

  2. Tom Flynn says:

    The concept that sportswriters and talking heads call “chemistry” is really “synergy”. The concept comes to us from systems theory and simply refers to the whole or outcome being greater than the sum of its parts. In the workplace, synergy is what we hope happens when we put together people with complementary skills; we hope they can create something that individuals could not come up with by themselves.

    In sports, this explains why a roster of lesser talent on paper can defeat what appears to be a superior team. The prime example is the Mets v. Baltimore in the 1969 World Series. The Orioles teams of that era were nearly perfect in their construction. Two HOFs, great starting pitching and bullpen, etc. Mets were strong defensively up the middle, two great pitchers and what else? On paper, a collection of platoon-players and spare parts. SYNERGY! Those parts come together for one summer and win down the stretch in a great pennant race and knock off a clearly superior team.

    Wishing all Royals fans the best! A key pickup or two and the Tribe will rule the Central next year.

    • invitro says:

      “In sports, this explains why a roster of lesser talent on paper can defeat what appears to be a superior team.”

      This is luck, not synergy.

      If synergy was really the case in 1969,* then it would’ve held for the Mets in the regular season just as it did in the playoffs*. And the Mets would’ve won 108 games instead of 100 (with a Pythagorean 92), and this would be known as one of the last great World Series matchups of titanic teams, instead of an upset. Unless you can prove that synergy only appears in playoff games.

      On the contrary, it is logical and indeed expected to observe luck as a greater factor in the World Series than in the regular season.

      • Tom Flynn says:

        Luck does play a role in baseball and the series particularly. It explains the baseball with Cleon Jones shoe polish scuff on it. But it cannot explain all of it. And luck cannot hold consistently over an entire baseball season. A season is not static, it flows and evolves over time. I go with Synergy to explain how a team like the 1969 Mets comes together over a season to accomplish something special, winning the number of games that they did. I would argue that energy carries over into a series. Taking 4 out of 5 games is not explained by luck.

        Sorry about the A’s. I was at the play-in game in Cleveland. Hard night. Losing in extra innings after holding a four run lead is hard to take.

        • invitro says:

          I hope I don’t sound like I’m saying a short series is all luck. It’s just roughly half luck, I think. Certainly some statisticians have put a more precise number on it.

          Taking 4 of 5 games, even against a team with 8 more wins (I think that’s right), can indeed be luck. In fact, we would expect to happen quite often. Maybe 20% of the time?

          Actual, real synergy in baseball can happen from things like a team with OBP and SLG scoring more runs than a team with just OBP or just SLG (OPS+ being equal). At least, I think that can happen. Oh boy, now I want to study this. Anyway… it’s gotta be true… it’s the foundation of Runs Created.

          Maybe this kind of synergy in baseball can be defined as: Regress runs scored to OBP and SLG like so:

          Runs = x * OBP + y * SLG + z * OBP * SLG + constant

          Then the degree of synergy of OBP and SLG might be defined as z / sqrt(x * y), or something like that :). With no synergy, z would be zero; runs would depend linearly on OBP and SLG. With total synergy, x and y would be zero; OBP could not create runs without SLG, and vice versa.

          I think though you’re talking about synergy in terms of the mythical “chemistry” that supposedly exists, but is undetectable. 🙂

          • tom flynn says:

            Wow, great thoughtful response! But just because something can’t be quantified, does not mean that it it “mythical”. McNamara crunched the numbers and determined “No way that North Vietnam can stand up to American firepower over the long term. We will win the war in Vietnam.” When confronted with the apparent failure of his strategy, he responded that he was not asked to account for intangible cultural variable,i.e. the will of the North Vietnamese to endure. But that intangible cultural variable made all the difference.

            Synergy means the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

            Great conversation!

    • Baltimore had three HOFers (Brooks, Frank and Jim Palmer), plus that year’s Cy Young winner, Mike Cuellar. Not to mention the one of best defenses in the modern era. (Brooks, Belanger, Blair, et al).

      But I totally agree that the stats compiled by this team during the year, while giving them favored status, still don’t mean that they won’t face a team that’s better over the course of a week… or that they themselves won’t hit a slump at in inopportune time. Don’t forget, the Mets starting pitching was the equal of the Orioles & included first tier HOFer Tom Seaver and a Hall of Very Good Jerry Koosman. Their hitting was not close to that of the Orioles, but great pitching is an equalizer and closes that gap some. It wasn’t exactly a total crapshoot, but in a short series, any outcome is possible. And it’s not like the Mets were horrible.

      • Tom Flynn says:


        Yes, Seaver and Koosman match up with Palmer and Cuellar, but what about beyond that. I remember that O’s bullpen as being perfectly constructed. Each one had a particular role. And as you add, great D and they could bring the wood.

        I do agree that Mets pitching dominated the short series. O’s bats went cold.

        The Mets were not horrible. That year they were outstanding! But my point was that, on paper, Baltimore was clearly the superior team, as they would demonstrate over the next few years (World Series in 1970 and 1971?)

        The Mets had it going in 1969 due to the process of SYNERGY!!!! The coming together of complimentary skills to create something greater than the sum of its parts. And lets face it, besides an outstanding defensive catcher (Grote), shortstop (Harrelson) and two players having career years (Agee and Jones) the rest of the team were a collection of spare parts.

        Great talking with you!

        • Let’s compare teams by WAR.
          Mets Starting Pitching: Seaver 7.2, Koosman 5.9, Gentry 2.6,
          Mets Bullpen: Tug McGraw 2.5, Ron Taylor 1.6
          Mets Every Day: Jones 7.0, Agee 5.2, Grote 2.5, Harrelson 2.2 (Also Art Shamsky hit .300/.375/.488 platooning with Swoboda. Clendenon hit 12 HRs platooning with Dranepool). So, they had a couple of effective platoons that might have been below the radar.

          Orioles Starting Pitching: Cuellar 4.5, Palmer 4.2, McNally 2.4
          Orioles Bullpen: Watt 1.9, Richert 1.3
          Orioles Every Day: FRobinson 7.5, Blair 7.1, Powell 5.9, Buford 4.8, Belanger 4.2, BRobinson 4.1, DJohnson, 3.3

          This is a little misleading, perhaps, in that Blair, Belanger and Brooks Robinson’s WAR was more than 50% fielding related. Hitting wise, Brooks hit only .234 that year, albeit with 23 HRs. Blair hit a solid .287, but didn’t walk much. He did have 26 HRs. But with both, a lot of their value was in their defense. Solid lineup, for sure. But maybe not the 27 Yankees, which is what people sometimes want to compare them too. At least not in 1969.

          Your recollection that the Orioles bullpen was solidly better than the Mets is incorrect. The Mets had a better pen. The Mets also had the better starting rotation, again, against your recollection. Their #3 Gentry matched up favorably vs the Orioles #3 McNally.

          Also, the Orioles were a power hitting team (Weaver liked pitching and the 3 run HR, and that’s what the Orioles did!) And their hitting was definitely better than the Mets. So, it was the classic strength vs. strength. Mets pitching vs. Orioles hitting. And the Orioles scored 4, 1, 0, 1 and 3 runs in the five games. Less than two runs a game. Looking at the Mets staff, that should not have been surprising.

          The Mets struggled in 3 of the games to score runs scoring 1 in game 1, 2 in game 2, and 2 in game 4 (only one in regulation). But the Mets did have two games where they were able to get 5 runs and win easily. I honestly think that the mythology of this matchup being unequal doesn’t hold water. The Mets were a great pitching team and, also like the Orioles, an excellent defensive team. Their pitching (and defense) was able to quiet the Orioles bats (which may have been mildly overrated) and so they won. Two games were very close low scoring affairs that could have gone either way.

          • G-Man says:

            Bellweather and Flynn,

            Thanks for the shout-out for Jerry Koosman, from a 12 year old (in ’69) lefty fan of his.

            I wish he would have gotten a little HOF respect for his 220 wins, 2500 Ks, 33 shutouts, 57 WAR and a great ’69 WS, instead of a HOF one and done. I’m not saying he should have made it, but I would have liked to see him recognized and debated there for a few years (ideally by a twenty year old Joe P).

    • Spencer says:

      Invitro is absolutely right…This isn’t synergy, it’s luck you’re talking about.

      Winning 4 out of 5 games is absolutely explained by luck. And once again Invitro is right, if it was synergy it would be represented in the regular season record.

      Dress it up any way you want but there’s probably no magic (or synergy) here.

  3. jflegault says:

    like Ned Yost maybe ? 🙂

  4. invitro says:

    I checked out the Royals Toast article after the game, and today, expected to find a hundred comments. Instead, nothing. I suppose all the Royals supporters are driving to Los Angeles.

    I’m an A’s fan and am very let down right now. But wow, that was an exciting game from beginning to finish. And with big home runs on one side, and steals and bunts on the other, it played like a dramatic clash in styles. Baseball is still far ahead of all other sports when it comes to excitement and drama. (And far ahead of all modern entertainment.)

    Good luck to you KC fans against LAA, but I’ll be rooting for Trout to hopefully start a postseason legend.

    • I sincerely doubt the Royals will be able to bunt their way to a series win. It’s not sound strategy, but they’re complete lack of hitting almost forces them to do counter intuitive things. If the Royals win they really have to have good starting pitching. If they get that, they have a shot. If the starting pitching isn’t keeping the Angels to two, or fewer runs, it’s going to be long odds. The Angels starting rotation is thin, but they don’t need a fifth starter & they can forego the fourth starter if needed. That’s the only chink I see in their armor. Huge advantage to the Angels every day players. Their bullpen is pretty good too.

  5. G-Man says:

    Hey Joe, any chance you saw the game last night?

    • Dave says:

      Don’t know if you’re serious or not. If you are, you missed the imbed link in the paragraph. Oh, he saw it all right, he saw it.

  6. :-) says:

    I love Poz. I agree with his content in most of his writing and am impressed with his style in ALL of his work,, but he is a little too hard on Yost.

    Poz reminds me of a vulture sitting back waiting for Yost to make a decision that doesn’t wok out and pouncing. The late inning substitutions Yost made bringing in speedy baserunners to replace the Royals hitters would have been fodder for Poz except they worked.

    Also Poz criticizes Yost for not thinking outside the box saying he could have been creative and used his 7th inning reliever in the 6th. Instead Yost came up with a different creative solution by using Ventura in the 6th and was criticized for it.

    The fact that the Royals have the fewest HR in the AL has nothing to do with how Yost sets his lineup or how often he bunts or steals.

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      The reason Yost should have used his 7th inning reliever in the 6th wasn’t because it was creative. It was because his 7th inning reliever was an excellent relief pitcher who shouldn’t be shoehorned into only pitching in a specific inning. It was a critical sport in the game, and Yost didn’t go to the superior option solely because it wasn’t the right inning. He wrote something nearly identical after a recent game where Yost refused to use one of his better relief pitchers because it wasn’t the right inning and instead went to Aaron Crow, who lost the game when he allowed a home run

  7. Yankees98 says:

    Dave Cameron wrote a great piece in defense of Yost, at least for his decisions in the Wild Card game.

    I filled out a survey, really I clicked on an answer to a posed question, the other day regarding who might win the AL single game showdown and I was surprised to find that I couldn’t help but choose the Royals. I know that the A’s are better and I know that the Royals employ Ned Yost and have no history in my lifetime of displaying any level of competence. Still though, I clicked on the button that said “Royals” because I couldn’t ignore very recent performance. For what it’s worth, I manage a team of performers and I do believe in momentum and the way a “feeling” can pervade an organization. If the payoffs happened after game 82 the A’s would have laughed their way through the contest but, as it happened, their sun set and the Royals have an opportunity to prove all of us wrong. Those of us who doubt Yost, those who tout OPS, those who abhor the sacrifice bunt, those who believe that what you did yesterday determines what will happen tomorrow and, finally, those of us who cling to cold assessments of the acts of mere mortals. There are inscrutable and human faults that are exposed during a ballgame, the kind of things that professional athletes have a difficult time describing, which is what enamors us to them in the first place. If we understood, we would stop spending all this time writing about it. But as much as I don’t understand it, I felt extremely confident when I chose the Royals over the A’s and I’m looking forward to their match up against LA. I think we may just see a run scored in every possible situation imaginable.

    • invitro says:

      “I felt extremely confident when I chose the Royals over the A’s and I’m looking forward to their match up against LA.”

      You had a 50% chance against the A’s, and you have a 40-50% chance against the Angels.

    • When I played, I was on teams that were hot. Everything seemed to work. Down 5-0, no problem. We’ll get 10. Pitcher struggling? No problem, we’ve got four more. Get a hit? OK, I’ll get another. Confidence and being in the zone can carry you a couple of weeks. That’s what the Royals have to have. Their best 3 weeks of the season. That’s a tall order for a team that can’t fall back on individual talent…. i.e. Kirk Gibson hitting a two-out, two-run HR in the 9th. Or, Orel Hershiser throwing a shutout. Or having Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Gary Gentry in your rotation. These are the real underdog teams that I recall winning….. and they had some seriously dominant players, though not a ton of overall talent. The Royals don’t have that “guy” who will pull it out of the fire for them. So, everything has to go right. I love the underdog story, but I don’t see the Royals getting past the Angels….. and even if they do, they have to win two more series. Not happening.

  8. MikeN says:

    Why do people say the Royals are a lesser team? The last two weeks here I’ve been reading nothing but how Yost is a terrible manager, and if it weren’t for him they’d be running away with the division.

  9. sbmcmanus says:

    This article is awful, the kind of stuff that Joe would usually pillory if another writer wrote it about another team. It’s understandable though, and kind of endearing. I guess there are probably even worse articles out there saying that Yost really pulled it out for them with all his managing, making things happen and small-balling etc, etc.

    • Mark says:

      sbmcmanus, this is exactly right. An awful article that is understandable and kind of endearing. The notion that a team can believe hard enough in crazy stuff, causing the crazy stuff to actually “work”–that’s a notion that Joe would usually tear to pieces if written by someone else. It was a crazy, lucky win. And Yost will be back next year…

  10. MikeN says:

    Notice the As catcher got switched after the double steal failure? The original catcher was good at controlling the running game. Did he get hurt on the play?
    Then after one stolen base that the Moneyballers think is a waste of time, the Royals got a hit that without the steal would have been a double play.

    • Gareth Owen says:

      Yes, Soto hurt his thumb tagging Hosmer on the failed double-steal (which was probably in the end the best outcome for the Royals).

    • Patrick Bohn says:

      1. “Moneyballers” do not believe steals are wastes of time. There is a level at which steals need to be successful (I believe around 75%) to make the added value of the extra bases worth the lost value of the outs. So not all stolen base attempts are created equal.

      2. You can’t say that without a steal a hit would have been a double play. It’s impossible to know if the pitcher would throw the same pitch, in the same location, resulting in a ball hit exactly in the place.

  11. MikeN says:

    My point about the Royals running game is, suppose you are right and properly managed this team runs away with the division and is stealing less and not bunting and scoring more runs. I would not have watched anything they did all year or cared about them at all. This team is just more fun to watch. I like that Yost brought in a starter, and hated it when Torre did it only because I wanted them to lose. I’d also like him to bring in his relievers longer like Torre did with Rivera.

    • Well, the Royals Pythagorean W-L was 84-78. This is based on the expected outcome calculated based on runs scored and runs allowed… Developed by Bill James btw. This shows that the Royals earned five more wins than their run producing and run preventing suggests that they should have earned. Rather than managing effects (the Ned Yost effect), this suggests a bit of luck was involved…. And probably confirms the minimal impact a manager has over a year. In other words, the stats suggest the Royals weren’t good enough to win 89 games and make the playoffs. But were good enough to have a respectable winning record. For me, the eye test …. Not just looking at the games, but looking at their player production…. Says this is a slightly better than average team, with below average every day players.

      These things average out, so I wouldn’t expect a playoff appearance next year unless they upgrade their lineup, or unless their existing lineup produces much better results than they did this year.

      This is another reason it’s highly unlikely the Cindarella story will continue. The overall talent isn’t there and there are no dominant players to carry the team.

      • MikeN says:

        So they outperformed, and people give no credit to the manager? If they had underperformed, I think we know people wouldn’t be saying it’s luck but instead Exhibit A as to why he should be fired.

  12. Mark Daniel says:

    I’m not sure why sabermetricians have almost uniformly come to believe that bunting is equivalent to failure. It’s not. It’s just slightly less effective, on average, than hitting away. In fact, bunting can be a better option than hitting away, depending on the team (let’s say a punchless team with a lot of speed) and situation (when you need 1 run). The second table on this page ( shows that the chance of scoring at least one run (using 1969-1992 numbers) is 0.426 when you have a man on 1st and 0 out. With a man on 2nd and 1 out (i.e. after a sac bunt), the chance drops to 0.411.
    This is an example of the type of number that has led people to claim that “bunting is always bad”. The chance of scoring at least one run has dropped from 42.6% to 41.1%, a 1.5% differnece. Is this something that you would use to always choose to hit away if you were manager, regardless of situation?
    These numbers (42.6% and 41.1%) are averages. This means that there are at least a few teams with a better chance of scoring at least one run after a sac bunt. It all depends on the team. When you look at the Royals, who were last in the AL in HRs and 13th in SLG, but who also led the league in SBs, this seems like a team who might be in this category.
    The Royals in 2014, with a man on 1st and 0 out hit .272/.308/.361 with 45 DPs (league avg. .293/.343/.438, 35 DPs). With a man on 2nd and 1 out, they hit .291/.377/.418 (league avg. .258/.355/.408). As such, it is perhaps likely that Yost increased his team’s chances of scoring with all these bunts.

    • You’re half way there. You’d need to calculate the Royals run probabilities….and even that’s an average. You’d really need to look at run probabilities for the current batter with a runner on first vs. the next batter or batters with a runner on second. Everyone agrees that in the NL, pitchers bunting makes sense. Do the Royals in the AL have any players that are that bad? And do the odds increase, for the subsequent batters with the runner on second, and one extra out or not?

      I presume most teams have worked out these details for their own teams to know for sure. But if not, using league averages is valueless in making the bunt/no bunt call. We call it death by averages. Averages seem like good indicators, but when you drill down to a metric that allows for a specific decision, high level averages will likely direct you to the wrong decision.

    • MikeN says:

      True, but it also works the other way. The Roylas are so good at stealing that they could probably just take the base outright.

  13. Kris Marolt says:

    Oakland – a tale of two teams. It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams. Certainly, 1st half getting there with some grandeur (they were far ahead of everyone) and then, 2nd half, partly tearing down and building a playoff contender that just fell short … what an experiment !!

    And Jon Lester – pitched well for a clunker, and pitched extremely well, for Oakland, when they were losing, i think he should get extra CY votes for that !

    And what of Bob Melvin? Should they fire him? Or is he a keeper?

  14. John Leavy says:

    I don’t completely discount notions of team chemistry, and I think it’s wonderful when teams have high morale. But those things are a RESULT of success at least as often as they’re contributors to success.

    To steal an observation I’ve heard from many players: fans and media always look at a struggling team where everyone is squabbling and pointing fingers, and they say “Why don’t they pull together? If they’d pull together, they might start winning!” But it’s just the opposite- if the team would just start winning, everyone would pull together!

    That is, I don’t believe the Red Sox finally won the World Series because they were “happy idiots” who knew how to “cowboy up.” I believe they were confident, happy idiots because they were finally winning in the post-season!

    If the 49ers had WON the Super Bowl two years ago, I doubt whether we’d be hearing so much grumbling in their locker room. For all Jim Harbaugh’s abrasiveness, I think his players would be in his corner if the frustration of losing hadn’t set in.

    As a rule, bad teams will start squabbling and finger pointing even if all 25 players on the roster are nice guys, and a great teams will pull together even if most of them are jerks.

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