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.  

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