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OC Register: Angels banking on team chemistry to lift their performances


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TEMPE, Ariz. — Given the view of the game that Perry Minasian had when he got his first taste of baseball, there should be no surprise about one of the elements he thinks is important when building a team.

As Minasian introduced each of his acquisitions over the winter, there was a pattern in the way he described them. Without fail, the Angels’ new general manager would talk, unsolicited, about the player’s makeup or character or about how well he would fit in the clubhouse.

The clubhouse, you see, is where Minasian grew up. His father was the visiting clubhouse manager and then the home clubhouse manager with the Texas Rangers. Minasian grew up watching up close the way players interacted with one another and how that affected the results on the field.

“Just from being around different teams that underperform with the talent they have, and other teams that overperform with the talent they have,” Minasian said. “I’m a big believer in people, in general, and on and off the field, especially in the locker room, you go through so many ups and downs over the course of the season that you better have the right group.”

Shortly after the Angels hired Minasian, Alex Anthopoulos, one of his mentors, said that Minasian’s insight into how players and coaches interact in the clubhouse “is a difference-making perspective that is a competitive advantage.”

Minasian and Joe Maddon are in lockstep on this issue. The Angels manager is also a strong believer that intangibles and the makeup of the players have a role in a team’s success. Not coincidentally, several of the players the Angels brought in over the winter were those who had already played under Maddon: pitchers Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb and outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jon Jay.

Maddon knows that outsiders often roll their eyes at talk of clubhouse chemistry. When many people hear that a player is “great in the clubhouse” they view that as code for “not so great on the field.”

“I’ve run into that for years,” Maddon said. “We mock what we don’t understand. … If you’ve never been part of that transition, people say ‘Oh you win, that’s what changes (the culture). Winning solves all evils or ills. OK, then how do you win?”

Talent obviously is what wins baseball games, but the talent margin at the highest level of any sport isn’t that significant. What often separates teams is their ability to maximize talent.

That’s what clubhouse chemistry is about, according to San Francisco-based sports writer Joan Ryan. She studied the topic for 10 years to write the book “Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry.”

After interviews with hundreds of players, coaches, executives, neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists, Ryan concluded that team chemistry, while not quantifiable, is absolutely real.

It is also not to be confused with camaraderie, she said. She devoted a chapter in her book to Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who both said they couldn’t stand each other while playing for the San Francisco Giants. They still functioned well as teammates, pushing each other to success.

“The function of team chemistry is to elevate performance,” she said. “It has no other purpose. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It means you’re going to make the most out of the talent you have.”

Essentially, if a team has the right mix of players, those players will make each other perform better. It could be in tangible ways, like showing a pitcher a grip, or in more subtle ways, like setting an example on the right way to prepare.

It could also be simple motivation.

“My teammates summon a fight from me I can’t willingly summon for myself,” longtime big league pitcher Jake Peavey told Ryan.

It is common sense to believe that players would influence each other, Ryan said.

“When you think about all these players in this combined space of a clubhouse, day after day after day, and all these different influences around, they are changing each other bit by bit by bit every day,” she said. “Now they could change each other in a really negative way. Or they could change each other in a positive way. That’s who we are as human beings. There’s no getting around it.

“There are reams and reams of research that is very clear about how we influence each other as human beings. So if that’s true, it doesn’t stop at the clubhouse door.”

Minasian has been inside those clubhouse doors watching it happen for years. In his early years, he worked in visiting clubhouse, so he saw different teams for three or four days at a time, but as a teenager he was in the Rangers’ clubhouse, watching the same players together day after day, year after year.

“I’m a big believer that players learn from other players, as much if not more than coaches,” he said. “I can give plenty of examples of guys who have changed their careers because of teammates. When you have the right group, it’s not just jokes and laughs and having fun. It’s the accountability.

“The guy in the next locker says ‘We need you to do this.’ They call each other out. To me, the best teams I’ve been around are the teams that have done that, so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Whether that happens remains to be seen. A few weeks into spring training, though, the players seem to have a good feeling about how the mix will work.

“Every single person that they’ve brought in, just in the baseball community if you talk to people, everybody has wonderful things to say about each person,” Cobb said. “We’re going to have a very good clubhouse from the mixture of veteran players to younger players. From what I’ve seen so far with the personalities and the people that are coming, this can be a very fun clubhouse to be part of.”

While a fun clubhouse isn’t as important to success as one in which the players push each other, it doesn’t hurt.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon said when he first got into the majors he “didn’t really give into it or buy into it,” but now he understands the value in how players get along.

“As I continue to grow in this game, you realize how much of a benefit, how crucial it is to enjoy being around those individuals in the clubhouse every single day,” Rendon said. “You’re gonna see them more than your family. … Each individual, no matter what personality they may have, you have to enjoy being around them. You have to click for it to be successful.”

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was a teammate of Rendon with the World Series champion Washington Nationals in 2019, agreed.

“You’re together for so long, so many days, that you need to build this bond, this chemistry,” Suzuki said. “You become like a family. To win, I believe you can’t just rely on talent. You’ve got to have good chemistry, a good group of guys coming together and having each other’s backs. It creates this great team and family, and I think it’s a huge part in winning.”

APA_20201117_51144.jpg?fit=620%2C9999px&
New Angels general manager Perry Minasian, left, talks with Manager Joe Maddon on the day of his introductory press conference in November at Angel Stadium. Both men are in lockstep when it comes to believing that intangibles and the makeup of the players have a role in a team’s success. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels)

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Ultimately players and staff know where they are and what to expect.

Team chemistry and moral victories all fine and good.  

Management is first and foremost responsible for putitng a winning product on the field.  The fact that Free Agents land elsewhere, especially with Dodgers and Padres, are very telling for a Angels team in the same region.  Talent and needs should be filled to the point where one event doesn't impact a team significantly.  Also put ownership on the Team Leaders to stress the needs for attracting talent needed to compete.  None of this is new or groundbreaking.  When an industry has seen teams year-after-year for 100+ years, informed opinion can be drawn as to where a team stands.

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1 hour ago, AngelsWin.com said:

TEMPE, Ariz. — Given the view of the game that Perry Minasian had when he got his first taste of baseball, there should be no surprise about one of the elements he thinks is important when building a team.

As Minasian introduced each of his acquisitions over the winter, there was a pattern in the way he described them. Without fail, the Angels’ new general manager would talk, unsolicited, about the player’s makeup or character or about how well he would fit in the clubhouse.

The clubhouse, you see, is where Minasian grew up. His father was the visiting clubhouse manager and then the home clubhouse manager with the Texas Rangers. Minasian grew up watching up close the way players interacted with one another and how that affected the results on the field.

“Just from being around different teams that underperform with the talent they have, and other teams that overperform with the talent they have,” Minasian said. “I’m a big believer in people, in general, and on and off the field, especially in the locker room, you go through so many ups and downs over the course of the season that you better have the right group.”

Shortly after the Angels hired Minasian, Alex Anthopoulos, one of his mentors, said that Minasian’s insight into how players and coaches interact in the clubhouse “is a difference-making perspective that is a competitive advantage.”

Minasian and Joe Maddon are in lockstep on this issue. The Angels manager is also a strong believer that intangibles and the makeup of the players have a role in a team’s success. Not coincidentally, several of the players the Angels brought in over the winter were those who had already played under Maddon: pitchers Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb and outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jon Jay.

Maddon knows that outsiders often roll their eyes at talk of clubhouse chemistry. When many people hear that a player is “great in the clubhouse” they view that as code for “not so great on the field.”

“I’ve run into that for years,” Maddon said. “We mock what we don’t understand. … If you’ve never been part of that transition, people say ‘Oh you win, that’s what changes (the culture). Winning solves all evils or ills. OK, then how do you win?”

Talent obviously is what wins baseball games, but the talent margin at the highest level of any sport isn’t that significant. What often separates teams is their ability to maximize talent.

That’s what clubhouse chemistry is about, according to San Francisco-based sports writer Joan Ryan. She studied the topic for 10 years to write the book “Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry.”

After interviews with hundreds of players, coaches, executives, neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists, Ryan concluded that team chemistry, while not quantifiable, is absolutely real.

It is also not to be confused with camaraderie, she said. She devoted a chapter in her book to Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who both said they couldn’t stand each other while playing for the San Francisco Giants. They still functioned well as teammates, pushing each other to success.

“The function of team chemistry is to elevate performance,” she said. “It has no other purpose. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It means you’re going to make the most out of the talent you have.”

Essentially, if a team has the right mix of players, those players will make each other perform better. It could be in tangible ways, like showing a pitcher a grip, or in more subtle ways, like setting an example on the right way to prepare.

It could also be simple motivation.

“My teammates summon a fight from me I can’t willingly summon for myself,” longtime big league pitcher Jake Peavey told Ryan.

It is common sense to believe that players would influence each other, Ryan said.

“When you think about all these players in this combined space of a clubhouse, day after day after day, and all these different influences around, they are changing each other bit by bit by bit every day,” she said. “Now they could change each other in a really negative way. Or they could change each other in a positive way. That’s who we are as human beings. There’s no getting around it.

“There are reams and reams of research that is very clear about how we influence each other as human beings. So if that’s true, it doesn’t stop at the clubhouse door.”

Minasian has been inside those clubhouse doors watching it happen for years. In his early years, he worked in visiting clubhouse, so he saw different teams for three or four days at a time, but as a teenager he was in the Rangers’ clubhouse, watching the same players together day after day, year after year.

“I’m a big believer that players learn from other players, as much if not more than coaches,” he said. “I can give plenty of examples of guys who have changed their careers because of teammates. When you have the right group, it’s not just jokes and laughs and having fun. It’s the accountability.

“The guy in the next locker says ‘We need you to do this.’ They call each other out. To me, the best teams I’ve been around are the teams that have done that, so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Whether that happens remains to be seen. A few weeks into spring training, though, the players seem to have a good feeling about how the mix will work.

“Every single person that they’ve brought in, just in the baseball community if you talk to people, everybody has wonderful things to say about each person,” Cobb said. “We’re going to have a very good clubhouse from the mixture of veteran players to younger players. From what I’ve seen so far with the personalities and the people that are coming, this can be a very fun clubhouse to be part of.”

While a fun clubhouse isn’t as important to success as one in which the players push each other, it doesn’t hurt.

 

Related Articles

Third baseman Anthony Rendon said when he first got into the majors he “didn’t really give into it or buy into it,” but now he understands the value in how players get along.

 

“As I continue to grow in this game, you realize how much of a benefit, how crucial it is to enjoy being around those individuals in the clubhouse every single day,” Rendon said. “You’re gonna see them more than your family. … Each individual, no matter what personality they may have, you have to enjoy being around them. You have to click for it to be successful.”

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who was a teammate of Rendon with the World Series champion Washington Nationals in 2019, agreed.

“You’re together for so long, so many days, that you need to build this bond, this chemistry,” Suzuki said. “You become like a family. To win, I believe you can’t just rely on talent. You’ve got to have good chemistry, a good group of guys coming together and having each other’s backs. It creates this great team and family, and I think it’s a huge part in winning.”

APA_20201117_51144.jpg?fit=620%2C9999px& New Angels general manager Perry Minasian, left, talks with Manager Joe Maddon on the day of his introductory press conference in November at Angel Stadium. Both men are in lockstep when it comes to believing that intangibles and the makeup of the players have a role in a team’s success. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels)

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60% of the time, it works everytime. They've done studies.

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Yes, all true, and I think this sort of thing is generally not understood by many fans, who tend to view baseball as akin to fantasy baseball, forgetting that there are real humans involved.

On the other hand, team chemistry also includes creating a culture where a manager can say, "Sorry, Albert, but you're just not performing to the level that we need, so we're going to minimize your at-bats to situations in which you excel. We could use your wisdom and experience on the bench, though."

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“The function of team chemistry is to elevate performance,” she said. “It has no other purpose. That doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It means you’re going to make the most out of the talent you have.”

This sentence will be ignored by some in order to continue to gripe about their off-season disappointment.

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1 hour ago, Angelsjunky said:

Yes, all true, and I think this sort of thing is generally not understood by many fans, who tend to view baseball as akin to fantasy baseball, forgetting that there are real humans involved.

On the other hand, team chemistry also includes creating a culture where a manager can say, "Sorry, Albert, but you're just not performing to the level that we need, so we're going to minimize your at-bats to situations in which you excel. We could use your wisdom and experience on the bench, though."

I think this is important, and a great analogy. Fans see it as Fantasy baseball--the players we wanted, for instance, are guys with good stats that we think fit in well. But what is the positive impact of a guy like Fowler? Cobb? Suzuki? We have no idea. We only think in stats. Bundy escaped a bad culture in Baltimore for him and the shadows of his disappointment as a prospect. He then flourished. I'm interested to see what this kind of clubhouse results in. 

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Some managers seem to consistently field teams that outperform their pythagorean W/L expectations based on runs scored/allowed. Could there be a correlation between this and their ability to foster a positive team chemistry?
Seems to me that the manager can have a stronger effect on team chemistry than any other single person.

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It makes sense to me on so many levels. And I think if you look at the Angels recent history, it's riddled with teams with a lack of chemistry. The Angels have had as much talent as anyone in the last decade. But only one playoff appearance to show for it. 

I see a talented team this year, and now it's time to see if they can maximize on that talent, and fortunately, I think Maddon and Minasian are the sort of guys that specialize in that.

Edited by Second Base
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2 hours ago, Angelsjunky said:

Yes, all true, and I think this sort of thing is generally not understood by many fans, who tend to view baseball as akin to fantasy baseball, forgetting that there are real humans involved.

On the other hand, team chemistry also includes creating a culture where a manager can say, "Sorry, Albert, but you're just not performing to the level that we need, so we're going to minimize your at-bats to situations in which you excel. We could use your wisdom and experience on the bench, though."

No better time for that than this season, Pujols’ last season of play with the Halos.   Let him start some 70-80 games tops, and help in other ways.

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I will say this for the chemistry narrative, the last time the Angels went to the playoffs was 2014, and that was the year they brought in John MacDonald to be the utility infielder, and also specifically, the clubhouse leader.

I don't believe in coincidence, but I also don't think Johnny-Mac was singularly instrumental in that team making the playoffs. A lot of players played up to their potential in 2014, and that's supposed to coincide with teams with a tightly knit clubhouse. 

 

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50 minutes ago, Dochalo said:

stat geeks - people that think stats matter and that chemistry also matters

non-stat geeks - people that think stat geeks only care about stats.  

When did you become publisher of Webster,

I argued on this board many times regarding the intangibles like chemistry. Ti.e and time again I was mocked by people I refer to as stat geeks.

For the record, as a basketball coach stats were very important.   However finding players role players who were not impressive with stats but po divided the intangibles was vital to winning.

Edited by stormngt
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1 hour ago, Taylor said:

You know what instantly generates team chemistry?

Winning games.

I'm not sure it is that easy.  I believe that John Wooden once said that winning is not the goal but the byproduct of every player and coach wanting to get better.  I suspect that team chemistry creates the environment for players to access the information they need to improve (from coaches and other players) and the motivation to improve because others (coaches and players) are genuinely interested and invested in your performance.

Then again, it might all be bullshit.

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