Friday, June 30, 2017

Thoughts on What Went Wrong Part 4: Chemical Reactions?

Clubhouse "chemistry" is a murky topic.  What goes on in MLB clubhouses is generally guarded with similar intensity as a nuclear stockpile.  What's even less clear than what goes on in a clubhouse is what impact it does or doesn't have on a team's performance.  There is some circumstantial evidence that the current Giants team does not exactly have a hung-ho attitude and has not exactly circled the wagons in the face of adversity.  They say where there's smoke there's fire.  Here are a few puffs of smoke that have gone up over the past year:

-A big deal was made last year and over the offseason about the impact Gordon Beckham had on the Giants clubhouse in general and Buster Posey in particular.  Apparently Beckham had a knack for being not afraid to needle The Buster and have it lighten him up a bit.

-Johnny Cueto made some comments in spring training about the somber atmosphere in the clubhouse and drew a distinction between what type of clubhouse the white dudes like and what the latinos like, quiet vs loud.

-Buster Posey got in Brandon Belt's face during a game apparently for not paying attention to positioning instructions.

-Javier Lopez, while filling in as color man on the TV broadcast, took to giving nicknames.  I am not sure how many of these he did but the two I saw/heard were "Sparky" for Belt and "Gerald" for Buster Posey.  Both of those struck me as being a bit on the snarky side and Lopez is less than a year removed from being part of that clubhouse.

-Ken Rosenthal recently reported a story about the Giants bullpen being upset with Mark Melancon over Melancon insisting on changing the pregame stretching routine to fit his flow. There was some scrambling to contain the damage and it does seem like the story was exaggerated a bit, but the fact that someone, apparently from within the team, would even go near the topic with Rosenthal tells you something.  I mean, I seriously doubt that Rosenthal just made the story up!

Often, the guys you need to worry about in the clubhouse are not the stars or starting players but the guys who come off the bench.  I have no idea whether it had an impact on the current clubhouse atmosphere, whatever it may be, but the Giants took a very different approach to filling out their roster this spring.  Going in, they had a reasonable bench penciled in with Gorkys Hernandez able to cover all 3 OF positions and maybe even do some platooning with Denard Span.  They had Conor Gillaspie able to cover 3B and 1B with Kelby Tomlinson able to take the MI positions as well as OF in a pinch.  They needed an upgrade at backup catcher and needed a RH power bat off the bench who could play a corner OF position.

They brought in Tim Fedorowicz to compete for backup catcher, then later signed a clear upgrade in Nick Hundley.  OK, so far so good.  I was A-OK with the Hwang signing.  He appeared to be a bonafide KBO star and some of those players have performed very well in MLB.  If he turned out to be a clear upgrade on Gillaspie, or even if he pushed Nunez to the bench, you can't blame Bobby Evans for wanting to upgrade the team like that.

That's when the silliness seemed to take over.  First there was Jimmy Rollins, who had not been good for at least 2 years, apparently just because he's from the Bay Area. Then there was Gordon Beckham, who hit .000 in 2016, just because he could get Buster Posey out of his shell.  Michael Morse was recruited and signed because he was in Hunter Pence's wedding.  Aaron Hill was brought in, maybe because he went 5 for 5 against the Giants a couple of times, oh, about 6 or 7 years ago.  Chris Marrero was probably a reasonable flyer and Justin Ruggiano was a possible RH bat who could play CF in a pinch, but it just seemed like way too many guys were brought in for the wrong reasons with no clear plan of how to sort it all out.

Whether the apparent chaos of sorting out their bench was in any way related to the dismal performance of the bench or the allegedly dysfunctional clubhouse is probably impossible to know.  I do know that "competition" in spring training is a terrible way to make roster decisions for a whole host of reasons including SSS, playing conditions in Arizona and extreme variations in quality of opponents, especially in later innings.

Whether a dysfunctional clubhouse  has any impact on W-L records is controversial.  It is certainly impossible to measure.  More than 1 World Series has been won by teams in which the players all hated each other.


  1. Gerald is Buster's name. Buster is the nick name.

    1. Uh, I already knew that, but thanks anyway.