Jim Leyland on Chemistry

Enter the name Jim Leyland into your mind’s version of Google, then hit search – or “I’m feeling lucky” if you’re feeling lucky. What comes to mind is probably a variety of descriptive terms. “Old” “short” “chain smoker” “mustache” “old school” and so on. All of which are accurate. Leyland was born about three years and a week to the day of the Japanese’s attack on Pearl Harbor. He stands all of six feet tall. He does seem to enjoy a cigar or three on a daily basis. And yes, his mustache enjoys a few puffs too. Leyland’s appearance is everything that Hollywood would seek in casting an old-timey baseball manager.

But the word “progressive”? Sure, it might pop up; much in the way that searching for any female name will return a link or two to some obscure and random adult entertainment video or website. Yet, when speaking to the Washington and Detroit media staffs about Ivan Rodriguez and his impact on the Nationals, Leyland sounded less like a man born before the invention of bar codes, bikinis, and microwaves and more like someone born after the creation of Baseball Primer. Take this notable quotable from Adam Kilgore’s Nationals Journal for example:

“Take all that clubhouse [stuff] and all that, throw it out the window. Every writer in the country has been writing about that [nonsense] for years. Chemistry don’t mean [anything]. He’s up here because he’s good. That don’t mean [a hill of beans]. They got good chemistry because their team is improved, they got a real good team, they got guys knocking in runs, they got a catcher hitting .336, they got a phenom pitcher they just brought up. That’s why they’re happy.”

This isn’t some kind of victory worthy of a collective “Huzzah!” from the anti-chemistry crowd because one could just as easily find a quote from an opposing manager who suggests chemistry is vital for winning. Chemistry is like the baseball version of the chicken/egg argument. The only reasons I’m sharing the quotes are 1) Kilgore’s profanity edits are fantastic; and 2) how amusing it is to see someone who doesn’t buy into chemistry turn around and reference batting average and pitcher wins as the statistics of value.




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48 Responses to “Jim Leyland on Chemistry”

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  1. The worst was when talking about Brennan Boesch earlier this year in a post-game interview, Leyland claimed he’d rather have an RBI man than an on-base percentage guy. I face-palmed so hard that I believe I actually put a dent in my skull.

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    • Specifically (I’m paraphrasing), he said that “You hear alot of people talk about on base percentage this, on base percentage that….but this guy drives in runs. That’s what I want.”

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      • James says:

        I remember it well. He said, “You look at every game and you get enough guys on base. But you need guys to drive them in.” I wanted to die.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        “You look at every game and you get enough guys on base. But you need guys to drive them in.”

        Not to be contrary, but don’t we know what he’s getting at with that sentiment?

        You do need some guys to get some extra base hits, and isn’t that essentially what “guys to drive them in” means? High slugging percentage guys?

        If a team is going to get 15 singles + 5 walks per game … then you probably don’t need “guys that drive them in”, as we traditionally interpret the phrase to mean. But what are the odds that a team get 4+ runners per inning (assuming you’re only getting walks and singles).

        Isn’t this why teams like the 82 and 85 Cardinals are so rare?

        Successful teams that didn’t have sluggers mixed in with the group (although The Ripper was on the 85 team). But those teams were to the extreme in terms of stealing bases and getting themselves into scoring position where a single could score a run (and the team also had defense, run prevention).

        Again, I’m not trying to be contrary or make a stink, but is what Leyland said really that bad? If you interpret it as meaning a roster needs to have both guys that get on base and guys that have high slugging percentages (if they do both, even better)?

        Leyland has been around forever and is as cranky as they come, so at one time or another he’s probably said “everything”. I just don’t see where this specific quote is all that bad, if we consider what he is likely representing.

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      • Tony says:

        Leyland says that because the Tigers seem to be the best team in the league at getting a man in scoring position with less than 2 outs and not getting in a run. He wants guys that hit with men on base (as if that were a discernible skill), and so far Boesch seems to do that.

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      • B N says:

        Well, you DO need guys to drive em in. OBP is predicated having at least league average contact driving runners in.

        If you had a team of 0.400 OBP guys, which was 100% walks… well, you won’t have a great team. On the whole, you’d score some runs but you’d be a whole lot better if you had a bunch of 0.400 OBP guys plus a couple guys with horrible OBP who could slug well. It’s synergy. (It would also probably be a weird line up, as you’d be best off having your good sluggers placed far apart in the order, but still).

        Usually it’s not the case, but a team could definitely suffer from having tons of OBP and bad SLG, leading to bad production as a whole. I don’t think it’s in any way bad to say that you’d be willing to trade one player with better OBP for a player with better SLG. You need both of them, and sometimes you have too many of one kind.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Well I prefer to think of it this way. OBP and SLG are meaningless in and of themselves, but only relevant based on their contributions to scoring runs. OBP leads to runs scored, while SLG leads to runs driven in (in a very simplified sense).

      So it could very well be that Leland would rather have the .300/.350/.500 guy than the .300/.400/.450 guy. I guess that would depend on his spot in the batting order.

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  2. philkid3 says:

    This is certainly no proof that chemistry has no effect, but it’s still very nice to hear.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    Not really sure what the point of this article is.

    But, “chemistry” seems to be primarily something media members and fans talk about.

    Most other managers and players view it the same way we do about our workplaces … it doesn’t matter how well you get along as long as everyone does their job, and preferably does it very well. As adults, we’re much more focused on how well a person does his/her job than we are in regards to how they feel about it and others.

    Leadership certainly incorporates both, but one is much more important than the other. Again, it’s the media nad the fans that want to write about “Shaq & Kobe” all the time.

    I’m starting to accept that sports serve as “soap operas” for men (fans seem to love the drama more than the actual game) and the chance to align ourselves at the top of the knowledge hierarchy (we’re smarter than everyone else) … even though we aren’t actually “in the profession”. Kind of a weird deal actually.

    I’ve been on teams where the chemistry was so good that it was actually a hinderance … where we were all so close, like borthers, that when we’d lose there would be more of a “It’s okay man, we’ll get em next time” kind of sentiment, instead of someone getting in another’s grill and telling them to pick up their game or get off the field.

    Winning aids ‘chemistry’ in all cases except the ones where a specific person wants [1] win AND [2] have all the credit.

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    • quint says:

      I think that is right, but I would add that I think chemistry can help people do their jobs better. If you have a great environment, a good team, friends etc etc, then you would really enjoy going to work (going to the stadium) and going about your business.

      I don’t think it is critical, but I think it helps.

      If you don’t believe in chemistry, then ‘he could use a change of environment’ also doesn’t exist.

      Baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum, a lot of stuff can influence performance.

      But you don’t need chemistry to win if everyone is performing well.

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  4. Kevin says:

    Just a friendly reminder, RJ: Google makes its decisions based on your search history. So, the results from Googling a female name won’t necessarily be random. ;)

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  5. astrostl says:

    Leyland had a funny rant on chemistry a couple years ago as well -

    http://beck.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/03/dont_ask_about_.html

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  6. nolan says:

    Well Leyland is half-right with the RBI comment because high-OBP players tend to drive in more runs by definition.

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    • the fume says:

      Leyland talks about RBI because he needs to be old-school, he’s really talking about SLG. SLG vs. OBP is a fair debate, I think, as I would say having a high SLG leads to a higher OBP as you get pitched around.

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  7. Vidor says:

    Six feet tall is short?

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  8. Max says:

    “how amusing it is to see someone who doesn’t buy into chemistry turn around and reference batting average and pitcher wins as the statistics of value.”

    1. Nowhere in the Leyland quote is pitcher wins referenced.
    2. Batting Average is a statistic of value.

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    • Matt says:

      And to add to the Batting Average, what he’s quoted at saying is, “they got a catcher hitting .336.” Batting Average is very accurate at describing what has happened, and since he’s talking about why they’re happy and why they are winning, the fact that they have a catcher who has had success at the plate that regularly is a perfectly valid reason.

      We have a bunch of fancy stats now that show that it will be very difficult for him to maintain that level of success throughout the year, but then again, do we really need them to know that about a 60 year old catcher? None of it changes what he has done.

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  9. exxrox says:

    “1. Nowhere in the Leyland quote is pitcher wins referenced.”

    I came in to say this. Somebody beat me at 3:08am.

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  10. Jay says:

    In the article R.J. linked to: “They didn’t bring Strasburg up because he’s a nice guy. They brought him up because he’s a big talent. He has a chance to be an unbelievable pitcher and he’s won two games already.”

    As for batting average, I get what R.J. is saying, but hitting .336 as a catcher in this era implies an above average season to the typical baseball fan. No one has ever hit as many points above the league average over as many plate appearances with an OPS+ below 108.

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  11. Evan says:

    This is coming from a manager who’s never won anything and whose team always chokes down the stretch. Maybe they should ask a GOOD manager how important chemistry is, like, say, I don’t know, Joe Girardi.

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    • TJ says:

      An AL pennant, an NL pennant, and a World Series is not nothing. Also, just because I felt like doing the extra work: Jim leyland’s managerial record after August 31st is 247-250 for a .497 winning percentage. That is the same winning percentage as his career numbers, if you look up Joe Girardi I’m sure it will be very similar to his career record also.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I was just thinking that Leyland won a LOT of games in PIT on a team that had crap chemistry. MOF, so did the Giants … the common factor there is Barry Bonds.

      As for Girardi, instead of talking to him about chemistry, he might be the expert on how to win a ws when you have more talent than everyone else.

      I think we’re giving too much importance to managers, actually.

      Truth is, talent trumps everyone, a lot more times than not.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        talents trumps everything, not everyone. Oops

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      • ava crowder's butt says:

        chemistry ain’t just about bein’ warm and fuzzy. People are motivated differently and learn differently. Some guys need a pat on the butt and some need a kick in the butt. Chemistry is about finding a good mesh of those guys. It’s more about respect than love, IMO.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Really, chemistry should be more about how well they play together, rather than how well they get along.

        Two middle infielders could hate each other, but still have great on-field chemistry. Likewise, the 2-hitter could hate the 3-hitter, but still be willing to hit the ball on the ground to the right side and advance the runner to 3rd (instead of trying to go deep), so the 3-hitter can increase the number of ways the runner can be brought home.

        Likewise, a reliever could be supportive of a loogy he hates as a person, because he knows the appearance of the loogy gives the team a matchup advantage in certain cases.

        Chemistry in the baseball sense is often too vague to really mean anything … as it often means “everything”.

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      • ava crowder's butt says:

        I think we might agree on this. Just semantics, but I wouldn’t say it’s “everything” but it could be anything, depending on makeup of a particular team. Really, it’s whatever makes your TEAM better and I just think that can involve more than talent. A team can be better than the sum of its parts, again, just my opinion.

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    • Bill says:

      Leyland has never won anything? He has won a World Series. Is that something? I mean, it’s no WBC trophy or anything, but still it should count for something.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Unbelievable, who the fuck are you?

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  12. Six says:

    Yeah… and they threw away that .336 hitting Hall Of Fame Catcher (who also would have been a great mentor for Avila) for a back of turnips.

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  13. Joseph says:

    “one could just as easily find a quote from an opposing manager who suggests chemistry is vital for winning.”

    In fact, I’m quite certain you could find a quote from Jim Leyland stating just that. Probably after being posed a question about chemistry being overrated.

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  14. d says:

    I would say that baseball requires much less chemistry than other sports like football and basketball where there is physical contact (well, a LOT more) and you need emotions to get through. In baseball, its mostly skill and not conditioning, strength, etc that leads to success.

    Case in point, Miguel Cabrera is a big power hitter but that dude is pretty out of shape.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      You look at cabrera and see “out of shape”. However, there are quite a fe woverweight dudes in the NFL that do some rather tremendously athletic things.

      There are also peole with low body fat that are not conditioned or athletic. BF% is primarily a function of nutrition.

      Don’t confuse the two aspects.

      I’m not saying Miggy could go out and run a marathon, but he does pretty well at his athletic endeavor.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    Of the “major, team sports”, baseball is …

    [1] The most individualistic.
    [2] The most skill-based.

    We tend to think of “athletic” moves as running and jumping.

    The amount of athleticism it takes to strike a 90mph pitch well is tremendous. However, there is trmendous skill in being able to recognize pitches, initiate timing, etc … that puts it in the skill category.

    After baseball, hockey was rated as the next highest skill sport followed by NFL, and NBA. To me, that’s not surprising given that we can see guys go straight from HS to the NBA and be an All-Star. We don’t see that in MLB.

    Baseball, as most know, is an individual matchup with a team concept.

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  16. d says:

    –CircleChange11:

    Depends how you define “athletic” and “skilled”. Is it athletic to hit a 95-100 MPH fastball when you don’t know where it is going? Or is it athletic to run a 800meter race at 15+ MPH and lift 400 pounds for the bench press?

    Miguel Cabrera IS severely out of shape. Ask him to jog two miles and I guarantee that he will be gassed.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    I agree that Cabrera is overweight and not “conditioned” as we generally accept the term. He is conditioned to do what he does … i.e. hit a ton and play 1B (for example, on what should have been the final out of Galarraga’s no-hitter, Cabrera ranged far too his right to make that play … a play, perhaps, he should have let the 2B take, instead of forcing the P to cover 1st and make a routine play much more difficult).

    But, the point I was making is that running 2 miles isn’t a part of baseball. But, baseball is still an athletic endeavor … just not to the same degree that basketball and baseball are. Likewise, a defensive back and a lineman are both conditioned to do what they are called upon to do.

    I, too, would prefer for Cabrera to be “in better shape”, but it likely does not affect his performance in what he is called upon to do.

    Hell, I think throwing a baseball is an athletic move. Ever seen an unathletic person throw one? It’s hard on the eyes. *grin* We tend to unnecessarily narrow our interpretations of terms.

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  18. Bronnt says:

    If you guys want a victory, last night (Friday) the guys on BBTN showed the WAR leaderboard for NL shortstops when talking about the Tulowitzki injury. THAT is a victory.

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  19. joeiq says:

    Chemistry might be less of an issue for Leiland who takes command.

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  20. d says:

    CircleChange11 says::

    Even though baserunning and beating out double plays are not the principal components of a player’s worth, they do add up. If Miguel Cabrera could stretch some of those well hit gap hits from singles to doubles or doubles to triples….

    ….(wishful sigh)

    Also, not to be a jerk that just argues, but a lot of those heavy, 340 pound football lineman can run a 40 year dash in 4.9 seconds or lift 200 pounds 25 times. I’d be willing to water that its better than most heavy baseball players.

    I agree that most people probably think of athletic ability in fairly broad terms.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I’d bet the lineman are in better “shape” than comparable baseball players. I’d also bet they are inherently better athletes, in terms of athleticism as we traditionally undertsand it. If they weren’t, they likely wouldn’t be in the NFL. There’s a reason why there’s an NFL combine, but not an MLB combine.

      My main point with Cabrera is that we should not give too much attention to his waist, while failing to realize he is one of the best and most consistent hitters in history.

      Seriously, the guy puts up .320/.380/.540 seasons as if they were the worst he could do. Or to look at it another way, he averages wRC+ 144 seasons. That’s 24th all-time for MLB 1B.

      But, I do wish he were leaner and more versatile. But still, he’s pretty darn productive.

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  21. WY says:

    “The only reasons I’m sharing the quotes are 1) Kilgore’s profanity edits are fantastic; and 2) how amusing it is to see someone who doesn’t buy into chemistry turn around and reference batting average and pitcher wins as the statistics of value.”

    Agreed on 1), but why is it so amusing that he cites batting average? He’s old; he’s from a different generation. Do you really expect him to cite the guy’s OPS or wOBA? And where does he say anything about pitcher wins?

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  22. d says:

    Yeah, Cabrera is a great player. I’m just wishfully hoping that he gets in better shape so he can return to third base (or at least be a great first baseman) and improve his overall value.

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  23. Kurtis Kroes says:

    Why do the content reminds me of another identical the one that I just read some place else?

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