When Character and Makeup Matter

Have you ever noticed how debates have a tendency to polarize a conversation? I sometimes feel like engaging in a debate with someone makes it less likely that we’ll find a common ground on some issue, as both sides dig in, believing they are 100% accurate while the other side is spewing garbage. Points get exaggerated in an effort to prove the other person wrong, and the debate becomes a black-or-white affair with none of the all important shades of gray. I’ve noticed this before with players: if the mainstream media likes a player more than I feel they’re worth, I have a tendency to push back against that and over-exaggerate the player’s flaws in an attempt to balance out the other side. Jason Bartlett didn’t deserve to be named the Rays’ MVP in 2008, but he was certainly more valuable than the amount of flak he received from saber-Rays fans as a result.

When the Luis Castillo news came out last Friday, I was immediately reminded of the old sabermetric discussions over “grit” and team chemistry. Up until a few seasons ago, many mainstream writers (and fans) loved to tout the importance of chemistry in leading a team to success, and they had a tendency to treat gritty players that work hard and play the game “the right way” as demigods. That’s not say that these type of arguments have vanished; there are still plenty of writers and fans that value chemistry and grit, but it’s become tougher and tougher to find articles espousing that point of view. For the most part, this is a debate that the saberists have won: it’s not that character attributes don’t exist, but that they have a very small influence on performance and are impossible to separate from all the surrounding statistical noise.

But just because something has a small and indeterminate effect doesn’t mean we can ignore it completely.  In fact, I’d argue that a General Manager should take a player’s makeup into account…just not as much as the grit lovers would have you believe.

In recent years, there have been psychology studies that show that a person’s work environment can have an impact on their level of productivity in the workplace. Consider this from a personal level: if you feel supported by the people around you and you enjoy working as a part of your company’s team, wouldn’t you be more likely to work better than if you hated your co-workers and company? It’s common knowledge to H.R. workers (or at least, it should be) that in order to create a productive workplace, you need to make sure that everyone feels supported and encouraged. It’s all about creating a positive psychosocial work environment.

While a major league clubhouse is far from a typical work environment – and playing baseball isn’t exactly like pushing papers – the same principles should apply. We’re all human and subject to the same social influences, so it makes sense to me that players would be more likely to exert more effort if they are in a supportive, tight-knit clubhouse. Whether that extra effort translates into a better result on the field is another question entirely, but if a GM wants to give their team every possible advantage, they’d be well served to encourage a supportive clubhouse atmosphere. Maybe the only noticeable change is that more players show up early for B.P. and drills, but hey, that’s still something, right? Especially on teams with lots of young talent, the more work your players get the better.

Along those same lines, prospects are the lifeblood of major league teams. Even if you’re a team blessed with revenue streams out the wazoo, your team’s long-term success depends heavily on your ability to acquire and develop top level prospects. And while talent is obviously the most important thing to be assessed with prospects, scouts also put value on “makeup”, as they try to determine how well a player will respond to failure, how hard they will work to keep getting better, and if they’ll respond well to the pressure of playing in the high minors and majors. I think Jim Callis from Baseball America sums it up best:

Character and makeup do play a part in our rankings, though talent still has to be the overriding factor. Work ethic, intelligence and off-field issues can help or hinder a prospect as he tries to reach his ceiling. At the same time, the hardest-working, smartest, cleanest-living player isn’t going to make it if he doesn’t have the physical ability.

Character and makeup won’t turn a scrub into a star, nor will it make a mediocre team into a championship caliber squad. It should never be cited as the sole reason a team is playing well, and we should also think twice about citing it in an argument about a player’s value. How do we, casual observers of baseball, truly know who’s a good clubhouse presence and who isn’t? All of our information on players is colored by the people reporting it to us, and their statements and opinions are going to be influenced by how a player interacts with them. A player could be horrible with the media yet great with his teammates, so I’d think twice before casting any judgments.*

*Of course, then there’s Castillo who was criticized directly by his manager. That’s certainly not good.

We’ll likely never be able to attach a value to being a good “clubhouse presence”, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t stop valuing players that have that skill. There’s a reason players like Jeff Francoeur and Gregg Zaun can hang around for so long despite being glorified bench players…and as long as teams aren’t paying more for that “presence”, there’s nothing wrong with that. Teams should seek every advantage they can, even the psychological ones.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


58 Responses to “When Character and Makeup Matter”

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  1. Far be it from me to cross the “us/them” line, but there’s an important distinction between Zaun and Francoeur: Zaun was (and probably still is) a useful baseball player.

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  2. vivalajeter says:

    you end the article with: “as long as teams aren’t paying more for that “presence”, there’s nothing wrong with that. Teams should seek every advantage they can, even the psychological ones.”

    Can’t it be argued that they should be paying more for that, if it is an advantage?

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  3. Jonas says:

    These are dubious conclusions to draw from the psychological literature.

    There are two opposing paradigms in personality psychology. Situationists like John Bargh think behavior is largely the result of the environment. Trait theorists like Roy Baumeister think behavior is largely the result of traits that tend not to be influenced by the environment.

    Suppose situationists are right. Then it makes no sense to bring in “character” guys who are not good at baseball because character does not remain the same in various environments. Teams should simply focus on finding players who are good at baseball.

    Suppose trait theorists are right. Then it makes no sense to bring in “character” guys who are not good at baseball because they can’t influence other players’ characters that remain the same in various environments. Teams should simply focus on finding players who are good at baseball.

    On either paradigm, then, there’s no room for players like Jeff Francoeur.

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    • Eric says:

      It’s a shame that we have to live in a world where binary oppositions like yours actually describe reality. Oh, wait … never mind.

      Philosopher’s trick/false dilemma.

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      • Jonas says:

        It’s not a binary opposition. The two views I describe are paradigms at opposite ends. There are, of course, many views in between.

        The point is, if on neither extreme can “character” guys be useful, then the same holds for the intermediate views.

        If we’re going to bring in psychology into the conversation, then let’s look at what psychologists say instead of what we pull out of our asses. What psychological theory do you have in mind that would leave room for “character” over and above baseball ability?

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      • matt w says:

        The point is, if on neither extreme can “character” guys be useful, then the same holds for the intermediate views.

        This doesn’t follow. Suppose that we have the following model: Every player has a certain “character score.” The “character score” is not (necessarily) a constant; it’s a weighted average of the player’s own intrinsic character and of the environment, where the environment is in turn partly some immutable factor and partly the average of everyone else’s character score.

        So C = xC0 +yE + zCteam, where C0 is the intrinsic character, E is the non-character environment, and Cteam is the average character of everyone on the team. x, y, and z are the weighting factors, which add up to 1.

        Now, on the “trait” extreme character is all innate trait, so x=1 and no one’s character score (C) is affected by their teammates. On the “situationist” extreme character is all environment, so x = 0 and everyone’s character score immediately changes to fit the environment and the character of their teammates.

        But on intermediate weightings, bringing in high-character guys with a higher C0 score can raise everyone else’s C-score. Say x = y = z = 1/3, E = 0.5, and we start with 25 people with a C0 of 0.5. Obviously everyone can wind up with a C of 0.5. Now we swap out five people for people with a C0 of 1. The C of the old folks nudges up to 0.517, and the C of the new folks lands at 0.683. So there’s a model for you — the underlying psychological theory being “people’s behavior is partly a result of their traits and partly of their environment.”

        (BTW, I’m a little familiar with the situationist psychological literature, mostly through John Doris’s book Lack of Character, and it seems to me that one of the flaws in the way it’s sometimes expounded is that situationists talk as though traits would have to be produce the same response regardless of environment. IIRC I thought Nisbett had the best of the arguments, and his theory seems like it’s conducive to the kind of intermediate model I sketched.)

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      • matt w says:

        Whoops, I think I meant Mischel rather than Nisbett.

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      • Jonas says:

        @matt w. this is interesting. on your model, do “character” guys’ characters get revised downwards too (due to the rest of the team’s lesser-characters affecting them)? if so, then what we should see is that characters get “used up”, so to speak. there can’t be guys that remain “character” guys throughout their careers because they will have used up their characters early in their careers to move the rest of the team to a higher average.

        even supposing this model is right, then, the “character” guys that this model picks out aren’t the “character” guys that sportswriters and pundits have in mind.

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    • IHateMorons says:

      as someone who has studied his work and conversed with him, i can say that baumeister would be a horrible clubhouse influence. he’s a pompous douchebag.

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    • Resolution says:

      If you acknowledge in your later comment that there are many viewpoints in between, and if you know (which you may not I guess), of the theory that behavior is a function of the person + the environment, and you know that situations and traits interact, then why on earth would you write all of this as an either/or proposition? Why on earth would you assume this:

      “The point is, if on neither extreme can “character” guys be useful, then the same holds for the intermediate views.”

      And then go on to say lets not pull stuff out of our asses?

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      • Jonas says:

        There could be a hybrid theory where “character” guys can matter, but it is implausible. Here’s one: “character” guys have stable traits, but other players do not. As such, the stable good traits of “character” guys can positively influence other players’.

        Notice that this hybrid theory does not say that, for all people, behavior is a mix of stable traits and the environment. Rather, it posits that for some people, who are exactly the players labeled as “character” guys in baseball, behaviors tend to be the result of stable traits, and that for other people, who are exactly the players not labeled as “character” guys in baseball, behaviors tend to be the result of environments. This would be a rather ad hoc theory, and one that I am not aware endorsed by any working psychologist.

        On the other hand, suppose you adopt an intermediate view where behavior is a mix of stable traits and the environment. Then you are also conceding that “character” guys can lose their good characters in a bad environment — that is, they might be influenced by the other bad clubhouse guys. And you are also conceding that “character” guys have limited influence — that is, clubhouse cancers who have some stable traits will not be influenced by the “character” guys. I still don’t see how this theory is supposed to vindicate the hidden value of “character” guys.

        Again, I’d love to hear references to a psychological theory on which “character” guys can impart their good characters on other players and not be affected by the lesser-good characters of other players.

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      • Jonas says:

        Notice, furthermore, that what’s needed for there to be value in “character” guys is not just that some people’s traits are relatively stable. What’s needed in addition is that (1) the people whose traits are relatively stable are the people who have good traits, and (2) we have correctly identified those people whose traits are good and relatively stable as the “character” guys.

        Both of these strike me as dubious. Especially (2), given the comments below on the difficulty in pinpointing which are the underlying traits that all or most of the good “character” guys have in common.

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      • Resolution says:

        I appreciate the well thought out responses but I’m thinking you’re either taking this to its logical extremes, or we’re talking about some sort of dead-end, or undefined construct that as presently constructed is meaningless.

        You’re 100% right when you point out how we’re saying character is stable and then are hypocritical if we then expect these good character guys to have any influence over poor-character players (because again, it’s stable so why would it have an influence?). Rather it comes down to a few more things – Person/Organization fit, and credibility.

        Character is mostly stable, but does change over time, and in response to different environments – not radical 180 degree changes, but shifts.

        If a good character player is in a bad-character clubhouse, he wouldn’t be able to exert influence because its contrary to the culture of the organization. Likewise for the reverse, a bad character guy in a good character clubhouse would be ostracized. That would be more P/O fit.

        When I say credibility – players with character (good or bad) are going to have more influence once they’ve established themselves as good players. Other players may be more willing to listen to them, the actual player may be more willing to speak up, as the player ages there will be more players younger than him seeking tutelage.

        Couching the discussion in terms of only good or bad characters and purely stable vs purely malleable obscures a lot of what is going on. Most players are not good or bad characters, but some exhibit traits more conducive to behaviors with either positive or negative outcomes. Character/personality is relatively stable, but so much so that other players, the organization, or time itself have zero influence.

        Personally, I also think it is up to the organization itself to set a model, to stress, and to influence players towards what type of character they’d like to see. Once a player is on the ML roster, they’ve already gone through 3 or so years of character development. Those three developmental years would have a greater impact than just one good character guy on the ML team (most likely)

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  4. adam b says:

    Seems to me that “makeup” and whatever should factor in a lot more into player eval when you’re talking about young players being scouted for the draft or international signings or what have you.

    The bit about reaching ceilings really resonates. Barry Bonds can be the biggest asshole in the world and still have fantastic output on the field. If Bryce Harper is lazy and doesn’t work hard and sulks every time he strikes out or his manager criticizes him, the talent is going to have a harder time shining through.

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    • MikeS says:

      Exactly. I think character mostly affects the outliers. For bad apples it’s not an issue until it gets to the point that they won’t take coaching or make their fellow players so uncomfortable to be around them that they don’t want to show up to work. Maybe a BJ Upton hasn’t maximized his potential because he is so arrogant he doesn’t feel he needs to try to improve, he’ll just get by on natural ability. Maybe a Milton Bradley makes his teammates so unhappy it affects their preparation or performance. The reverse can be true too. Maybe Jim Thome’s hard work resonates and some teammates adopt his habits which makes them better. I don’t think many would argue that his dedication has kept him productive past the time when most players have retired.

      I think the key is that these guys are outliers. The vast majority of players are close enough to average in this “talent” that it doesn’t matter. Most all of them have worked hard and acted relatively professionally. Since it may only be a few percent of players that are affected it makes it that muxh harder to measure.

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      • B.J. Upton says:

        What proof do you have that I’m arrogant?

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      • Hypocrisy says:

        Interesting how people have responded so positively to this article, one covering a subject matter often considered outside of the realm of easily objectifable phenomena, as well as one written without use of numbers to back its claims, when Alex Remington’s article on the role of women in baseball was lambasted for “not providing enough hard data.” No offense to Slowinski—this is indeed a good one—, but people’s biases and prejudices aren’t very hard to spot.

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      • B N says:

        “Remington’s article on the role of women in baseball was lambasted for “not providing enough hard data.””

        That’s what SHE said.

        But more seriously, possibly correct but also possibly a complete coincidence.

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      • Bryz says:

        @ Hypocrisy:

        Very good point. I’m surprised I’ve gotten this far and haven’t seen any complaints about how this article has ignored statistical evidence.

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    • Resolution says:

      I think you more or less hit the nail on the head.

      There’s no denying physical ability is the main competency here. But what about the Billy Beane’s? The players who lacked the maturity, the work ethic, the ability to learn from failure? None of this is assessed in any way and oftentimes it’s borderline impossible because the best athletes rarely have struggled so there are no points to assess how they learn, or how they respond to failure. Huge gains in performance are more likely due to a growth spurt rather than adjustments (though not always).

      Clubs don’t scout nor assess the human side at all. Will it ever be as important as physical ability? No, but can it result in less failed superstar prospects? can it result in being able to grab a hold of an extra reserve outfielder? Or a reliever? maybe, which would be tremendous…

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  5. Dan says:

    What about over the hill players imparting wisdom to the prospects? Take the white sox for example. I remember hearing stories of omar working with alexie in the field and juan pierre working with players on base stealing. I would put those acts in the good clubhouse guy category and having a coach/player may have extra value, no?

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  6. Nick says:

    Excellent perspective and one of the better fangraphs pieces I have read in awhile.

    You put it perfectly; Talent and Performance should always be priority Number 1. Obviously, Manny Ramirez is going to help your team more than David Eckstein would. But completely ignoring the human element to the game is one issue I have with hardcore sabers. It’s not the sole end-all-be-all and probably one of the least important traits to have, but character and makeup DO count, evn if it’s just a little bit.

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    • Anon21 says:

      As Steve says, I think that a lot of the anti-character rhetoric you hear from some sabermetrically-inclined commentators, bloggers, and fans has more to do with a reaction to the outsize importance that more traditional writers give character than to any deeply-held conviction that character is definitely irrelevant. You see a new CW emerging in some quarters (T. Marchman is one example I can think of) that as data analysis evens out across clubs, it will be character and makeup, which are presumably going to remain less tractable to computational solutions, where well-run ballclubs will be able to find and exploit market inefficiencies.

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  7. Gumby says:

    I remember just a few years ago when Billy Beane brought Milton Bradley aboard, people were speculating that Beane had found a “market inefficiency” relating to players with difficult personalities. Although seeing Miltie blast two in the A’s best (but still losing) effort against the Tigers in the 2006 ALCS was one of the more memorable days of my life, even I can agree that it probably wasn’t a great decision to bring him aboard. Certainly at least in extreme cases like Elijah Dukes, Milton, etc., attitude comes into play. What’s less clear is how much of an issue attitude has to be before it affects individual and/ or team play.

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  8. Sun king says:

    I think a problem is determining what a good makeup is. Kendall is often considered a gritty leader, buy IMHO has a horrible makeup. In
    moneyball, bean would not draft a guy who didn’t drink or curse or act immoral. Normally those traits are things i’d consider to be a part of a good makeup

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    • B N says:

      I think that was probably an attempt to exploit inefficiencies. It’s not that those weren’t negative traits, it was probably that other teams allowed those knocks to suppress the players’ value below what was necessary.

      Example:
      Player X has +4 WAR due to play, -0.50 WAR due to attitude
      Player Y has +3 WAR due to play, +0.25 WAR due to attitude

      Team A says:
      “I don’t want no attitude problems, give me player Y”

      Team B says:
      “That’s cool, I’ll be taking Player X anyways.”

      The attitude hurts, but if other teams are overweighing its importance you definitely SHOULD be targeting such players.

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  9. Luke in MN says:

    “For the most part, this is a debate that the saberists have won: it’s not that character attributes don’t exist, but that they have a very small influence on performance and are impossible to separate from all the surrounding statistical noise.”

    Have saberists brought anything to this debate at all? I’m interested in the study that demonstrates that character attributes have a very small influence on performance. (And just how much influence exactly? Maybe .003 additional points of team batting average per standard deviation away from complete jackass?) The sabermetrically inclined don’t like arguments based on grit and character but have absolutely no way of evaluating them because they defy numerical analysis. That’s not the same as winning the argument.

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    • Blue says:

      There’s a whole lot of unmeasured R-squared in our predictive models; surely some proportion of it is related directly to character issues.

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  10. JoeDaddy says:

    I think the larger problem when quantifying “grit” is the tendency to lump every non-statistical factor into this one category, as a whole.

    A vet imparting wisdom and/or providing an example of successful work habits to the young and impressionable is a COMPLETELY different scenerio than the “grit” qualifiers which get bandied about at times, for example.

    As a Giants fan, there’s no debate Randy Johnson was overpaid for his on-field efforts in 2009–but if one were to ask Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez the financial worth of the Big Unit’s impact on their collective game theory and preparation, I’d venture to say the unanimous answer would describe a veteran who significantly changed their games for the better.

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  11. glassSheets says:

    I am a fan of the article. The only thing I have to say is that being criticized by a manager doesn’t make you a bad teammate. A classic manager/coach trick is to hate on one guy excessively or publicly to get the rest of the team rallying behind the cursed one to prove the “stupid” manager wrong. I should clarify I am completely unfamiliar with how and when Castillo was criticized.

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  12. Bob R. says:

    Three points, the first admittedly tangential but something of a pet peeve to me.

    1. I have always been irritated by the vehemence of the attacks on the local media’s choice of Bartlett as MVP. It seems to me to betoken a narrowly dogmatic view where a more generous, open minded attitude could easily justify the choice.

    Bartlett was clearly not the best player on the Rays that year, nor the one who contributed the most to victory even if you give all sorts of extra credit to his clubhouse influence. But why be so focused on some traditional definition of MVP, especially in regards to the local media who are handing out a whole series of awards to local players and may want to spread the wealth? Consider this instead. The most significant improvements from 2007 to 2008 were in the bullpen and in the defense. And who best represented the defensive improvement but the new shortstop who, even if not an elite defender, was dramatically better than Brendan Harris or Josh Wilson? So while the local media might have considered his character, it is also possible they chose him to highlight the dramatic defensive improvement that made the Rays contenders. Is that wrong?

    I do not think he should have been selected, but I can justify and respect the thinking that made him the choice.

    2. As adam b says, character may be an important consideration in the draft and in signing young players. It is a point the Rays often make in their publicity and that Keri, in his excellent book, indicates colors their thinking. A young man with excellent work habits and solid values has a better chance of turning his tools into skills than one who does not have them. I cannot prove it, but I think it may explain why Brignac changed from a poor defensive player to a good one and why Niemann seems to have overcome the many obstacles he faced. It is why some of us have not yet given up on Tim Beckham. Great talents often fail, but application, coachability and commitment may be important factors for those who succeed.

    3. Among the problem with considering chemistry is the nebulous nature of it. It isn’t just that it is hard to quantify, but that we have seen success across the entire spectrum of clubhouse atmospheres from the “We are Family” Pirates to the “Bronx Zoo” to the “Battling A’s” and many more types.

    As for individuals, as you say their reputations are filtered through the attitudes of the media who cover them and may not represent anything like their true nature or their effect on teammates. Eddie Murphy was generally presented as a dour, uncooperative player but apparently was a clubhouse leader. And often a few incidents become emblematic of a player’s character in the public’s mind-I am thinking of Manny or Upton, for example-when they may be nothing more than blips on the screen of their lives telling us little of how they interact with other players and certainly not deserving of the appellation “clubhouse cancer” that is sometimes attached to them.

    I wonder, were they playing today, how Mantle and Ford would be perceived. Irresponsible, loutish, brutish, sots? Would DiMaggio be seen as a quiet leader or a selfish, uncommunicative loner? What of Mickey Cochrane? In lore, he is “Black Mike” due to his nasty temper and sullen demeanor. What would we call that today?

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    The intersting thing to me is that on a baseball team, the “bad apple” has more in common with his mates than the “goody-goody”. *grin* Unless, of course, we’re talking about the under utilized value of a designated driver.

    One of the best parts of being a baseball player is being able to act like you’re 20 until you’re 35 … And getting away with it.

    It also depends what team you’re on, as the 86 Mets and 92/93 Phils illustrate. Different clubhouses value different personalities for different reasons. You can be a very popular teammate for nothing baseball related. Unfortunately for me, I’m speaking from experience on that one. So young. So dumb.

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  14. pft says:

    “it’s not that character attributes don’t exist, but that they have a very small influence on performance and are impossible to separate from all the surrounding statistical noise.”

    This is contradictory. First you assert a small effect, then you say it is impossible to measure due to all the statistical noise. You have no idea what the size of the effect is, but you assume it to be small.

    Perhaps it is small. I dunno. But in the absence of quantitative evidence, I suppose one must defer to observation, and only basbeall insiders (players, coaches) can observe this. Maybe their observation is wrong, maybe not.

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  15. RBr says:

    I’m not quite as into the advanced stats as some of you, so i ask: are there stats that can shed some light on ‘momentum’? Something like, ‘how do batters fare when three of the previous four batters reached. I suppose it’d be similar to ‘runners in scoring position’ stuff, but not quite.

    I find it very interesting that baseball is largely a one-on-one game, yet momentum seems to really matter. I think this is accounted for with psychology, and potentially evidenced with stats.

    Back to the topic at hand: I think that we shouldn’t ignore the insights of sports psychologists. It ‘rattles’ even a newly inserted reliever to have witnessed the other team hit three or four in a row, and it ‘rattles’ a batter to have an asshole sitting beside him on the bench.

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    • Kampfer says:

      A pitcher gives up X hits/walks in a row is more likely to be a result of throwing pitches too sweet than when the same pitcher gives up X-1 hits/walks. The underlying reason may be luck or a sudden I-lost-my-location/pitch moment. It may just have been luck,but p of it being plain luck is lower as the pitcher gives up more hits/walks. Simply put, A gives up 5 hits/walks in a row may be all luck, but if A gives up 10 hits/walks in a row is less likely to be just luck. We observe this phenomenon, and call it momentum. But what it likely is is that the batters are hitting a non-ML quality pitcher because of lost-feel/command

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    • Bob R. says:

      I am very uncomfortable with the concept of momentum in baseball because what appears to be momentum changes so often.

      For example, in game 4 of the 2009 World Series, the Yankees were leading by one run in the bottom of the 8th inning. Joba was overwhelming in striking out the first 2 Phillies and then looked unhittable getting 2 strikes on Feliz when bam, Feliz homered. Shouldn’t that have given the Phillies momentum, especially at home? But he then struck out Ruiz, and the Yankees won with 3 runs in the top of the 9th.

      If a team scores 5 runs in the first inning, that does not mean they will keep scoring or that the other team won’t start scoring. Teams often go on 5 or more game winning streaks but they don’t continue. Sometimes a winning streak will be followed by a losing streak and then a normal streak of games. Where is the momentum?

      I imagine there are specific circumstances when a team’ spirit may be lifted by good fortune or be deflated by bad, but it seems to me that such analyses usually come after the fact. I do not see how you can interpret momentum given the constant shifting of fortunes.

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      • RBr says:

        I see what you’re saying. But surely someone can come up with some sort of stat thing for “league average OPS after consecutive extra base hits (including and excluding facing a new reliever).” If it is in fact higher than normal, that points to a psychological aspect to hitting. I think ‘steaks” do too, but that’s different than single game momentum. Perhaps I’m out on a weak limb by saying that character and attitude relate to momentum maintaince and momentum breaking, but perhaps not.

        Kampfer, isn’t throwing a second batch of bad pitches after getting burned a sign of being rattled? Doesn’t ‘mental toughness’ matter for susceptibility to rattledness?

        After the Bartman play, the Cubs could have shaken it off and got those final outs. Instead Alou had a temper tantrum, and tantrum vibes spread through the team. Good character/attitude matters in a situation like that surely.

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      • Bob R. says:

        Perhaps, but I am not so sure. It simply could be that pitchers who give up a series of big hits may simply have lost their stuff. That isn’t momentum necessarily.

        And as for losing concentration or reacting badly to misfortune, I am sure there are many individual incidents of that. Andujar’s meltdown in the World Series seemed to be just such a case. But those examples are just as likely to be the exceptions as the rule. I think the point is that what probably allows a player to make the majors is mental toughness and so if they are already there, while there may be some fine distinctions among them, I doubt they play a major role in events.

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  16. Kampfer says:

    I think a good clubhouse environment is merely a result of winning.

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  17. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    Great work Steve I have been trying look at this concept for a while.
    I always put a player into 3 categories

    Makeup – Doesn’t let off the field actions affect baseball actions (Getting in fight with father in law in a lobby)
    Effort – Does the player continue to try to get better off the field (more strength) and on the field (Eckstein)
    Ability – Sir Albert

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  18. Resolution says:

    I think what people are missing is why grit may be important. As far as I can tell, grit seems to be an extension of work ethic or something. So when you have mediocre players who display grit. They’re the guys who then get mentioned as being baseball-rats, as students of the game, the guys who are the first to show up, and the last to leave, that hustle on every play possible. I’m sure that this is true to an extent, but I think the overall thinking that this type of stuff doesn’t really compensate for a lack of ability is also a valid one (hence why David Eckstein has been okay, but not been able to post Ryan Braun-like numbers).

    Grit, as far as I’m concerned is important in the selection process. If you have two players with David Eckstein’s ability. The one with this grit (IE work ethic or whatever the hell you want to call it) is the one that should be drafted and developed throughout the system. While not a super star, they may turn into a nice complimentary ML piece, or a trade chip or whatever…I’m just not sure how good teams are at scouting this type of thing up front…

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    • Jonas says:

      But what statheads have been saying is not that grit doesn’t matter. Rather, grit does matter, and it matters in a way already reflected in the statistics. David Eckstein’s grit allows him to post better numbers than someone with the same physical skill set. So to count grit on top of the numbers would be an error of double-counting.

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      • Resolution says:

        That’s a really good point.

        At the Major League level I agree. But I’m not fully sure it would be properly reflected in the numbers at high school or whatever since there may be some restriction of range going on or something…

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      • wobatus says:

        How would you count the effect David Eckstein’s hustling might have on other players on the team? And i think you are missing the point that it isn’t necessarily going to make a huge difference in all extra numbers. The point is thatone extra baserunner beating out a bad throw, or one extra take-out on a dp, or being in game shape all the time, whatever, might lead to one extra win, which might be important. One game in May won on effort might mean the playoffs or not making it.

        The point really is, for goodness sake, try your best at all times understanding a pitcher might need to relax through a number 8 hitter now and then to make it late into a game. No one says it makes someone without talent better than someone with talent. But certainly the talented guy is better than he otherwise would be if he is giving his best effort. I wonder why this is so hard to accept for some.

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      • Jonas says:

        @wobatus again, if there is an effect, we should in principle be able to discern it. since eckstein has changed teams multiple times, we can look at numbers of guys before and after he joined each team (accounting for aging curves, injuries etc.). if the changes are statistically insignificant for all cases, then chance seems to me a better explanation than eckstein’s amazing grit.

        moreover, again the statheads are not saying grit doesn’t matter. they are saying it’s already accounted for, including in our conception of talent. the talent of a player is the product of both purely physical skills and grit, among other factors.

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    • david says:

      “grit” and “gym rat” is how you describe a white wide receiver.

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  19. JB says:

    Make up is a huge defining factor when considering the attrition of minor leaguers. It is also a huge reason why two players of the same skill set may have two completely different careers with one fizzling out in High A ball vs another who maybe become a successful everyday regular. The first thing is sorting out the tools at the lower levels, the next thing is getting the prospects head on straight.

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  20. wobatus says:

    Character is different than effort. The Mets didn’t have the talent aside from their stars a few years ago when they contended but didn’t win. But at the margins, they didn’t really give the effort up and down the line-up. This sin’t a saber-popular obsevration. Did it cost them a game in a specific instance? It certainly could have and can, and they missed the playoffs by a very slim margin a few years ago.

    Castillo is a case in point. He has been out of shape. part of that is injury, part of it effort. Body language is one thing, and that sends a message. Collins noted that this spring. he failed to cover first in a game this spring. The Mets weren’t contending in ’09, but aside from the dropped pop-up against the yankees (can happen to anyone), he did try to one hand it. And the next pop-up to him, yup, one-handed it. he may have been off-balance once, but that ws his routine.

    Check images of Cleon Jones catching last out of 1969 WS. Two hands.

    Later in ’09, the Mets losta game against teh Braves when he didn’t cover second on a double play ball, leading to a huge inning and comeback for the Braves.

    Castillo’s problem is more that he has lost range and doesn’t hit for any power at all. But this is compounded by a lack of effort.

    It filters through a team. Fernando martinez, rookie, comes up 2 yers ago, hits a pop-up, doesn’t run out of the box. Even Wright has that issue. Wright isa great player. Sometimes guys forget to run, or are conserving energy. I am not blasting his character, or saying if he ran out grounders that 999 times out of a hundred are outs anyway the Mets would win more.

    But from your stars on down, a team can have a culture, and effort is something you would hope everone gives at all times if possible. It MIGHT help you win one more game, and sometimes that is important. Eckstein may suck (he has actually been an above-repeacement player on 2 championship teams). Given a choice between him sucking and Castillo sucking, I’d take Eckstein. Castillo was better earlier in his career, sure. Nowadays there is little difference. Luis may take a few more walks, and hey, that’s great.

    I really don’t care about a player’s character all that much. And even when he was loafing after flyballs, I’d take manny ramirez’s bat, thank you. But all things being equal, I prefer players who show up in shape and trying. And if you really aren’t that good anyway, well, what’s the point in keeping you around? See ya Luis.

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  21. Milton Bradley says:

    clubhouse precense is over-rated

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