MGL Reconsiders Character

In what I thought had to be an April Fool's joke, MGL of The Book fame, boldly stated that character can affect a team:

If we accept that difference at face value, a good or bad clubhouse guy can influence his entire team to the tune of 15 points in wOBA, which is the equivalent of 8 wins a year!
I'm a little suspicious -- as were others in the comments section -- of his sample selection:
Using a Google news search, I created two groups of players - those with good character and/or were a “good clubhouse presence” and those who were considered the opposite. Both groups combined represented about 6% of all players.
Typically, I would expect that newspapers wouldn't give a hoot about a rough character on a winning team. As statzombie noted in the comments:
...Further, players with bad clubhouse chemistry are often scapegoats (I would assume anyway). Thus news reports are probably a bad source.
This would result in a sample selection bias -- i.e. teams with "bad clubhouse guys" would only be those already suffering from a losing spate.

However, I do want to digress further on this subject so near and dear to Cubs fans since the Milton Bradley exodus. For many years, industrial psychologists have harked on the necessity of a good "clubhouse." The volumes of research in this area have resoundingly indicated that the most important thing for efficient and effective work places is chemistry -- not environment, not pay, not benefits, etc. If I work with people who: work hard, get along, and love their job, then I will be the same way (the studies have indicated).

So why does this not seem to carry over to the MLB workplace, so to speak? The common belief among sabermetricians is that jerks have no affect on the fellow teammates. Guys who hate their jobs, hate their managers, and hate their city seem to have no impact on the other guys in the lineup. Why not?

Well, there's a couple, fairly plausible reasons for this:

A) The effect is too small. That is what some people in the comments of MGL's post were suggesting, and that is a pretty safe guess, albeit without much statistical evidence.

B) The nature of baseball doesn't allow for pouting ("There's no crying in baseball!" - Tom Hanks). This is what I've begun to consider more closely. The game of baseball is very one-on-one. One batter versus one pitcher. One fielder versus one fly ball. One baserunner versus one catcher (sort of). The TV cameras rarely show more than three players at a time, and is usually focused on two (the pitcher and batter, the fielder or runner, etc.). The players are acting as individuals, not so much as members of a team.

Do we really expect that, when Reed Johnson stepped up to the plate last year, he was thinking in his head: "Man, that Milton is a mean guy."

No. Seriously, that's absurd.

Moreover, do we expect Ryan Dempster to begin his wind up and ponder: "I wonder if Milton is going to say something mean about me if I miss this pitch?"

Hell. No.

So maybe, instead of worrying about who's a mean guy (and I challenge anyone to find proof that Milton Bradley is in fact mean, evil, or stupid), the media should just -- oh, I don't know -- report the facts (like: the Cubs lost the division because the Cardinals were better).

C) There is a definitive effect, we just have no idea who's a real bad clubhouse guy and who isn't. Seriously, who's going to rat on a teammate: "Man I hate [some guy]. He makes my days living agony."

First of all, only the Rays' manager Joe Maddon would say something so poetic. Secondly, the only kind of guy who would actually entrance the press enough to spill such beans is probably a bad clubhouse guy, so how would he know who the true bad clubhouse guy is?

Ultimately, I think we should just table the clubhouse talk. It's harder to quantify than catchers' defense and way less impacting, from what we can tell.

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