What Happened to the Chemistry?

It wasn’t that long ago that nearly every New York baseball journalist and blogger was talking about the great “chemistry” of the 2010 Mets — and how the players loved playing for Jerry Manuel. Such comments about the positive vibe in the Mets’ clubhouse continued even through the team’s tough times in mid-May.

But there seems to have been an accident in the lab, because that chemistry has vanished. In the past week, Alex Cora demanded an end to laughter in the clubhouse, Jeff Francoeur said he wouldn’t mind being traded, Jerry Manuel had to call a closed-door team meeting, and now Rod Barajas is clearly unhappy with being unseated by Josh Thole.

From Mike Sielski’s article in The Wall Street Journal:

“To give up on somebody after what they’ve done to help the team, for me, it’s not a good thing,” Mr. Barajas said. “It’s not the way a team wants to see their teammates treated.”

and …

“I don’t want to say it in a bad way, but if you look at the scenario, how we got here and how we got in this situation, whatever we were doing before worked,” he said.

We’ve gotten to where we are because of a certain system we’ve had in place. For me, once you start making drastic changes and changing the landscape of the team, it could go either way.”

Sounds like trouble in Metsville.

On the one hand, there is every reason for Josh Thole to be getting more chances to play, because of his hot bat. On the other hand, the offseason winter mantra from the Mets front office, manager Jerry Manuel, and pitching coach Dan Warthen was that defense and leadership behind the plate was valued as much or more than offensive skills.

In other words, there has been a sudden change in philosophy — a reactionary decision rooted in desperation. That’s fine if the change works. Or is it? Because yes if it leads to success then it’s the right decision but it also proves that the original plan was flawed. The fact that Thole is playing ahead of Barajas can be construed as a lack of confidence in that plan as well.

When leadership lacks confidence in the plan that they put together, the people below can sense it and in turn question the plan and the leaders that put it together.

And suddenly that chemistry breaks down.

While it’s true that “good chemistry” is generally identified when a team is winning, and “bad chemistry” is blamed when a team is losing, you have to think that chemistry — good or bad — may be insignificant and/or ineffectual on its own, but can be a symptom or clue to something much larger that does have an impact on a team’s on-field performance.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. tomterif July 24, 2010 at 9:33 am
    Nice pickup Joe, but I kinda beat you to this one.


    By the way, don’t sweat the critics on the Beltran thing. It was a good question worth asking.

    • joe July 24, 2010 at 11:53 am
      Thanks Tom. Sorry we didn’t link to your story, it’s a good one. I’m blaming Loge for missing it (can’t trust the French!).
  2. Biggus Rickus July 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm
    A counterpoint to the idea of chemistry being at all important in any way: The Braves traded Yunel Escobar, a potentially great young shortstop who’s 27 and still cheap, for a 33-year old shortstop who plays defense about as well but gets on base less than 30% of the time over his career. Why? Because Escobar was a cancer, a space cadet who had mental lapses and wouldn’t hustle. (Incidentally, I totally believe that he was lazy and everything. That weird lob that almost injured Glaus was mind-boggling.) Players were quoted saying that when Gonzalez showed up in the clubhouse it was like a breath of fresh air. Gonzalez has even wildly surpassed anyone’s expectations through eight games. The Braves record in those eight games? 4-4. Now, maybe Billy Wagner was the one dude on the roster who actually liked Escobar, and he has been so forlorn since his departure that he forgot how to pitch and blew two saves. Maybe.

    All small sample size issues involved here are duly noted.

  3. MetsiesRule July 24, 2010 at 2:05 pm
    In other words, there has been a sudden change in philosophy — a reactionary decision rooted in desperation.

    Please! The only philosophy is to play the best players. Barajas was playing over his head and now he’s come back to his true level, which isn’t very good. Thole is better. Francouer also has been terrible. It was working because Francouer and Barajas were playing way over their heads and now that they’ve come back to earth its obvious that Thole is a better player than Barajas and Pagan is better than Francouer.

    When leadership lacks confidence in the plan that they put together, the people below can sense it and in turn question the plan and the leaders that put it together.

    Is that why Francouer and Barajas’ production fell of a cliff? Could they see into the future and realize that if they played baseall at a AA level they’d lose their jobs and because of that they last their mojo and started playing like crap and it was self-fulfilling prophecy? Please Joe. Its BS central here.

  4. Joe Randazzo August 1, 2010 at 3:30 pm
    Chemistry? Hits? Wins?
    Oh Well, wait until next year!