On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
John Smoltz worries he may be last Tommy John pitcher in Hall of Fame
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports August 8, 2015
It once was a pitcher's death sentence, only for modern medicine to turn it into a career-saver, and now we have no idea what to think.
Just when we were getting conditioned to believe that a pitcher can tear his elbow ligament, undergo Tommy John surgery, resurrect his career, and pitch better than ever, we are hit with this bolt of reality.
Take a deep breath, and examine the All-Star rosters.
Pittsburgh Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, at the age of 38, and Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, 27, are the only pitchers on either All-Star team who have ever undergone Tommy John surgery.
They have the scars to prove it.
Burnett underwent his procedure back on April 29, 2002, and has beaten the odds by avoiding a repeat ligament-replacement procedure and also excelling in the 13 seasons since. DeGrom had his surgery just six starts into his first professional season in 2010, and won the NL Rookie of the Year last season.
And in two weeks, John Smoltz will become the first Tommy John patient to ever be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The scary part?
"To be honest,'' Smoltz told USA TODAY Sports, "I may be the last.''
This is no reflection, Smoltz says, on the current young Tommy John patients. New York Mets ace Matt Harvey may still be destined for greatness. Jose Fernandez of theMiami Marlins could be a big-time star. Yu Darvish could be a Cy Young candidate again for the Texas Rangers. And maybe there's' still hope for Cincinnati's Homer Bailey to throw another no-hitter.
Realistically, Smoltz wonders if anyone who undergoes Tommy John surgery these days can actually return and dominate the game for 15 years without undergoing another surgery.
The problem with baseball today, and the reason for the soaring amount of Tommy John surgeries, Smoltz and famed orthopedist James Andrews say, is that pitchers and ball clubs have fallen in love with velocity. These players have never learned to really pitch. So when they blow out, they come back too quickly, throw as hard as they can, and are soon back on the operating table.
"We're not developing pitchers the right way,'' says Smoltz. "We're asking them to go as hard as you can, and as short as you can, and that's not good enough.''
"So when they come back from this, that's all they really know. It looks sexy,'' Smoltz said. "It feels good. And we fall in love with it. But these guys are not given the balance, or they're not given the proper time to figure out what kind of pitcher they are. I'm fearful and feel bad for a lot of these guys.''
The rash of surgeries and the neglect to teach the art of pitching leaves Smoltz incensed, and his passion will be reflected in his Hall of Fame speech.
"I really want to really capture how it happened for me, not just getting to the Hall of Fame, but how many different things I had to do to survive,'' says Smoltz, the only pitcher in baseball history to win more than 200 games and save 150 games. "People don't realize what's going on out there. I'm blown away with people not having a clue.
"We've asked kids to do too much, too early, and at a high velocity at a young age, and you're just not able to handle that over time.
"It's like RPM-ing your car. If you red-line it enough, you're going to blow your engine.''
Smoltz, who had his surgery in March 2000, will ask parents to stop having their kids play year-round baseball, advising them to take a minimum of two to four months off a year, just as Andrews prescribes. He'll implore teams and the Tommy John patients to take at least 14 months off before returning to action, perhaps reminding them of Oakland A's pitcher Jarrod Parker, who has undergone three elbow surgeries before the age of 27.
Why, 276 players have undergone Tommy John surgery since 2000, according to MLB statistics, including 13 this year. There were 31 performed last year, including 11 who had their second surgeries within three years of their original procedure. Most alarming, says Stan Conte, the Dodgers vice president of medical services, a research study revealed that just 67% of those patients undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery return to even pitch another 10 games in their career. New York Yankees pitcher Chris Capuano is the only two-time Tommy John patient to make more than 10 major-league starts after his second procedure.
"The younger professional pitchers that we're seeing now at such an increased rate of injury,'' Andrews said on a conference call, "you'll find out that most of them had some type of elbow injury when they were playing youth sports. …The pitchers of today are throwing harder. They're bigger and stronger. And they are doing more, as I said, at a younger age. So their wear pattern on their throwing arm is greater before they get to that level.''
The trouble, Smoltz says, is that they only learn how to throw hard. Smoltz and former Hall of Fame teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine feel like choking the folks responsible for implementing the idea of pitch counts.
Maddux learned how to pitch in the minors, throwing 19 complete games during his four minor-league seasons. He went on and pitched 5,008 innings, making at least 30 starts in every non-strike season until he retired. These days, you won't have 19 complete games combined in a minor-league season.
"When you go into the minor leagues," Smoltz said, "and you take a kid out after 75 to 90 pitches, what do you expect him to do in the big leagues? Everybody wants a piece of paper to work out the issues and how baseball should be played. Everything's a number. Everybody's got the answer.
"I wouldn't say a word if it was getting better. Ever since we discussed and became focused with the pitch count, it's getting worse.
"It's like if I told you every single day at work you're going to get sick. Sooner or later you're going to get sick. …I think the training's wrong. I think the philosophy's wrong."
Smoltz, who also serves as a baseball fan ambassador for Delta Airlines, scoffs at the perception that pitchers who throw a lot of innings are being devalued. He looks at 29-year-old Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who has thrown more than 200 innings seven consecutive years, and at least 230 in five seasons. If he were a free agent now, Smoltz says, bemused, teams would shy away from him fearing he's thrown too many innings.
"This is the horse of baseball,'' Smoltz says. "This is what he does. He knows how to pitch 230 innings. But more people today will say he's got too much mileage on his arm. I don't get that. Look at the back of his baseball card.
"That's my problem with the game. We're stunting their growth. People don't have a clue.''
It's this warped thinking that makes Smoltz think he may be the last Tommy John patient to enter Cooperstown, although the good doctor politely disagrees.
"That's pretty doubtful that he would be the last," Andrews said. "You can't believe how many are out there now that are pitching very successfully. It's not going to be the easiest thing to reproduce, but I'm sure somebody will come along and duplicate that.''
Maybe, just not in our lifetime.
Take a look at the list of pitchers who have undergone the procedure since 2000, and there's not a single pitcher who would be a strong Hall of Fame candidate.
Not now. Maybe not ever.
Perhaps Smoltz's speech can help change that.
How To Spot A Good Sports Agent
Sports agents — or at least young lawyers wanting to become sports agents — are a dime a dozen, which is no small surprise given the relentless popularity and prioritization of sports in America and the ongoing romanticization of sports agentry (Thanks, “Jerry Maguire”). Finding a good sports agent, however, is more akin to finding a needle in a haystack, as is evidenced by the depressing number of professional athletes who end up broke and/or bankrupt by the end of their careers.
In every sport, it’s clear that players are in need of competent representation and advice, so whether you’re looking to improve your sports agentry game, you’re completely new to the field, or you’re a professional athlete wondering whether your current agent is up to snuff, here are some of the characteristics common to good sports agents.
A Holistic Approach
A good sports agent isn’t after fast money for himself or his client, unless that fast money fits into a broader and more holistic approach that serves the athletes’ goals and values. Too often, sports agents — and the athletes they represent — assume that good representation begins and ends with getting paid, and while money is undoubtedly essential, an athlete’s personal values, brand, desire to be in a specific location, family, personal goals, and more must also be considered in every potential deal and endorsement. It’s true that there are a lot of ways to make money off of professional sports.
Bettors are increasingly relying on sportsbooks south of Los Angeles to make their money, but the professional athlete’s approach is more complex. A good sports agent understands those complexities and has the ability to guide his athletes’ in a holistic manner that will benefit their entire lives and careers — not just their respective bank accounts.
The cornerstone of nearly every good relationship is honesty, whether that relationship is a friendship, a marriage, or one between a lawyer and his client, which is why a good sports agent always has a reputation for honesty. An athlete needs to know his agent will tell him his honest opinion, whether it’s positive or negative. To a player, honesty about options, what to leverage in a contract negotiation, the true value a team does or doesn’t place on him, and the like is priceless, and it will result in greater financial and professional success over the long-term.
In keeping with the emphasis on honesty, the best sports agents have real relationships with the athletes they represent. Far from being a “Yes” man, a good agent will work to develop and maintain a relationship characterized by openness, honesty, and mutual respect. While it’s possible for a sports agent to help an athlete make money even if the two of them don’t enjoy a relationship that extends beyond the signing of contracts and the collecting of commissions and fees, for an athlete and sports agent to reach their mutual financial and career potential, a real relationship is usually a pre-requisite.
Wisdom can be a hard quality to notice in a person until enough time has passed to see whether or not some his advice and choices ended up panning out, but even before such evidence is available, there are clues as to whether or not a sports agent has wisdom.
Is the agent extremely knowledgeable about the sport or sports his athletes work in, the cultures, and the legal intricacies involved in each? Does he exercise good judgment in his own career and personal choices? While experience is the best way to judge whether or not an individual embodies the wisdom an athlete will need throughout a professional sports career, expertise and good judgment are revealing as well.
Ability to Prioritize
A professional sports career is a tricky path to manage, because there is so much to consider in regards to every athlete. How important is winning? How important is weather? How important is starting? How important is coaching style? Does he need to be near family? How important is payout? All these questions and more affect an athlete’s decision-making, and a good sports agent can help him weigh each consideration appropriately. Few athletes get everything they want, but a good sports agent can help them realize where their priorities truly lie, which will keep everyone much happier in the long run.
A sports agent is a vital ally for most professional athletes, but only insomuch as that sports agent embodies the qualities listed here and those like them. Sports agents — or at least young lawyers wanting to become sports agents — are a dime a dozen, which is no small surprise given the relentless popularity and prioritization of sports in America and the ongoing romanticization of sports agentry (Thanks, “Jerry Maguire”). Finding a good sports agent, however, is more akin to finding a needle in a haystack, as is evidenced by the depressing number of professional athletes who end up broke and/or bankrupt by the end of their careers.
In every sport, it’s clear that players are in need of competent representation and advice, so whether you’re looking to improve your sports agentry game, you’re completely new to the field, or you’re a professional athlete wondering whether your current agent is up to snuff, here are some of the characteristics common to good sports agents.
Quick pitch: How the most inventive team in baseball is at it again
Down they went, first Alex Cobb, then Drew Smyly, eventually Jake Odorizzi, and the one thing upon which the Tampa Bay Rays thought they could rely abandoned them in a flurry of damaged ligaments and muscles. Living on a $75 million payroll in Major League Baseball today already feels like sporting poverty. Doing so with a disabled list full of potential frontline starting pitchers makes an inequitable existence damn near impossible.
So the Rays did what they do better than just about everybody else in baseball: brainstorm. Even without general manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, both gone to richer pastures in Los Angeles and Chicago, the Rays’ braintrust remained the envy of many. Matt Silverman slid over seamlessly from team president to GM, Kevin Cash impressed people across the game with the sort of intelligence and open-mindedness rare in a rookie manager, and the cohesion between the front office and coaching staff never flinched, not even in desperate times.
The Rays needed a strategy, and one was sitting there, waiting for the team brave enough to implement it. The evolution of pitchers has given baseball two varieties: the ones expected to throw 100 pitches in a game and the ones counted on to toss about 20. The 40-to-80-pitch pitcher is baseball’s dodo bird, and considering the effectiveness of modern relief pitching and the misery of back-of-the-rotation starting pitching, the idea of marrying a strong bullpen with a quick-hook starting pitcher made all the sense in the world.
“We’ve had to respond to the circumstances,” Silverman said. “We’re putting pitchers in positions they weren’t expected to be in yet, and we’re very focused on the development of our young pitchers and want to make sure even at the big-league level we shield them some.”
So even in the midst of an awful skid, losing 13 of their last 15, the Rays remain one of the first half’s great success stories, still just 4½ games back of the Yankees in the American League East, proof that strategy can still win ballgames in an era where knowledge is so pervasive.
The ingenuity of flipping a starter’s mentality – everyone in a rotation, Cash reminds, is taught from an early age “the day you pitch should be the day the bullpen gets a night off” – wasn’t just about taking obvious numbers, waving a magic wand and saying, “Abracadabra: rotation!” What Tampa Bay does so well – what it’s done so well since Stuart Sternberg bought the team and empowered Silverman and Friedman in 2005 – is translate the statistical into the sort of practical knowledge players will embrace.
Here is a truth about pitching: The longer a pitcher stays in the game, the worse he tends to perform. While there are exceptions, the average starter this season has faced a .249/.305/.390 line the first time through the order, .260/.317/.405 the second time and .268/.326/.434 the third time. “Everybody has pinpointed that third time through the lineup,” Cash said.
What most haven’t done is act on it. And none has come close to it as the Rays. Already this season Rays starters have faced 18 or fewer batters 14 times – nearly as many as any team this decade, excluding the 2012 Rockies, whose four-man-rotation experiment fizzled in Denver’s thin air. They’ve had 36 starts of 22 or fewer batters. Two starts came from relief pitcher Steve Geltz, who went two innings before handing the game off to Matt Andriese and Erasmo Ramirez, both 25-year-old starters and guinea pigs of the short-outing philosophy.
Ramirez has been pulled after five shutout innings in which he allowed one hit. Andriese threw six one-hit innings and got the hook. Alex Colome, 26, also has gone five shutout innings before Cash yanked him. Nate Karns, another starter seeing his first extended major league action, left a six-inning, one-hit, no-run game and another outing in which he threw five shutout innings on two hits. The Rays lost both.
At first, the cognitive dissonance was palpable. None of the pitchers understood why, if they’re throwing well, they wouldn’t be given the rope to continue. Early in the season, the pitching staff met with Cash, pitching coach Jim Hickey and bullpen coach Stan Boroski, the latter two of whom have proven vital to the Rays’ near-decade-long success of churning out quality starting pitching.
“They didn’t hand us a big spreadsheet or anything,” Karns said. “But they gave us what we needed to know. That’s something they’ve run a lot of numbers on, crunched a lot of data, and for me to have no numbers myself to refute it, I just trust them and believe what they’re doing is right. And it’s working. When it’s working, it’s easier to go with.”
Even with the troubles over the last two weeks, it has worked. Limiting Andriese’s exposure – he’s particularly unhittable the first time through the order and eminently hittable the second – has kept his ERA around 3.00. Ramirez’s ERA this season is nearly a run lighter than his career mark coming into it. Karns has been a pleasant surprise, with an innings mark that could approach 200 and nearly a strikeout per thus far.
Believing in something this intuitive but so counter to how baseball has governed itself takes time and fortitude and a bit of courage. Young pitchers potentially sacrifice victories, the sort of numbers that make them money in arbitration. They entrust Tampa Bay to do with them what it did with Odorizzi and ace Chris Archer: transition them into meatier roles in which going through a lineup three times becomes an expectation, not a privilege. The Rays manage this remarkably well. They were the first team to adopt widespread defensive shifting, and today they turn nearly 72 percent of batted balls into outs, the sixth best in baseball.
“We win games because we shift,” Cash said. “We win games because we use our bullpen the way we do. What we ask of our starters – that’s why we’re where we’re at. If you look at the whole body of work, it’s why we’re winning.”
Where it leads – and whether it becomes a long-term trend – depends on the continued health of Archer, the return of Odorizzi from an oblique injury, the current comeback of potential top starter Matt Moore from Tommy John surgery and the future arrival of Cobb from the same, and the health of Smyly’s shoulder, which the team hopes could see him back as soon as this season. Those five, healthy, are the best rotation in the AL, with the Mets and Cardinals the best in baseball. And with Karns and Ramirez and Andriese and Colome, not to mention prospects Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell, Tampa Bay looks same as ever, overloaded with pitching and in need of some bats to support it.
With all those arms, Cash dreams of blending the current philosophy with one in which all his starters are capable of going long: a new-age fireman in the bullpen for when the starter has a bad outing and needs to exit because of a matchup issue. “What an asset that would be,” Cash said, “to have a starter-turned-reliever that becomes dominant and can get through a lineup one time.”
For now, he’s just looking to get through this ugly stretch and return to how things were, when the Rays, the kings of high-leverage plate appearances in the middle innings, were winning those moments more often than losing. If that means changing strategy, they’re not too proud to do so. It’s the best chance they’ve got to take the impossible and make it otherwise.
CITY THAT NEVER KEEPS
Toronto could use recruitment help
Is it the tax complications, going through customs, the turf, the dome, the city? Why do potential free agents really have to be convinced to play in Toronto? (Unless you’re Russell Martin, of course, and you live there.)
Josh Donaldson, who was traded from Oakland and is enjoying the best year of his career, is thumbs-up on Toronto.
“I went from one of the toughest ballparks to hit in Oakland to one of the best here,” Donaldson said. “I have no problem with Toronto. It’s a beautiful city. It offers a lot, especially here downtown with great restaurants. I haven’t had one issue here.”
“Once you do it once or twice, what’s the big deal? It’s something you have to do so it becomes part of your routine. I can’t imagine that would be an issue,” Donaldson said.
Jose Reyes’s only gripe about Toronto is the turf and the wear and tear it causes on his legs.
“They’re supposed to put real grass in in 2018 but in 2018 I’ll be a free agent,” said Reyes. “It’s a nice city. I have a lot of good friends here. When I was a free agent, and because I play the game with my legs, I told my agent Toronto is out because of the turf. And then I go to Miami for a year [another turf field] and then get traded over here. But this is my home field and I have to find a way to play my best.”
Reyes said he doesn’t know the reason free agents spurn Toronto. But players are taxed at a high rate for playing half of their games there.
The other major factor is the Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since 1993, after winning their second consecutive World Series title, and have finished higher than third in the AL East just once since those glory days.
“I think what keeps free agents away is that they haven’t been competitive,” said a person associated with the team. “I think if you show them that you’re serious about winning, players will come here. It is a cosmopolitan city with a lot to offer. Do you have to overpay? Maybe, but players, once they become free agents, want to go to winning teams.”
The Jays currently need a starter and a reliever. It just seems GM Alex Anthopoulos has to go through corporate layers to OK big expenditures, slowing the process considerably.
Players always want to know that their ownership is doing all it can to produce a winner. The Jays have that chance this season. It seems that whichever AL East team can make the right choices on personnel before the trading deadline will have a leg up on pulling away from the pack.
CHEMISTRY AND THE CLUBHOUSE GUY
I'm going to be a bad scientist and accept something without proper proof. I'm going to assume that "the clubhouse guy" exists and is a real phenomenon. I say that I don't have proper proof only in the numerical sense. I don't have a measure called ENZYME to tell me which players are chemically enhanced, and I can't tell you how many WARs it's worth. At least not yet.
Despite all that, I think we all implicitly believe in the power of chemistry. If we don't, then we hold some pretty strange beliefs about baseball. For example, no one reading this bats an eye at the fact that major-league teams employ coaches in the big leagues and a phalanx of coordinators and instructors in the minors to teach hitting and pitching. That might not seem to be related to chemistry, but it is. We accept that players can learn (and unlearn) things about hitting, and we might think that the coach is someone who just shows the player a better technical way of doing things. But really, if it were that easy, surely there's a video out there that can teach Fred McGriff how to play defense. Why not just pop that in?
There are, of course, varying philosophies about hitting and pitching and different beliefs that coaches have. There's also a good amount of hitting where, if you showed all 30 hitting coaches a video of a guy with a flaw in his swing, they'd all pick up on it. They'd all say "Yeah, this needs to change," and then the trick is getting the kid to change it. Some coaches are good at that sort of thing. Some aren't. The trick is in the interpersonal piece of it all. We accept that players can change and that just by having certain personality traits, some people are better suited to help a player make that change.
Even if you don't accept this at the baseball level right away, you might accept it in another area of life. Not everyone has what it takes to be a good second grade teacher. If you're reading this, I'm guessing that you could totally crush second grade schoolwork, but do you have the personality to walk into a room filled with 30 8-year-olds and not freak out? Could you teach them how to do #GoryMath?
I have a feeling that if I surveyed even the most hardcore sabermetricians out there, they would all acknowledge that ideas of chemistry and clubhouse presence aren't silly. They'd probably push back against the common narrative that Team X won the World Series based on the shining light of justice that came from Smith's locker. (After all, there were probably veteran guys on all the other 29 teams who did not win the World Series.) They'd probably say that it's hard to measure. (It is.) But if Smith sits down with Jones, shows him a trick he's learned over the years on how to hit a curveball and Jones turns from a one-win player to a three-win player, don't we have to give some of that credit to Smith?
I'm going to start with the assumption that chemistry and clubhouse presence exist and that they can have real, tangible effects on players, making them either better or worse. We don't know how it works. We don't know who's who. We don't know what the effects are. But what if we could at least make some reasonable assumptions about what those effects might be? Actual data-driven ones. For example, we know that some managers seem to have a special talent for keeping their players from burning out over the course of a year, and that the effect might be as big as 30 runs from the best to the worst.
So, how much could these soft factors actually be worth?
Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
Let's start by thinking about the mechanics of how this would even work. If we had a chemist on our team, where would he work his magic? There are two basic models. One is that he would befriend a specific player or two on the team (the "take him under his wing" model) and the other is that he would somehow have a broader influence over the culture of the clubhouse. It's not that a player can't do both, but it's a little different skill set involved in each. On top of that, there's only so much bandwidth that one person has for this sort of thing. (Take it from someone who used to work as a therapist.) We probablyshouldn't expect to see huge, team-wide effects.
The wily old veteran teaches a young player some new tricks and he becomes a superstar
Players do teach each other things. Why not? If I know something that can help us both win, I have every reason to share it with you. We have to imagine that there's some of this going on between players in all 30 clubhouses and somewhere along the line, some of it helps. We know that some players get better every year (and some get worse). For example, in 2014 Anthony Rizzo put up an OBP of .386, an improvement of 63 points from the year before. It's hard to know whether that was simply Rizzo's own maturation process or whether a coach or a fellow teammate helped him along in becoming a better hitter. But how often do these sorts of breakouts even happen?
Some time ago, I developed a method that looks at a statistic and determines whether a player's performance is significantly different from one year to the next, controlling for the reliability of the statistic and the player's plate appearances. (With a bigger sample, a player's performance is more reliable, and so we feel better about saying that he really has changed, even with smaller differences.) The method uses z-scores, so we expect to see a z-score of 1.96 or higher before we assume that the player has "really" gotten better. In 2014, there were 16 hitters (minimum 100 PA in each season) who had a "breakout."
Sure, OBP is only one stat and there were guys who had big jumps in OBP but who didn't meet this rather stringent definition of improvement, but that's how many guys truly break out for any reason. Maybe one of these guys benefited from some kind words of an old veteran, but my point is that it's not very likely that you see a big huge breakout for any reason, veteran presence or not.
I think people get caught up looking for the big-ticket breakout. We're going to have to look for effects that are a little more subtle. Of course, those are harder to find because it's easy to dismiss them as small-sample flukes. Still, we've seen in the past that sometimes, we can find changes in a hitter's behavior that seem to be correlated with his outcomes, even over small time frames. In 2013, I found 17 hitters who showed a provable link between their swing rate and OBP. It's not that all of them broke out, but they certainly were changing their behavior (swinging) and it had an effect. Still, that's also not a lot and we have no idea whether the local clubhouse guy was to blame or not. Players do change over time and there are some that change quickly, but expecting that isn't a good idea, even if they do have a mentor.
The wily old veteran teaches a young player "how to play the game"
Groaning aside from taking "how to play the game" or "how to go about his business" a little too literally, there's something to be said for this. Young major leaguers are usually in their early 20s. Clubhouse guys are usually older, often in their 30s (or even older). Now that I'm on the wrong side of 30 (and 35), looking back on myself at 23 is a funny experience. Nobody liked me. I didn't take care of myself the way I should have. I'm guessing that there are plenty of 35-year-olds in MLB clubhouses looking at their 23-year-old teammates and thinking, "Yeah, that used to be me; and I could have done better."
I've written before about how minor leaguers and young major leaguers are at a time in their lives when they are learning the basic skills of being an adult -- skills like how to get enough sleep, eat properly and take care of daily life. Sleep, in particular, we know is a big deal, and it's not even about staying up all night. Even losing an hour per night can negatively impact a person's performance on tasks of what's known as "selective attention" and reaction time.
Baseball is a game of reaction time. For example, a tired person might be lagging on his reactions enough that even though he realizes that he should swing at a pitch, he's not able to actually do it quickly enough. Not every time, but someone who has been shortchanging proper sleep by an hour each night for a week produces a four- to five-fold increase in these sorts of errors. Over the course of the approximately 20 pitches per night that a hitter sees, he might make an extra error of non-response on one of them that he might otherwise have gotten right. We've seen before that even changing a non-strike into a strike is worth .10 runs. Over 100 games, that would add up to a 10-run penalty that a player might pay for not getting proper sleep. (Again, this isn't staying out all night. It's just skimping a little bit.) It's not something that would be visible to the naked eye, but it would be there. If a player can net that much value just by proper sleep, imagine if he was also properly eating and taking care of himself in other ways?
The wily old veteran helps to keep an air of calm in the clubhouse
This one is harder to get at because we're looking at things that don't happen. How does one put a value on something that never happened in the first place? Not only that, but the public gets only brief glimpses into the clubhouse, so we don't know exactly what's going on. And even if we could look, most interpersonal and group dynamics take place in the language of non-verbal gestures. It takes a bit of a trained eye to really understand what's going on there.
When people are fighting and yet remain part of a group, they usually turn passive-aggressive. They stop talking to each other and collaborating with each other. And if it gets really odious, people don't like hanging out in the clubhouse. In baseball, the way to be passive aggressive is to not bother with all the behind-the-scenes work that you need to do -- and sometimes need to force yourself to do -- to be really good at the game. You need to study up on pitchers/hitters. You need to do some training. There's coaching sessions. It's the sort of thing that missing one might not make a player go from superstar to replacement level, but over time, it adds up. My proof is that there are a lot of people in professional baseball who are tremendously gifted athletes. But taking a look at even the first round of any draft (here's 2005), we see guys who don't make the majors, or if they do, don't contribute all that much. All of those guys had fantastic physical tools. Why didn't they make it? There's probably a cavalcade of reasons, but for some of them, there was probably a bit of lack of #want. If a lack of want can turn a guy with first-round tools into a non-factor, then it has to have some value. I hesitate to put a number on it, but it's there. If a veteran guy can keep the clubhouse from getting toxic (or even better, be a happy guy that everyone likes to be around so that they are more willing to do all that hard work), then more power to him.
Then there's the old saw that Smith, being a veteran guy, kept us from getting too high or too low. He kept everyone on a nice even keel. That one actually has some benefit to it. We know that it's not a good idea to be too worked up or too slack about something. You want a balance between the two, and we know that it has real consequences in performance. On neuropsychological tests, people who were given specific training in how to not get too worked up and not get too slack (called modulated arousal) performed much better on a task of selective attention, cutting their errors by a third and becoming more consistent in their reaction times.
I don't know that any player could cut his strikes in half, but there's value in it if he can just cut it down even a bit. Maybe getting a quicker jump on a ball and he gets to an extra one or two per month. These things add up. They again might not be discernible with the naked eye, but they have value, and we might chalk them up to just being a player developing on his own, but it's not like people in general don't have help growing up.
I'll Be Your Mr. Miyagi
Let's put this all together. I think we have the Hollywood model of mentorship in our heads. Mr. Miyagi appears and turns Daniel LaRusso from a sub-replacement-level karate student to an All-Valley champion. It's not that it's impossible, but that's probably not the way it works most of the time. Still, we acknowledge that there are some people who are good at the touchy-feely stuff, and we recognize the things that they can bring about have real neuropsychological consequences. And baseball isa game of neuropsychology. If a player can make even slightly better decisions or have slightly better reaction time because he is sharper or because he is calmer, it might only come into play once in a while, but our veteran can have an impact, maybe even a small one over several different players, if he plays his cards right.
Now the question is whether there are superstar clubhouse guys or whether they are common enough that every team can have one if they choose. We know from research on people who do this for a living, psychotherapists, that there are vast differences among them in how well they help their patients. So, a proposal. It's entirely possible that there is a superstar clubhouse chemistry guy out there. Maybe two or three. Maybe in the way that managers can vary by 30 runs from each other just in the way that they help their players handle "The Grind." I think it's reasonable to believe that a good clubhouse guy can be worth a win by virtue of his clubhouse-ness.
Maybe he's the kind of guy who is at best a replacement player and everyone else views him as washed-up. He's going to be slotted for the 25th spot on the roster. But if he can hold down replacement level in 200 PA and provide a win's worth of value behind the scenes, isn't that more than most teams get out of their last roster spot? We already know that teams value clubhouse guys. They talk about it, and as much as we want to believe that they're blowing smoke, teams actually believe in this stuff. And there's a good case to be made for why. For all I know, there are teams that are doing research on what constitutes a good clubhouse guy, because if you can find a way to identify someone who's worth a win in a way that no one knows about and you can pay him the league minimum, isn't that worth it? (Teams have gone to greater lengths chasing after less!)