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Tuesday Rockpile: Did the Chemistry Experiment Blow Up in Dan O'Dowd's Face?

 Michael Cuddyer pops out with the bases loaded, gets frustrated.
Michael Cuddyer pops out with the bases loaded, gets frustrated.

It was eight months ago that Dan O'Dowd's plan began to come in to focus. Out with the "little boys," in with the "accountable men." Eight months ago, Dan O'Dowd had already traded Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta for Tyler Colvin, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Outman, Guillermo Moscoso and Tyler Chatwood. It had also become clear the Rockies had made Michael Cuddyer their prime free agent target over Carlos Beltran and Josh Willingham.

Rox Girl wrote of this plan of action, postulating the Rockies were engineering a chemistry experiment for 2012. Theoretically, we could see the benefits of this shift of primary focus from talent to clubhouse culture, accountability and chemistry.

With still six weeks left in the season, O'Dowd's plan can be ruled out a success. While injuries, the 4-man rotation, injuries and bad luck are enough variables to scientifically rule "The Chemistry Plan" as the cause of the worst team in franchise history, the results certainly don't shine a positive light on emphasizing make-up over all else.

The Rockies were not the only team to trumpet clubhouse chemistry as a huge asset of their roster in the offseason. The incredibly disappointing Kansas City Royals (4th worst record in MLB) had culture of value to spare, and despite some key injuries, it has not helped them either. Rany Jazayerli, a former Baseball Prospectus and current Grantland writer, penned a fantastic piece on the Illusion of Chemistry, noting that chemistry (or lack thereof) is a common piece of postseason analysis:

The problem with these explanations are that they are always - almost literally always - ex post facto. They are explanations after the fact. The people who make these arguments have the luxury of knowing which teams have played better or worse than expected before they bestow capital-C Chemistry on them. Which is disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. If Chemistry matters, then you should be able to tell me BEFORE THE SEASON which teams will surprise us because of the mix of personalities in their clubhouse.

To be more precise, you should be able to tell me ACCURATELY which teams will surprise. Before the season, you'll hear pundits talk about chemistry - if you watch team-by-team pre-season previous, you would be led to the inescapable conclusion that 90% of teams have above-average chemistry. And then once the season starts, those proclamations are forgotten.

With "team chemistry" being subjective and impossible to quantify (especially for an outsider), it has become a go-to explanation for surprisingly good (and bad) teams. It makes for an easy narrative for writers to fill in the gaps. This is especially true when team personnel are eager to point fingers in bad times or heap cliched praise upon their teammates at high points. It is hard to fault the writers who push that narrative so much, but an MLB general manager shouldn't be leaning on it heavily as well.

In fairness, the Rockies would undoubtedly still be experiencing a poor season had the offseason values gone differently. Josh Willingham is having a monster season in Minnesota....for the 5th worst team in MLB. His contributions in purple would not have saved the season, though it would have been an improvement. Truly, the rotation remains the top five (four?) reasons Colorado is struggling.

These "accountable men" are struggling as a whole more than the "little boys" of 2011. To reach the highest level of professional baseball, a large chunk of competitiveness and pride must exist within each player. Even among the accountable and mature, lack of production and losses become difficult to bear, neutralizing the purported secret weapon to avoid a losing culture.

Team chemistry matters, yes. Good make-up is a positive, yes. The issue is that they are difficult to quantify, and the effect seems to be incredibly overblown. Perhaps with Bill Geivett now spending every game in the clubhouse, the Rockies front office will learn this as well.

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