For the sake of this article, we will start by looking at team chemistry/momentum solely in baseball (hint, hint—There is none.).
By definition, team chemistry is a rather ambiguous concept. In fact, it is a concept that cannot be grasped numerically. When applied to baseball, the Yankees may go on a 13-game winning streak and suddenly “they’ve got unstoppable momentum.” Suddenly, “the guys are rallying behind each other.” Suddenly, “team chemistry is at an all-time high.” Well, truth be told, this is a bunch of media-contrived bullcrap.
In baseball, there are no “high-energy” guys, no truly effective team leaders, no intangible character benefits, no contagious Kevin Garnett personalities, and certainly no significant ability to “improve the guys around you.” In other words, the Yankees are a group of twenty-five individuals lumped together, possessing no inherent team-based qualities. As a group, they have zero conscious control over their “teams” short-run success, even in the playoffs, and subsequently, they have no real control over when and how they will go on a momentous winning or losing streak. Try jamming that through your media-fed minds.
Now, this seems like a good time to bring up one of the more well-known managerial names in baseball—Billy Beane. Mr. Beane has reached universal baseball notoriety for a reason; He has, for a long time, lived religiously by the numbers, and only the numbers. Beane’s ability to pick statistical prodigies out of proverbial piles of minor-league trash seems like a mind-boggling game of luck to some. Yet, in applying Sabermetrics to minor league prospects before any other MLB managers, Beane ended up truly ahead of the game, at least for a fair while.
See, Billy understood that a baseball team is simply a machine made up of interchangeable parts that impose no real bonds upon one another. He understood that streaks weren’t about “team chemistry,” they were merely an inevitable result of baseball variance, and if you had the raw statistical edge behind you, despite a paltry-looking lineup (Cue Marco Scutaro), your group of 25 individuals would eventually win out, in the long run.
Now, if even the most deadly MLB lineups had any control over their short-run destiny they would certainly make a concerted effort to get it done in front of their home crowds, right? Well from 1999 to 2007 the Home Team has won at a whopping rate of 53.5%. In essence, you can pretty much throw home-field advantage out the window. Got a must-win series at home? You might as well flip a coin three times (Of course the coin should be weighted ever-so-slightly towards the team with better raw statistical talent).
To keep things concise, I think it’s important to recognize that baseball differs vastly from the other major sports in that a team’s success is going to be based solely on their raw statistical advantage against their opponents, and nothing else. Furthermore, this raw statistical advantage is expressed solely in the long-run, and thus individual games or series’ really aren’t indicative of any sort of talent advantages at all. You can throw sports ideologies like mental fortitude, hunger, veteran leadership, and team chemistry out the window. Glitz and glamour play the smallest of roles in baseball, yet the sports individual superstars seems to be valued just as much, if not more than a franchise-changing player like Lebron James. Rich Harden is worth only what his numbers indicate, nothing more, nothing less. Lebron, on the other hand, contributes what his statistics indicate, but also has the power to change the way his entire team functions and produces as a whole (More on this later).
There’s a reason why the underestimated ’03 Marlins won the World Series, and it wasn’t because of Steve Bartman. It’s simply that their long-run statistical edge hadn’t caught up to their paltry reputation yet. Cue the D-rays ’08.