Jim Leyland on Chemistry

Enter the name Jim Leyland into your mind’s version of Google, then hit search – or “I’m feeling lucky” if you’re feeling lucky. What comes to mind is probably a variety of descriptive terms. “Old” “short” “chain smoker” “mustache” “old school” and so on. All of which are accurate. Leyland was born about three years and a week to the day of the Japanese’s attack on Pearl Harbor. He stands all of six feet tall. He does seem to enjoy a cigar or three on a daily basis. And yes, his mustache enjoys a few puffs too. Leyland’s appearance is everything that Hollywood would seek in casting an old-timey baseball manager.

But the word “progressive”? Sure, it might pop up; much in the way that searching for any female name will return a link or two to some obscure and random adult entertainment video or website. Yet, when speaking to the Washington and Detroit media staffs about Ivan Rodriguez and his impact on the Nationals, Leyland sounded less like a man born before the invention of bar codes, bikinis, and microwaves and more like someone born after the creation of Baseball Primer. Take this notable quotable from Adam Kilgore’s Nationals Journal for example:

“Take all that clubhouse [stuff] and all that, throw it out the window. Every writer in the country has been writing about that [nonsense] for years. Chemistry don’t mean [anything]. He’s up here because he’s good. That don’t mean [a hill of beans]. They got good chemistry because their team is improved, they got a real good team, they got guys knocking in runs, they got a catcher hitting .336, they got a phenom pitcher they just brought up. That’s why they’re happy.”

This isn’t some kind of victory worthy of a collective “Huzzah!” from the anti-chemistry crowd because one could just as easily find a quote from an opposing manager who suggests chemistry is vital for winning. Chemistry is like the baseball version of the chicken/egg argument. The only reasons I’m sharing the quotes are 1) Kilgore’s profanity edits are fantastic; and 2) how amusing it is to see someone who doesn’t buy into chemistry turn around and reference batting average and pitcher wins as the statistics of value.

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Larry Smith Jr.
13 years ago

The worst was when talking about Brennan Boesch earlier this year in a post-game interview, Leyland claimed he’d rather have an RBI man than an on-base percentage guy. I face-palmed so hard that I believe I actually put a dent in my skull.

Larry Smith Jr.
13 years ago

Specifically (I’m paraphrasing), he said that “You hear alot of people talk about on base percentage this, on base percentage that….but this guy drives in runs. That’s what I want.”

13 years ago

I remember it well. He said, “You look at every game and you get enough guys on base. But you need guys to drive them in.” I wanted to die.

13 years ago

“You look at every game and you get enough guys on base. But you need guys to drive them in.”

Not to be contrary, but don’t we know what he’s getting at with that sentiment?

You do need some guys to get some extra base hits, and isn’t that essentially what “guys to drive them in” means? High slugging percentage guys?

If a team is going to get 15 singles + 5 walks per game … then you probably don’t need “guys that drive them in”, as we traditionally interpret the phrase to mean. But what are the odds that a team get 4+ runners per inning (assuming you’re only getting walks and singles).

Isn’t this why teams like the 82 and 85 Cardinals are so rare?

Successful teams that didn’t have sluggers mixed in with the group (although The Ripper was on the 85 team). But those teams were to the extreme in terms of stealing bases and getting themselves into scoring position where a single could score a run (and the team also had defense, run prevention).

Again, I’m not trying to be contrary or make a stink, but is what Leyland said really that bad? If you interpret it as meaning a roster needs to have both guys that get on base and guys that have high slugging percentages (if they do both, even better)?

Leyland has been around forever and is as cranky as they come, so at one time or another he’s probably said “everything”. I just don’t see where this specific quote is all that bad, if we consider what he is likely representing.

13 years ago

Leyland says that because the Tigers seem to be the best team in the league at getting a man in scoring position with less than 2 outs and not getting in a run. He wants guys that hit with men on base (as if that were a discernible skill), and so far Boesch seems to do that.

13 years ago

Well, you DO need guys to drive em in. OBP is predicated having at least league average contact driving runners in.

If you had a team of 0.400 OBP guys, which was 100% walks… well, you won’t have a great team. On the whole, you’d score some runs but you’d be a whole lot better if you had a bunch of 0.400 OBP guys plus a couple guys with horrible OBP who could slug well. It’s synergy. (It would also probably be a weird line up, as you’d be best off having your good sluggers placed far apart in the order, but still).

Usually it’s not the case, but a team could definitely suffer from having tons of OBP and bad SLG, leading to bad production as a whole. I don’t think it’s in any way bad to say that you’d be willing to trade one player with better OBP for a player with better SLG. You need both of them, and sometimes you have too many of one kind.

13 years ago

Well I prefer to think of it this way. OBP and SLG are meaningless in and of themselves, but only relevant based on their contributions to scoring runs. OBP leads to runs scored, while SLG leads to runs driven in (in a very simplified sense).

So it could very well be that Leland would rather have the .300/.350/.500 guy than the .300/.400/.450 guy. I guess that would depend on his spot in the batting order.