Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Chemistry 101

Here's an AP wire story on our beloved Nats' travails, asking the question of where the chemistry from June has gone. Familiar stuff to most readers, to be sure, but it provides me with the chance to explain my views on "chemistry".

Chemistry in baseball (and other sports) is essentially the same thing as "goodwill" in accounting. When one someone pays $450 million for a company that on paper is "worth" only $300 million, the accountants fudge it by assigning the extra $150 million to "goodwill". Trademarks and brands, which are intangible and very hard to value, are often valued as "goodwill".

Likewise, in baseball, when the stats seem to say one thing but reality says another (e.g. your opponents have score more runs than you but your record is 19 games over .500), many ascribe the difference to "chemistry". Similarly, when a team loaded with talent on paper fails miserably on the field, it is often the lack of "chemistry" that is proffered to explain the difference ("We never gelled as a team"; "The parts just didn't come together"). Statheads eschew the word "chemistry," preferring instead what they see is a more proababilistically honest term: "luck". Whatever it is called, the bottom line is this: When people start discussing "chemistry" in baseball or "goodwill" in accounting, you have entered the world where people are making stuff up.

7 Comments:

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Yuda said...

I think chemistry can (and does) exist, but only in the extreme cases of excellent leaders or total cancers in the clubhouse.

As an example of each, I think Pete Rose may have been the former during his playing days; I list Nomar Garciapparra sulking his way around the Red Sox clubhouse last year as the latter.

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger DM said...

I agree with you that good leaders like Rose or detractors like Nomar can have an effect on the team's fortunes, but only to the extent that, like any workplace or collective endeavor, the personalities of the members of the group and the dynamics among them will either help or hurt their ability to accomplish the goal. Quantifying that effect is where people begin making stuff up, and my view is that most people (especially outsiders) resort to the "chemistry" tag to avoid the harder task of analysis.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger DM said...

... and, IMHO, with guys like Rose, it's 95% their performance on the field, and at most 5% leadership that contributed to the success of the Phillies.

 
At 12:14 PM, Blogger Yuda said...

Yeah, you've got to be able to play to be a team leader.

With Pete Rose, I cannot tell you how many times I've heard my dad tell the story of him bouncing the ball on the astroturf out by the mound calming everybody down in the 1980 NLCS.

 
At 2:03 PM, Blogger Raphy said...

I didn't think this was really a story about chemistry so much as it was about the Nats slide.
It seemed like everyone's role was well defined when the Nats were coming back in the 6th to win 3-2 every night. For whatever reason they're now giving up those 6th inning runs and not even coming close to scoring. As the story notes, they better get it together now.

 
At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Dan said...

Hey, goodwill is a real thing. When you pay $450 million to acquire only $300 million of net identifiable assets, that $150 million isn't "made up". That's $150 million of real money that you paid, and you paid it for something. You didn't just give it away.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger DM said...

Sure, the $150 million dollars is real, and the buyer thinks they are paying for something, and to accurately account for it you must ascribe it to something, but what that is is intangible and subject to lots of conjecture.

Kind of like what we got for $16 million dollars to Cristian Guzman.

 

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