Ranking the 8 MLB Clubhouses with the Best Chemistry
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Chemistry. Culture. Atmosphere.
No matter which term you prefer, there’s something to be said about a group of guys that all mesh within the clubhouse.
Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports wrote in April that while having strong team chemistry is good, he thinks that there’s a stronger correlation between winning and talent rather than winning and good chemistry.
Calcaterra was responding to an article written by Paul White of USA Today about teams that want good chemistry within the clubhouse.
“In an era when advanced metrics ostensibly can determine a player’s exact value, many teams—to the chagrin of statistical analysts—still seek the elusive and nebulous intangibles that go beyond measure on-field contributions,” White wrote.
I have to agree with both journalists here. I don’t think a team that really jells is necessarily going to win the World Series, but I do think that it can help. There are several teams with a tight-knit group in the clubhouse this season and it’s time they get recognized for it.
Here are the top eight clubhouses in Major League Baseball.
*All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.
8. Cleveland Indians
The Indians are one of several teams that made major moves this offseason. Cleveland managed to sign a couple of players that have been around the block and in a many different clubhouses, including Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi, among others.
Cleveland played poorly in April, going 11-13 to start the season, but have won 15 of 21 since and now sit atop the AL Central, a half game above the Detroit Tigers.
Terry Francona was one of the top additions this winter, taking over as manager after taking a year off from managing baseball. He seems to believe that chemistry has played a big role in Cleveland’s recent success.
“I don’t think because [we had] a slow start [11-13 in April], that doesn’t mean we’re not jelling,” Francona told Michael Radano of MLB.com. “That’s when you recognize they do care about each other. It’s when things aren’t going right that chemistry and caring about each other comes into play.”
The Indians have a solid group of guys in the clubhouse. There’s a strong mix of young talent and veteran leadership. Cleveland is in great shape considering the team knows what they’re capable of after a tough stretch.
7. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have a strong nucleus of players that has brought the team a lot of success in recent years—although Texas has yet to capture a World Series title. Their unity, though, has gotten them as far as a team could hope. Winning it all is sure to happen eventually.
Last season, Michael Young, now with the Phillies, told Lyle Spencer of MLB.com about the importance of chemistry and how there aren’t any cliques in the locker room and everyone hangs out together.
“It’s important to have that strong leadership we have, to know the clubhouse belongs to the players,” Young said. “We’ve had that continuity, with a lot of the same guys for a long stretch.”
Part of the team’s core was broken up over the offseason. Young was traded, and Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli both departed via free agency. Still, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and even guys like Mitch Moreland and David Murphy are there to lead the way.
While not everyone on the Rangers has been in the league for 10-plus seasons, the veterans know exactly how things are supposed to go. As long as Texas keeps that group of players together, the Rangers should continue to be successful.
6. Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore is far from the most talented team in the league, but they somehow continue to be successful. So how does something like that happen? Well, manager Buck Showalter has helped the Orioles form tight bonds with each other that have helped the team win in tough situations.
The Orioles went 16-2 in extra-inning games last season. That doesn’t just happen by chance. One of my professors told the class that once a game goes past regulation, the team with more talent has a better chance at winning. While I somewhat agree, I think that there is the chance that culture has something to do with it too.
Nate McLouth told Lyle Spencer of MLB.com that he sees a lot of similarities between the Orioles and last year’s Oakland Athletics, implying that chemistry can play a large role in success.
Adam Jones thinks that the Orioles have a good group of guys that have positive outlooks no matter what happens in a game, according to Spencer:
We have only a few guys with multi-year deals. We’ve got a lot of guys who have hunger. You don’t hear any complaints in here. There’s a selfless attitude here. Guys can go 0-for-4 with a W and be genuinely happy.
Baltimore is only 4-3 in extra-inning games this season, but the culture is still there. Showalter has proved that the Orioles are for real and not just some club that got lucky last season. The Orioles have heart, which can go a long way.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are a different kind of team. Despite a relatively low payroll, they’ve been very successful over the last couple of seasons, and a lot of the credit must go in the direction of manager Joe Maddon. Maddon has done an incredible job with the players he has each and every day.
Maddon’s Rays have won at least 90 games in four of the last five seasons. Not many other managers can say that. But it’s not all about on-field success with Tampa Bay. Maddon knows exactly how to handle the clubhouse and even has a few antics up his sleeve from time to time.
In late April, Maddon brought a series of acts into the Tampa Bay locker room, according to Bill Chastain of MLB.com. Chastain wrote that Maddon brought in a DJ, a magician and even a cockatoo. I don’t think many other managers are doing the same thing. Maddon said:
I think a lot of times, it gets confused when things aren’t going well. It’s not because your guys aren’t working hard enough or they don’t care enough. Sometimes it’s just not working. Let’s go and take the other road less traveled with a bird in the clubhouse.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Maddon is still one of the game’s best on the field. He employs timely shifts and makes smart decisions with his bullpen. But the Rays have a very unique culture that he has implemented, which makes him one of the top managers in baseball.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knows the importance of team chemistry and has worked hard to try to improve his team’s in recent memory. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince profiled the Cardinals last postseason, noting how important the culture was.
Mozeliak told Castrovince that the Cardinals started to revamp their clubhouse back in 2010, bringing in guys like Ryan Theriot, Gerald Laird and Lance Berkman. None of those three are still with the Cardinals, but the point stuck. Mozeliak said:
It just brought a level of professionalism and fun to our clubhouse…When you’re young in this job, the first thing you’re looking at is talent first. Then you realize it’s got to be a tight-knit group for long-term success.
Having a general manager like Mozeliak, that understands how culture can change a team’s destiny, is vital to any contender. The players that St. Louis employs, though, also play a big role in the team’s success.
The Cardinals have some young talent on the roster this season, but a majority of the team is made up of players that have been in St. Louis for at least a couple of seasons. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright have been with the team for nearly 10 years. They exemplify what it’s like to be a leader and their message trickles all the way down to the rookies.
3. Oakland Athletics
The Oakland A’s are one special team. After last season, I think everyone understands that pretty clearly. They have the magic that every team wants, especially down the stretch when the playoff race is extremely tight.
No one thought that Oakland had the slightest chance at making the postseason in 2012. They lacked major league talent and it was thought that overtaking the Rangers and Angels in the AL West would be too difficult. But the A’s had heart, and that started to show on the field.
“If I had to use one word to describe us, I’d say overwhelming,” said Josh Reddick via Lyle Spencer of MLB.com. “I don’t want to say scrappy—that’s been used too much—or surprising. I think we’re overwhelming, to everybody in the league who thought we weren’t going to be any good.”
I’m sure this analogy has been widely used, but I think the 2012 Oakland A’s closely resembled the 2004 Boston Red Sox. A bunch of idiots, who did have some talent, that accomplished more than people originally thought. Whether that’s a fair comparison, well, that’s up to you.
The A’s have a very similar roster to that of last season’s with the exception of some minor changes. Sure, Brandon McCarthy is gone and so are a couple of other pieces, but it’s still Oakland. Other teams know what they’re capable of, even if the talent isn’t always there. Last season was the last time anyone ever counted them out.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees are the greatest team in baseball history, and there really isn’t any other team like them. They have a clubhouse culture unlike any other, and that’s primarily because of who has been in that locker room in the past and the examples they’ve set going forward.
Just putting on the historic pinstripes says it all. You could add in the no crazy facial hair policy too. The Bronx Bombers are all about professionalism and doing things the right way—even if some individual players don’t always do the right thing. In general, the Yankees are a model team.
No one in the clubhouse is going to disrespect Derek Jeter or Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera—unless you’re Joba Chamberlain, and he ended up apologizing anyways. They’ve earned respect in the Yankees locker room and every rookie or new guy in there knows that.
This season, the Yankees have overcome a wide variety of injuries to some of their most important players. Despite missing guys like Curtis Granderson, Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez for extended amounts of time, New York is still in first place in the AL East at 28-18. That’s also the second-best record in the AL.
Being a New York Yankee provides a player with a different outlook on how baseball is supposed to be played. It’s not something that an individual player does. It’s how the organization is. The chemistry within that clubhouse will stay forever, no matter who the owner, general manager, manager or players are. And that’s something special.
1. San Francisco Giants
No team has been more successful the last couple of seasons than the Giants. They have a bunch of great players that lead on and off the field that has resulted in World Series titles in two of the last three seasons. Winning isn’t something that just happens by chance, as we all should know.
As B/R featured columnist Brian Kinel wrote last October, San Francisco didn’t win it all because of great pitching or great hitting at random times throughout the season and postseason. The Giants won because of leadership and the culture created by that leadership.
The Giants roster is made up of players that have a common goal and also have the talent to accomplish that goal. There aren’t any losers in San Francisco, just winners. General manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy only want players that are going to work hard.
Sabean said before the season that winning develops chemistry and that once there is that chemistry and the team goes through tough times, it’s much easier to bounce back. He couldn’t be more correct, and his team has proved it time after time.
This season’s roster is nearly identical to that of last season for San Francisco. The chemistry is there and the culture in the clubhouse is second to none. The Giants have the talent too. When you throw that all together, you get a World Series ring. Chemistry could be what makes it three of the last four for the Giants.