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Thoughts on Derek Shelton, Carl Crawford's Bunting, and Chemistry Players

A quick smorgasbord here on two thoughts I have in my mind but are undeserving of their own full-fledged post.

All bunts are not created equal

Derek Shelton's hiring lead to a furry of tendency checking and question asking. Did his teams bunt more? Did they walk more? Did they hit more pop flies? Wait, how much say did Eric Wedge give Shelton on bunting patterns? And so on and so forth. One player who increased his bunt output was Grady Sizemore. Prior to Shelton taking over, Sizemore attempted 13 bunts in a little over 1,500 plate appearances. Sizemore laid down 11 bunts in Shelton's first full year, seven in his second, and nine this year. Maybe that's a complete and utter coincidence, or maybe Shelton helped Sizemore hone his small ball skills.

Bunting is considered a form of witchcraft by some, and in certain cases it absolutely is a horrible idea, however, as the brilliant Mitchel Lichtman surmised (and went in far too much depth) here, bunting has to be used occasionally, if only to keep the defense off guard. The Rays held few qualms about having B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett, or even Fernando Perez bunt for hits -- heck, even Carlos Pena had five bunt hits this year - but the guy you would really expect to have a knack for bunting went hitless on five bunt attempts.

That man is Carl Crawford. He's left-handed, fast, and someone who could use the occasional freebie. Defenses never play Crawford for a bunt in part because he's horrible at it. Really, really poor. Even if Crawford attempts to bunt for a hit, he usually bunts it right back to the pitcher. His skill set seems similar enough to Sizemore's that if Shelton is the one responsible for Sizemore, he may be able to help Crawford out too.

Now the idea of Crawford bunting is nothing new. Dewayne Staats usually harps on the point at least nineteen times in any given season. I always flinch when he (or anyone else) talks about how Crawford could add 20-25 hits to his seasonal total if he just dragged the bunt more often. For one, the leader in bunt hits this season only had 19 (Erick Aybar) and for two, once Crawford shows he can do it on a routine basis defenses will begin playing him for a bunt. Hence, making a bunt the less likely to succeed call - although at that point Crawford still will have to bluff the bunt in order to keep the defense honest.

Here's where it gets interesting though, Crawford has 21 career bunt hits and 80 attempts. The majority of those came before Joe Maddon arrived. In 2006 he attempted 18 bunts and only reached on three. One out of every six is a ridiculously poor ratio. Crawford is expected to get on base at about a 35% clip, if he's going to bunt that many times then ideally his success rate would be near (or hopefully) above that rate. Otherwise the only positive affect is putting the play in the defense's mind.

Rather than aiming for 20 bunt hits, I'm hoping for a success rate of more than 35% on the bunts Crawford does put down.

Chemistry is quantifiable

Quite a few have said the Rays don't care about chemistry. They say the team didn't feel the same and that was because it didn't have enough glue guys. Now, I question what Gabe Kapler is, if not a glue guy1, and I also question whether these people realize that there are zero teams in the league that have a 100% retention rate on their 25 man rosters from one year to the next, but that's for another time.

How do you quantify chemistry? By looking at his other skills. If the player has something he does well - hitting, fielding, pitching, whatever - then he is not a vital solution in the chemistry set. Further, his actual personality means little. There's not telling whether a homogenous or heterogeneous mixture of personalities makes for the best clubhouse and it matters little anyways.

There are reasons as to why it's always the guys who suck that get the chemistry label. 1. As mentioned, these players are poor. They cannot afford to be jackasses otherwise their job cease to be. Superstars and good players can have an attitude without much issue. 2. There may or may not be a pre-existing name for this condition, but for now I'll call it Survivor Inference. There's nothing quantifiable about this player, however onlookers feel there has to be some reason that keeps teams giving him jobs. It doesn't show up in the numbers, ergo, he must bring good vibes. Or his wife supplies the daycare with fresh pudding pops ... or something.

There are exceptions of course. Nick Swisher doesn't suck and he's hailed as a clubhouse guy. If the Yankees offered the Rays Swisher for Pat Burrell I would fully expect the Rays to take the deal, however it has more to do with the actual skills than Swisher's fun-loving attitude.

If you want someone truly high on chemistry then don't throw the numbers out of the door, just look at the bottom of the lists.


1If the Rays repeat in 2009 with Kapler around, how many articles would've been inked about how Kapler's former managerial experience was an irreplaceable quality on the field and in the clubhouse? Setting the over/under at 5.5.