Why Cubs believe clubhouse chemistry matters


There is no statistic to measure clubhouse chemistry.

You can't head over to FanGraphs or Baseball Reference to check metrics on a guy's impact in the clubhouse. There's no way to prove it effects the game being played between the white lines on the field.

Because of that, sabermetricians and statheads will tell you clubhouse chemistry is overrated, that it doesn't matter.

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Yet the Cubs know what they feel and they insist chemistry does bleed out onto the diamond.

"One hundred percent," reliever Jason Motte said.

"I've always believed that clubhouse chemistry can be created," manager Joe Maddon said. "There's a lot of people that would disagree with that. And I think people that disagree with that have never really attempted to do it. You mock what you don't understand.

"Of course, winning always breeds that kind of stuff. But if you've not won, what do you do?"

For the first time under Theo Epstein's front office, the Cubs are actually winning: They're five games over .500 and sitting atop the National League wild-card standings in mid-May.

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The culture inside the clubhouse has changed. It's palpable the second you step into the cramped home locker room at Wrigley Field. There's energy, confidence and a sense of a team on the rise, even if they're still learning how to win consistently.

Maddon has had a huge impact. But he's also so complimentary of veterans like David Ross and Jon Lester, to the point where the star manager is praising them on a near-daily basis.

"How do you create chemistry?" Maddon asked. "You bring in David Ross, [Miguel] Montero, Jon Lester, [Chris] Denorfia, these kind of guys.

"Those are kind of like the chemistry majors, man. They know what they're doing and they set a different tone. I'm telling you, the bench during the game when Monty and Rossy are not playing - wow. Those other guys better be heads up."

Guys like Ross, Lester and Motte all carry the instant credibility that comes with their World Series rings.

Lester won two championships with the Boston Red Sox. Motte was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals teams that has made it to the last four NL Championship Series, including a title in 2011.

At 38, Ross is a 14-year veteran who has played with seven different teams and also won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013.

It's that kind of experience that has helped these guys earn their degrees in clubhouse chemistry.

"I try to pass along the experiences I have had with winning and all that encompasses that," Ross said. "There are a lot of questions that get fired my way and I talk from experience of winning.

"I say things like, 'This is what I saw from the team that won.' Obviously, there is more than one way to win, but the group I was with in Boston and the way I saw things done, that's what I talk about.

"I don't come to the field or to an organization trying to instill anything. I try to come and be me and I try to support my teammates.

"I only know one way to come to work and that's to come and say 'hello' to my teammates, enjoy them and try to have fun with them and compete at the highest level."

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The Cubs talk a lot about the synergy in the clubhouse and how that breeds chemistry.

During the team's recent six-game winning streak, Maddon mentioned how much he loved the energy in the dugout during games and how each guy on the 25-man roster is pulling in the same direction, picking each other up.

Motte credited rookies like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell for coming up to the big leagues and not acting like they're all that, instead looking to the veterans for an example on how to act, how to carry themselves.

Motte and Ross believe it's important for a team to get along as it helps keep things loose during the grind of a 162-game season.

"Clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter if you have a lot of selfish players - guys that only worry about themselves and only go out there to produce for themselves," Ross said. "I think it matters if guys get along, care about one another, want to sacrifice for the betterment of the guys in the group.

"Let's say I don't like a lot of my teammates. I may choose to do what's best for me rather than what's best for the team.

"If you get along and care about one another and have fun, I feel like you have a better chance of having the group play for one another. And I think that's one of the keys to winning."

Maddon credits the veterans with instilling that "team-first" mindset in the clubhouse, saying the young players are being "properly overseen by the veterans" on a daily basis. Which is necessary, because they boast one of the most inexperienced lineups in all of baseball.

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The Cubs have three guys - Bryant, Russell and Jorge Soler - who could finish in the Top 5 in NL Rookie of the Year voting and two other everyday stars - Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo - who are still just 25.

All that youth has led to some fun moments in the first six weeks of the season. The locker room turns into a night club after victories, complete with a fog machine and dance parties.

"Every game's important," Motte said. "The celebration after the game - that's awesome. But the one time it's going to be truly good to celebrate is when we make the playoffs.

"Then we'll be popping champagne. That's what we're all here for, to play PAST October 4."

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