Is Chemistry the Rays’ Secret Weapon?

By David Hill

Typically, when one thinks of chemistry in baseball, it involves a group of scientists in a laboratory someplace working on creating the next undetectable steroid as they attempt to stay ahead of the testing process. But PEDs are not the focus of this post – team chemistry is.

In a sport that relies upon individual success as much as baseball does, team chemistry is sometimes forgotten about. Typically, chemistry is referenced only when there are locker room issues, such as with the Boston Red Sox last year. Yet, for the Rays, a big part of their success may have to do with their focus on the locker room and the culture they have built.

Since Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman were brought in, the Rays have built a culture based on honesty and openness in the clubhouse. They have gone out of their way to build an atmosphere where the players can legitimately feel as though their thoughts and opinions matter. The Rays are also not afraid to ask their players what they think, as they spoke with Jose Molina prior to trading for Yunel Escobar. Molina, who had been a teammate of Escobar’s in Toronto, vouched for his personality, and possibly helped ease some concerns about how Escobar would fit in the locker room. In fact, Molina has been acting as Escobar’s interpreter at times since his arrival in Tampa.

Escobar is not the only player the Rays acquired after listening to one of their players. Joel Peralta noticed how well Juan Sandoval had been pitching in the Domincan Winter League, and e-mailed a video of his outings to Friedman. Sandoval ended up signing with the Rays, and is currently in Montgomery as he continues to work at getting a chance to appear in his first major league game.

Being a good clubhouse presence can also help players stick around in the game. Jason Giambi was signed by the Cleveland Indians, not only as a power bat off the bench and a part time designated hitter, but as a mentor and a positive influence in the clubhouse. The Boston Red Sox remade virtually their entire team since August of last year, getting rid of players that they deemed to be problematic, while bringing in players such as Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes. While both are expected to have a big role for the Red Sox this year, they were also signed in large part due to being considered positive influences.

Chemistry has been something that the Rays have focused on for years. Everything from their open door policy to their themed road trips (like the “Letterman Jacket” one they’re having as they head to Boston) helps build team unity and trust within the organization. The Rays’ chemistry and focus on the locker room is what has allowed them to take chances on players that other teams would not and have success with them. It is this chemistry, and not the type that is conducted in a lab, that may be the Rays’ secret weapon in their run of success.