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Hey Dusty, is it chemistry, or the pitching?

One of the favorite go-to lines for certain baseball people is to gush about team chemistry. Whenever a team is going well, we hear from managers and writers and players about the great character guys are on the team and this and that. And if a team isn’t playing up to the potential that has been set for them, chemistry is blamed. The team needs an attitude adjustment.

Does chemistry have an effect how teams play throughout a 162-game season? Most likely. But it isn’t something any of us can quantify. That’s what makes it occasionally maddening whenever someone uses the chemistry card as a crutch to explain wins and losses. Not shockingly, Dusty Baker is our latest to do so. When talking about the team’s play so far in 2009 (26-21 through Friday), Dusty had this to say:

“We have more young talent, more exuberance, more excitement. Guys take losses harder. We have some good character to this ball club. That’s one thing we wanted to change. You scout ability and you scout character as well when you’re trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. We have a lot of homegrown talent. We injected quality guys from the outside to go along with homegrown talent. We brought in guys like (Laynce) Nix, (Arthur) Rhodes, (Ramon) Hernandez, (Micah) Owings. The hard thing is: Who do you keep and who do you delete? We’ve got guys here who get along well and like playing together. Guys who are highly competitive against the competition and highly competitive against each other without any envy or jealousy involved. These are some of the quality you try to put together.”

To be fair, Dusty does throw out words like talent and ability, but the basic gist of this statement is that the Reds are playing better because the chemistry in the clubhouse is better. It’s also a shot at guys like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. who were traded away in the middle of last season.

Perhaps more guys getting along and enjoying playing with one another has contributed to the Reds solid start. And maybe Dusty was asked specifically about the team attitude. But let’s not get delusional.

Maybe Dusty could’ve mentioned that his team as a whole is pitching better than they were last year.

2008: 4.55 ERA (99 ERA+), 1.45 WHIP
2009: 3.96 ERA (115 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP

Or that Aaron Harang, his ace, has a 3.36 ERA compared to 4.78 in 2008. He could’ve given props to a bullpen that has the following ERA numbers:

Cordero: 1.71
Herrera: 2.04
Rhodes: 0.53
Weathers: 2.70

He could’ve also noted that Joey Votto is crushing the ball (1.091 OPS), and they got rid of Corey Patterson’s useless bat (.582 OPS, although Will Taveras hasn’t been a whole lot better at .660). And if Dunn was in the lineup instead of Chris Dickerson, they would not be worse off.

So it’s great that the Reds are fond of each other. But it’s even better that they’re pitching well.