Somehow all of these players found more comfort and adapted to Oakland better than anyone expected. A welcoming environment may have made that easier, even if it wasn’t worth nearly as much as McCarthy suggests, or as much as general manager Billy Beane’s modernized Moneyball methods may have contributed.
On the other side of the coin, it’s worth noting that the sabermetrically-minded Red Sox, who spent last season in turmoil under one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine, and who were reputed to have clubhouse problems that carried over from their 2011 collapse, signed Gomes to a two-year deal based not only on his productivity but his reputation as a clubhouse leader. The Diamondbacks’ trade of Justin Upton to the Braves brought back Martin Prado, who has earned a similarly strong reputation in Atlanta and was particularly targeted as the type of player Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson wanted. Granted, I’m among those who scoffed at that deal, but that’s more because of Upton’s tremendous upside and the way that he’s been handled than a judgement on Prado’s value off the field as well as on.
I’m not suggesting that I’m about to trade in my Baseball Abstracts and Excel spreadsheets anytime soon, and I don’t suggest any other stat-minded fans should, either. I’m not going to claim that Miguel Cabrera’s intangibles were enough to outweigh Mike Trout’s tremendous WAR(P) advantage when it came to the AL MVP race, nor am I likely to pick the A’s or Diamondbacks to win their divisions due to harmonious clubhouses.
Even so, amid the tiresomely polarizing war on WAR, I do think it’s important to reiterate the idea that there’s a difference between saying something intangible can’t be quantified versus saying that said intangible has no value. The next time I hear a player talking about good chemistry, instead of waving my hand dismissively, I’ll hope that he’s up to the task of elaborating with insight as to why it might exist.