Intangibles and Cliff Floyd

My uncle, who drank liquor, smoked cigars and loved his trips to Atlantic City, never struck me as a particularly religious fellow. But he used to have a sign in his store which read: In God we trust, all others much pay cash. The stathead version of that credo is: In God we trust, all others must supply data. Which gets to the heart of the intangibles problem – how do we properly account for something which cannot be measured?

Some people throw up their hands and say that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. But I don’t think that’s the right way to go, any more than it’s the right thing to assign mythical powers to the Jeff Francoeur and Paul Lo Duca types in the world.

I do think there’s something to the intangibles that some players bring to the table. But I think that generally these things are vastly overrated and that they don’t go to the players that the mainstream media would like you to believe. I really do not care if Player X is great at giving quotes to reporters. What does Player X do to make it a better work environment for his fellow teammates?

When I think of a Mets player who brought intangibles to the table, I immediately think of Cliff Floyd.

Floyd is famous for making David Wright carry his bags. Rumor has it that he would haze him in other ways, too. But Wright bonded with Floyd and considered him a mentor much more so than a tormentor. He credited Floyd with buying him dinner and suits and teaching him how to act when he first came up to the big leagues. Less celebrated in the press was Floyd’s relationship with Jose Reyes, who he also took under his wing.

Like everybody else, I eat up these types of stories. The veteran teammate teaches hot shot rookie how to be a major leaguer. It takes a special star rookie to accept the teachings of a veteran. And it takes a special veteran to really have the rookie’s best interests at heart. But again, how do we measure this?

With Floyd, we may actually have a way. In the last three full seasons of his career, Floyd played on three different teams. Each team played better the year Floyd was there than they did previously and they often played worse the year after he left. Here are the details:

Club Pre-Floyd Year Floyd Year Post-Floyd Year
Mets 83-79 97-65 88-74
Cubs 66-96 85-77 97-64
Rays 66-96 97-65 84-78
Total 215-271 (.442) 279-207 (.574) 269-216 (.555)

Of course, Floyd played with the Mets in the above “Pre-Floyd Year” and the Cubs actually improved after he left. But his last three teams improved over the previous season. That could easily be a coincidence or perhaps there was something that Floyd brought to the table those seasons that couldn’t be replicated to the same degree after he left.

Of course, the knee-jerk response to this is if Floyd had these intangibles, why didn’t they show up until the very end of his 17-year career? That’s not easily answered. Perhaps he had to grow into this role. Perhaps when he spent time on the bench due to age rather than injury, he realized ways he could still help the club, even when he wasn’t in the lineup.

Or maybe it’s all just a coincidence.

I won’t blame anyone who comes to that conclusion. But I know if I was running a team, one of the first people I would reach out to would be Floyd. I’d like to find out what he thought he did differently at the end of his career than at the beginning and why he felt like good teams followed him around from 2006-2008. I’d like to see if that was anything we could incorporate into the organization and I’d like to see if I could get Floyd involved as a coach somehow and somewhere.

We have all been in work environments where people’s attitudes and personalities contributed to the atmosphere. Mostly, it’s people who make you dread going to work. But there are people who are just a joy to be around and who can make a bad situation better or a good situation great.

It seems like good organizations should collect these types of people. And a really good baseball team would hire these guys as coaches. Because I am all for having a guy around whom everyone reacts to positively. But I’m less thrilled when that same guy puts up a sub-.700 OPS while soaking up a ton of at-bats.

Floyd put up a .731 OPS with the 2006 Mets, a .795 OPS with the 2007 Cubs and an .804 OPS with the 2008 Rays. So, he was helping out on the field, too. And that’s the best kind of leader of all.

7 comments for “Intangibles and Cliff Floyd

  1. January 24, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Saw Cliff in 2006 when he was with the Mets in Cincinnati. Met Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Dennis Miller at that same game. I thought Cliff was a little too big to play left field. Hated seeing him in a Cubs uniform the very next season. What happened to those days? The Mets actually looked like a big league squad and not a Triple AAA team.

    • Brian Joura
      January 24, 2012 at 7:00 am

      Hanks, Howard and Miller – now there’s three guys I’d like to hang out with. Knowing that they’re baseball fans just makes it all that much better. Now that I think about it, I seem to recall Miller grew up in Pittsburgh and talked about listening to Bob Prince.

  2. AJ
    January 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    It’s nice to read a self professed stat-head acknowledge the importance of the so called “intangibles”, although it’s a little amusing watching you attempt to find a statistical method of validating it.

    I thought the end of your piece, the last 3 paragraphs, hit the nail right on the head. A great team has to have players who produce on the field, but it also needs to have greatness of character. That character is built by seeking players and coaches who have some added dimension, those intangible characteristics that separate them from others of similar qualifications. It’s not a simple formula. The production side of the equation can be quantified with statistical data, but the character part is tough to nail down – intangible, in a word.

    A good argument could be made that finding the production is a lot easier (especially if you have a big budget), but without the presence of a positive intangible element the chance for success is significantly diminished.

    • Brian Joura
      January 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      Did the ’72-’74 A’s have greatness of character?

      • AJ
        January 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm

        The direct answer is, I don’t know. But my belief is that they must have, or else they wouldn’t have been as successful as they were.

        The term “greatness of character” isn’t without some ambiguity. It doesn’t mean the team is filled with Boy Scouts who spend their days off doing charity work. For example, a player might be a big mouthed, boastful egomaniac and still be a positive club house presence under the right conditions. Another might be surly to the fans and press but yet give 110% on the field, coming through in the clutch and inspiring others with his grit and determination. These are examples of what I think of as being in the realm of intangibles.

        There are some players, like David Wright, who are apparently stand up guys who do a lot of community service and take great care to represent their team and their sport in a positive light, and that’s really admirable, but it’s not the only way a player can have greatness of character.

        • Brian Joura
          January 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

          I think you are sliding down a slippery slope.

          You can’t tell me what exactly it is, but you know they have it or else they wouldn’t have won 3 consecutive World Series. It seems to me that you are saying that success = character even if the players openly fueded with themselves, their manager and their owner, which we know the mid-70s A’s did with regularity. Yet they were the most successful team since the decline of the Yankees dynasty, whose biggest stars were drunks, pill poppers and skirt chasers.

          Most teams perform with W-L records that are proportional to their runs scored and runs allowed. Bill James came up with this back in the 1980s and calculated W-L records based solely on runs and called it a team’s Pythagorean Record. Most teams fall within a couple of games when you compare their actual record to their Pythagorean record. Each year there are outliers, teams that exceed or fall short of their Pythagorean record by more than a couple of games. Perhaps those are the teams where character mattered? Here are the actual and Pythagorean records for the 72-74 A’s

          72 – Actual 93-62, Pythagorean 97-58
          73 – Actual 94-68, Pythagorean 96-66
          74 – Actual 90-72, Pythagorean 97-65

          This great team, winners of three straight World Series, performed worse than we would have expected. Based on their talent, they should have won 290 games but they won 277. They underperformed by 13 wins, hardly a ringing endorsement for greatness of character or intangibles or whatever else you’d like to call it.

          Lord Kelvin said it best when he wrote: “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge of it is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced it to the stage of science. “

          • AJ
            January 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm

            I know you like numbers and it’s amazing the information that can be contained in and expressed by them. But not everything can be quantified. To try and minimize the importance of something simply because it cannot be expressed by numbers is to leave by the wayside a great deal of what’s best in life.

            I think the aspect of sport that is most intriguing is beyond what statistics can measure. That aspect is the human element, crossed with the vagaries of fortune. Were it not for these things sport would be totally predictable, and statisticians could amass mountains of perfect facts that wouldn’t be worth knowing.

            I used the phrase “greatness of character” which it seems you took to mean being of high ethical standards, but that was not my intention. I’ll take your word on the ethical failings of the early ’70′s A’s. Regardless, they had some kind of greatness of character to have succeeded the way they did. Maybe the term “team chemistry” would be more acceptable, but to my thinking it amounts to the same thing.

            At the beginning of the 2007 season, many “experts” predicted the NY Mets to be the best team in baseball, with Sports Illustrated declaring them to be the most likely World Series champions. My guess is that their opinions were largely influenced by statistical data. Well, something happened along the way. Something maybe to do with intangibles? Perhaps as a team they lacked the greatness of character that the early 70′s A’s possessed,

            I don’t know this Lord Kelvin guy you quoted, but I can see where his take on things would appeal to you. What he says is alright up to a point, I guess.

            Here’s a different take on things, from Buddha:

            “Know all things to be like this:
            As a magician makes illusions
            Of horses, oxen, carts and other things,
            Nothing is as it appears.”

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