Like Moneyball, The Extra 2% is a case study of how a disadvantaged team won. It is the story of how the Tampa Bay Rays went from the doormats of the AL East to division winners. Overall I would say it was a satisfying read. I finished it faster than I do most books these days which should say something. I looked forward to reading it in my free time instead of watch Netflix or playing video games. It was well written and gave a lot of back story of just how horrible the Devil Rays initial ownership was. At times it felt like too much back story was given and just one chapter on how terrible Naimoli was would have sufficed.
There were also times when the chapters felt like separate essays on the same subject matter than part of a larger story. The larger story however was always an undercurrent and that was how the Rays managed to ascend from the basement to the World Series in seemingly a heartbeat. The book makes it clear that players like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton were being collected why the previous administration was in place. The Devil Rays philosophy also reminded me of former Nats GM Jim Bowden in the fact that every move was designed to be a homerun. It is a bad strategy for hitting, but it is even worse for management. A good slugger can afford to strike out 200 times a year, an executive cannot.
There were other points made that reminded me of the Nationals new strategy. The argument against the Nationals would be implementation as the Devil Rays became the Rays by focusing on run prevention and veterans off the bench that could help the young players and knew their role. The Rays are even more handicapped than the Nationals however, because they play in a terrible stadium and no matter how good they get they will continue to struggle with revenue. If Strasburg proved anything it was that D.C. fans will show-up when given a reason.
The book does end on a bit of a depressing note and with the Rays off to a 0 – 3 start and Longoria injured the last couple chapters and epilogue might prove a little too true. The Rays are run by smart people, but the problem with having a small budget isn’t just paying the players. With bigger market teams going after smarter people and realizing there are better ways to win out there the Rays might not be able to hang onto their greatest asset which is leadership. The book also makes it clear that the way the draft is run now with only a soft-slotting system (the hard-slotting and rookie pay scale of the NBA is one of the few things I think they get right) hurts small budget teams as they can’t hope to compete with teams that can and will throw big money at late round signability players.
The Extra 2% is a great case study of how the Rays overcame their disadvantages to become a winning franchise. It isn’t a strategy that can work for all teams as all teams don’t face the hardships of the Rays. I would have to say that the case study of the Rays shouldn’t be used in the DC area. In part I believe that is what Kasten was trying to do. Keep the major league budget down and build the farm system. He had two handicaps in this. The first was Bowden’s draft strategy of going for a homer with every pick, and the second was the DC area. This is not an area that tolerates losers. There is often a lag when a team starts to rebuild. The fan base will continue to show up and support the team. Once the Wizards realized they needed to rebuild they went from selling out the arena to giving out free jerseys to lure in fans. D.C. is a tough place for sports teams. Even the Redskins are now struggling to sell out.
The fact that it is a case study doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from the Rays. Every franchise can learn the value of run prevention or an initiative manager. A good amount of franchises don’t have a bottom of the barrel budget and have to avoid improving the bullpen for a season in order to sign draft picks. A lot of teams don’t have to fight for every dollar in arbitration, but every team should always be looking for new sources of talent and building baseball academies around the world. I am convinced that baseball would be much better if all 30 teams were run by the smartest people available and a more competitive product could be put on the field with talent dispersed evenly among all teams.
The Rays competitive advantage isn’t from money, but from intelligence and organization. They are run like a well oiled machine with everyone pushing in the same direction. It is the smart way to run anything. It should be the only way. Hopefully the Nationals will be run more like that now that Kasten is gone and Rizzo is the sole man in charge.
Overall The Extra 2% is a good read. It is a solid baseball book and should help most baseball fans to understand the business aspect of the game a little better. There is one important part at the end about the trade of Scott Kazmir and how the Rays aren’t afraid to upset their fans in order to make good decisions. This is how baseball teams should be run. Everything should be done for the betterment of the team. I don’t feel like I learned anything new from The Extra 2% but I am not everyone and most baseball fans should learn a lot from reading it and it is for this reason that they should read it.