This past Saturday I was in my local library. I'd been meaning to get hold of a copy of The Extra 2%, Jonah Keri's look at what makes the Rays tick since it came out and was on mission.
I got the book home and proceeded to knock it out in a weekend. I think it's a good read, though Keri seems to use the "rounding error" line about the Yankees a couple too many times. Under normal circumstances the book would go down as a nice anecdotal read on what a modern baseball organization looks like.
But this book hit me at an dark weekend as a fan. Looking inside a team on the upside of the winning cycle met the mind of Sox fan wanting change on a weekend where I saw the Sox take such a massive dump on the field in Detroit that even Chuck Berry was repulsed.
So Keri's book spoke to me in a different way than it might have at another time.
I switched between Ozzie live on TV in front of me, and spending extended time with Joe Maddon's management style on the page. Keri's sketch of Maddon fits the profile of what we know from afar: smart guy, open-minded, quirky, unafraid of unconventional baseball thinking. Keri sets up the Rays organization as one that is built around finding every small edge that it can get in order to overcome its many disadvantages. In Keri's narrative Maddon is practically the personification of that approach. One moment I was having flashbacks to Rios batting cleanup, the next I went back to the page and there was Maddon, beating the Red Sox. I read about Maddon’s familiarity with the run expectancy table with visions of Ozzie having Alexei bunt in my head.
When I put down The Extra 2% before the first pitch of Monday’s double header, I knew what I hope for in a manager. It’s not that I want Joe Maddon, I just want someone with his hunger for any edge he can get. I think I commented elsewhere here that I don’t care if a player understands or embraces advanced analysis, but I do care if a manager and coaches do. Personality aside, Ozzie is a conventional manager. Time-honored baseball axioms have their place when they make sense, I just want a staff on the field whose approach is more than that. If there isn’t room for run expectancy in Ozzie’s thoughts on bunting, I doubt his baseball worldview can accommodate the analysis produced by the guys his son called geeks. Paraphrasing something I think Maddon is quoted as saying in the book, how can you not want any information that would help you win?
Keri’s exploration of the Rays front office spoke less to me. I’m sure that has a lot to do with how I see the Sox front office, and how I see Keri’s picture of the Rays.
Where I came away from the book feeling like Maddon represents something different from other managers, and is himself an advantage for the Rays organization, I came away seeing the Rays not as a different kind of front office but as one with better results. There is no doubt that the Rays have smart people driving the organization and very good analysts, but that isn’t something I find special unto itself. While the Rays have their “mystery men” analysts toiling away at a player database, seeking out the next undervalued assets, and developing proprietary metrics, that is not unique. I don’t doubt that the Sox have their unnamed consultants and analysts whose work they don’t discuss publicly and whose names go unpublished on the Front Office page of whitesox.com. I am sure the Sox would benefit from more and better analysts just as an organization stands to gain from more and/or better scouts, I could be wrong but I don't see Sox as having a structural deficiency in this area.
Where I want a manager who does their job differently in the dugout, I want a front office that just does the job better. Less overhaul, more course correction on the front office side. A more balanced view of the value of prospects, less of a gap between the aggressive acquisition of ML players and the acquisition of amateur talent.
The Extra 2% was a good read. I know I’ll be mining the book for more material to add to my reading list. I wish it could have hit me at a moment when I was high on a Sox buzz. I took it as a decent look into what I suspect nearly all organizations in baseball are trying to do. I certainly came away feeling like I understand how people with investment backgrounds are drawn to baseball. But I also read Keri’s book as a man ready to turn the page from Ozzie and Kenny, so I also walked away with a mancrush on Joe Maddon, and a template for what I hope for in a new manager.