on April 11, 2011
A hard one! There certainly are not a lot books out on the Rays, and any intelligent baseball book is well worth a read. However, as well-intentioned as this work is, and the fact that if you are a baseball fan you are bound to read it, I cannot give it a great review. Here are a few points:
First, there really is NOT much there. It seems like it would have been a better magazine article. There is heavy repetition that is not really needed.
There are no interesting secrets, no revelations, not even a real idea of how the team works.
Tropicana Field is heavily featured; the general discussion of stadium building is interesting but how many times can the author complain about the Trop? Really, I think a reader would "get it" early in the book.
The history of the team is interesting - perhaps a history of the Rays would be a better work.
Inevitably, this will be compared to Moneyball. Face it, the author's premise/thesis is designed to appeal to fans of that work. However, this work is nowhere nearly as involved, or as interesting as Moneyball.
You do not get a lot of player info; more of this would bring the story to life. Yes, there are some anecdotes, particularly re: Garza and Longoria but not enough to really get an idea of the management mindset.
Overall, I do not regret buying this, and do not want to dissuade you, but it could have really been something great. I feel that a great book could be written about this team, but this is not it. In the meantime, this will have to do.
on April 3, 2011
Solid sort of book, but not something I would go out of the way to recommend to a friend who has interest in baseball. I felt like I've read this before and Billy Beane was way more entertaining a character. Plus, I'm interested in the Rays, and I felt like I came away with very little understanding of the new regime. I guess just playing close to the vest is part of the Wall St strategy, but it didn't leave me too satisfied as a reader. Got to know plenty about the Naimoli-Lamar fiasco, but that was a pretty public mess, and the rehash here mainly left me with pity for Chuck Lamar. The writing is okay. Some humorous jabs and quips seep in through parenthetical asides. It's very similar to Baseball Between the Numbers (the BP compilation put out a couple years back that Keri edited, and is a little more interesting than this book) in that the author asks some interesting, offbeat questions but the intellectual energy behind the question doesn't flow through the writing. All that said though, as a baseball fan, I'm glad we're seeing more books like this one these days with good, solid analysis, especially of teams that have been overlooked for too long, just like the Rays.
on May 18, 2011
This book is really a collection of essays that meander through the period beginning with Stuart Sternberg's purchase of a minority share of the Devil Rays and continuing through the 2010 season. It lacks a solid structure that really ties the whole thing together, but the stories themselves can be entertaining. Some are good, and some are lacking.
The Wall Street backgrounds of Sternberg and Friedman, and some window into how that plays into the current management of the team, are covered. It would be good if this was explored in more detail. The Extra 2% is naturally compared to Moneyball. But in Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells anecdotes from the A's history and always relates them back to something about Billy Beane's approach. The Extra 2% doesn't really do that - the stories are told for the sake of including them.
-The area scout who really wanted the Rays to draft Albert Pujols (spoiler alert: they didn't)
-The antics of Vince Naimoli and his failures to rally the community or follow a coherent plan
-The history of Joe Maddon, the Rays' quirky manager who spent a career earning this gig
-The long journey that Naimoli took to get the team established in Tampa, and all the fits and starts along the way
-Tropicana Field is a dump, we get it. If we didn't, it would be apparent by the 5th time that it comes up
-The inconsistent editing and tone. Some parts are almost documentary-like, well-written, structured, and professional. Others feature swearing and colloquial language - not quotes either, just a change in writing style.
-The lack of overarching story leads to changes in scope. At times, Keri is focusing on the results of individual games.
Overall, this was an enjoyable book. I feel like I did learn a lot about the Rays' history and a little about their approach. But the best parts of the book were not the analytical parts, so I worry that the audience attracted to the book won't be the audience that enjoyes the book.
on September 16, 2011
I enjoyed this book. Being sick of the Yankees blowing money (as a Yankees fan) on free agents that went no where in the early 2000's it was refreshing to see the rays do the impossible and complete the true American Dream.
That being said, the first ~80 pages were about the forming (and struggles) getting the team. This part also details the first owner, Vincent Namoli, and his horrid managing of the team. All of this was incredibly interesting, but not what I expected. The book does go into some of the move and why the Rays made them. The books overall value was not in that though, and I was disappointed in that. Don't get me wrong, there is a good amount on why Friedman, SIlverman and Steinberg did what they did and I got the gist of what they were doing, I just didn't get as much value or as clear of a point as I did from Moneyball.
That being said, it was really cool to read about Namoli, Tampa/St. Pete's struggles to get a team. The book also goes over the new owners, his people and why they did what they did in terms of running a Professional Sports Franchise. A lot of this I had not heard. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I just didn't quite get what I expected in terms of how and what EACTLY "The Extra 2%" is.
on July 27, 2015
Keri is an interesting writer, but I came away wondering what the 2% solution actually was. Yes, the Rays did some smart things (actually, avoided doing the same old dumb stuff), but I gained few insights into how they were better. In Moneyball, we learned that Billy Beane got ahead by looking at on-base percentage and the batting averages of college players. I did not come away from this book with similar insights
on December 16, 2014
This is a decent effort about a decent team, but will really only be interesting to Rays fans and now Dodfer dans, now that the Rays former GM is running the Dodger Front Office. This is no Moneyball. It's not a revolutionary look at a different way to play the game. Many of the successes of the new team leadership detailed in the book are really defined by in contrast to the Rays original owner, Vince Namoli, and can be summed up with three words: "Don't be stupid." A major league owner who nickels and dimes fans is going to be hated; one who does that with an expansion team will lose; one who signs washed up veterans and loses games will be mocked. All of this we have seen before and most callers to talk radio shows could basically do half the job, or more. The Rays faced special problems, including the presence of the Yankees (both in their division, and literally their market), but some of those were neither the fault of the old owner, nor have they been fixed by the new owners. Indeed, the book while acknowledging some success by the old regime, ignores the fact that bad luck and choices that most good baseball people would make caused a good deal of the problems. By the same token, it seems to overly credit the new regime with moves, including draft picks, that the old regime made. It. Also gives great insight into Joe Maddon, a crucial part of the Rays success. But it ignores that Maddon's methods weren't Wall Street--they were simply basic principles of coaching and teaching. If other coaches run pointless drills during sprung training while Maddon's practices teach players how to play better, this is not a 2% solution--it's just a failure of most major league managers, where college and minor league instructors succeed. In the end, the only central thesis that holds is that Namoli was a bad owner.
Interestingly, this book may give insight to the Rays regime as they spread into the rest of baseball. And combined with recent moves, it will cause worries. Friedman applies Wall Street strategies, as the title implies, in order to succeed in a tough situation. How does that apply to the rest of baseball? Not well. Player arbitrage and the like don't really work for a fan base. Moneyball was about finding value where others did not. It's premise was how could Billy Beane replace three high-priced talents that left the As for free agency, and then gets into explaining the fundamental difference in approach that the As used, which has largely revolutionized how front offices have looked at the game. But, even while it was a literary starting point, it revealed a truth--even Billy Beane would have re-signed Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon if he'd had the resources. And successful acolytes of his with vast resources--like Theo Epstein in Boston--have done just that. Indeed, the book mentions that the Yankees Brian Cashman and his baseball operations department are just as talented as Friedman and his team, and points out that after missing the playoffs and losing the division to the Rays in 2008, they took a very defective strategy and went out and bought the best talent available, steamrolling to another world championship the next year. The book does not give any hint that Friedman would operate effectively in such a scenario, and when compared to his early moves with the Dodgers, including a pointless salary dump of their best hitter, it suggests that he does not get it. In the end, it may really be an example of modernWall Street--hedge trade, arbitrage, but don't worry about real long-term value. The problem with that is that this was the Wall Street thinking when Steinberg, Sterner, and Friedman left the street for baseball, but just before that Wall Street thinking nearly destroyed the entire economy.
A note on the writing itself. Like I said, the central argument of the book is overstated--the old regime not nearly so bad, and the new regime not nearly as good. But the writing also leaves something to be desired. Too many digressions within the writing--as if the writer had a good tidbit of information that he really wanted to tell you about, but not really on point. The style was sometimes awkward, making it necessary to re-read sentences or paragraphs. Maybe this was just being too clever. But the examples in the argument had problems. The same players and circumstances would be referenced multiple times, but sometimes for inconsistent reasons. Carlos Pena went from being smartly cast off, to being a lucky re-sign to plug a hole, to a star hitter at the core of the team, to being not a great player but a really good clubhouse presence. All of these were viewed as positive moves, but in the end, it is either evidence for inconsistent points about the new regime. Talented rookies were viewed as key players in re-establishing the Rays brand in Tampa and creating long-term connections with the community, but their trades two years later are labeled brilliant moves of baseball arbitrage.
on May 26, 2011
When an unexpected hit television show breaks out, a slew of wannabes follow as desperate programmers try to grab a slice of the magic for themselves. When "Friends" scored, the airwaves were suddenly crowded with sleek, wisecracking twentysomething housemates; "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" spawned waves of idiotic prime-time imitations; and so on.
So it must have been in publishing in the wake of "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' hit book about baseball, sabermetrics, and the Oakland A's. You can imagine the call going out for more baseball-economics books, stat. "The Extra 2%" is to "Moneyball" as "Deal or No Deal" is to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"; same ground, similar concept, not quite the same magnetism or staying power.
Keri tells a fairly conventional business story about a poorly managed, money-losing, customer-alienating organization turned around by smart, pro-customer, detail-oriented Wall Street management. Stuck by chance in baseball's most competitive division, the Boston- and Yankee-dominated AL East, the Rays got into the hunt by sweating the small stuff, absorbing fan feedback, strengthening their master brand (dropping the "Devil"), and being open to new ideas. Such a narrative is pretty much what Ford Motor Company, IBM, and the old Continental Airlines have gone through. Here it is again, wearing an athletic supporter.
Considering the national fan base and deep pockets of the Red Sox and Yanks, it's a great David-versus-Goliath story Keri has to tell... but ultimately a familiar one. Almost any successful business makes it by coming out one or two percent ahead on a long list of counts. Keri swings for the fences, trying for a grand-slam business narrative. What we have here is a solid single to left. "Moneyball" it is not.
In late May of 2008, only four games separated the 4th and 23rd winningest teams in Major League Baseball. More important, none of the teams with the largest payrolls led their division. For those that had spent years agonizing over the dominance of big payroll teams, this was nirvana. In particular, the newly renamed Tampa Bay Rays were the poster child for a new strategy whereby teams identified talented, non-injury prone youth and locked them up with aggressive use of multi-year contracts, preserving a core of talent at an affordable price. The free agent market, where big money clubs held sway, was thereby rendered a highly inefficient route to improvement.
Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, provides an inside picture on the Rays' organizational turnaround. He takes us through Tampa Bay's pursuit of an MLB franchise, the team's early frustrations (including some highly amusing anecdotes about its penny pinching owner), its purchase by Stu Sternberg, and finally how Sternberg and his team of ex-Wall Streeters turned things around using the same creativity and analytical rigor they had once used putting together corporate deals.
Keri recounts the Rays' aggressive adoption of cutting edge baseball analytical tools that were in their infancy. Having calculated a player's overall worth, they were able to conduct trades that exploited slight imperfections of knowledge, particularly in regards to defensive value. They pursued what seemed like "surplus" bullpen help and focused heavily on utility players, demonstrating an understanding that today's game is played by 25 man rosters - not just the starting nine.
The Extra 2% is highly detailed in some areas, such as its endless recounting of virtually all the franchise's transactions since its inception. In other areas, Keri leaves you wanting more. For example, he notes that the Rays pitching staff was remarkably healthy from 2005 to 2009, one of the most important drivers of baseball success. Yet, when he considers how this came about, all we get is that either the Rays were lucky or had found a method for determining who was injury-averse. The book's chief flaw, however, involves its structure. Interesting, insightful material on the Rays' methods and those of other teams, baseball's financial structure, the problems surrounding Tropicana Field, etc. are segregated in separate chapters at the end of the book. Interweaving them throughout the narrative of the team's failures and turnaround would have both improved its readability and made its points more clearly.
The subtitle seems to have been a marketing ploy to sell the book to business types who aren't interested in baseball per se. Those looking for insight into improving their businesses, however, will glean little value. In fact, one could argue that the team's former owner, who used traditional corporate "turn around" methods of vicious cost cutting, was just as much "Wall Street" in his approach to the Devil Rays' management as much as the new ownership. Casual baseball fans will be interested in the revolution the game has undergone in the past decade, while more hard core students of the game are likely to find much of this familiar. The book's chief appeal will be to Rays fans and those who are particularly interested in the story of their rise to respectability.
This is more a book about the evolution and salvation of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Tampa Bay Rays) and their rise from obscurity and less a book about "wall street strategies" and statistical methods used in the way that Moneyball's Billy Beane employed them to bring the A's to dominance on the cheap.
The Tampa Bay Ray fan will enjoy this book but it may not contain any history that isn't already known. It's an easy read, gives some interesting history and facts on how the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the Tampa Bay Rays and dominated their division through arbitrage techniques and a stroke of genius and luck. As good as the team has gotten, and as good as management has been, the book closes with the true thorn in the Tampa Bay Rays side: the lack of attendance and "the Pit" or "The Trop" (Tropicana Field). The book leaves the reader understanding that the 2% edge on the competition is important and that it won't always belong to the Rays -- especially given Tropicana Field.
The book was interesting for the Rays fan but lacks any real depth. With so many interesting baseball books on the market and Moneyball occupying this space, I couldn't really recommend it to my friends who love the game.
on April 22, 2011
This book obviously wants to be the next Moneyball, Michael Lewis' groundbreaking book on the ascent of the Oakland A's through way of Billy Beane's finding of talent in low places. It refers to that book constantly as if reminding the reader that this book is just like that, but using the Tampa Bay Rays instead. This book is nothing compared to Moneyball. While Lewis' book changed the very way we look and think about baseball, The Extra 2% is just a rehashing of the events of the Tampa Bay team over that last decade or so. The book doesn't really provide much insight as to HOW that happened, just that it did.
Even the title of the book, The Extra 2%, would seem to be a major thesis for the book and yet very little is mentioned of that strategy and how it brought a championship to St. Petersburg. The author wants to give a lot of credit to the new owner of the club and bringing his Wall Street ways, but the reality is that with the Rays being so bad for so long, they amassed a plethora of 1st round picks that finally began to pay off for them.
While it is impressive they were able to beat the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the highest spending teams, with just a quarter of the payroll, the author does not make a strong argument for WHY this was able to happen, rather just reporting that it did happen. If you want to read a book that wants to be the next Moneyball, my suggestion is that you simply read Moneyball again.