While reading The Extra 2%, I often consciously stopped myself from making comparisons to Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. It was difficult. I’ll also attempt to keep the comparisons to a minimum in this review, but that will also be difficult. After reading just the description of The Extra 2% you’ll know the premise of both books are just so similar. A small market team uses outside the box thinking and an analytical approach to compete with and beat clubs with much larger payrolls.
Much of The Extra 2%’s story focuses on the Rays’ work improving their fan experience, a topic not addressed in Moneyball. This was the storyline I found most interesting in Keri’s work. Discussion about on field baseball decisions are both stimulating and plentiful in this golden era of baseball analytics, but the other aspects regarding running a club receive less attention. For example, the descriptions of previous Rays owner Vincent Naimoli’s crazed quest to save pennies at the present but forgo future dollars is entertaining and eye opening. It’s a great reminder, one that Keri may or may not have intended, that a business treating people well is both beneficial from a “feel good” perspective, but also often leads to greater business success and profitability in the longer term.
Other aspects of the book were less engaging. We spend a chapter following game accounts from a season of Rays baseball, which would be more entertaining if I were a nostalgic Rays fan. But I’m a Padres fan, and what’s “magical” to me is not the same.
We also learned about Joe Maddon’s upbringing and career path to becoming the Rays manager. He seems like a good dude, but instead of learning about his family and the town in which he grew up, I’d have preferred more focus on Joe’s controversial stance on decision making. From the book: “Maddon makes decisions one way with one thing in mind: trust the process, don’t sweat the results.” I’m the kind of baseball fan who cheers when Chase Headley lines out, and slumps in my seat when Everth Cabrera beats out a swinging bunt. That kind of thinking is up my alley!
And that process of looking at our favorite pastime in a new light than we’re used to brings us back to Moneyball, which I read and found my mind blown fairly consistently. This issue with expecting The Extra 2% to be the next Moneyball is I read it 6 years ago, and I’ve followed baseball much differently in my six most recent years compared to the 6 years before. Baseball fanhood has changed a lot in those years as well. Which is why it’s unfair in a lot of ways to compare these two books, no matter how difficult the plots of each make avoiding comparisons difficult.
Another difference is that Michael Lewis is an experienced novelist. His strength is developing a narrative, in this case creating an “us vs them” theme in that made the book entertaining. Though the story lines are probably exaggerated, to the point of distorting the minds of developing baseball minds to whom Moneyball became an introduction to the world of baseball analytics. Scouts have more value to the game than one might conclude after reading Moneyball, for example. It took this relatively young (I’m 28) baseball fan some self discovery before allowing myself to venture outside Lewis’ framework.
Keri, on the other hand developed his chops in baseball analytics, having co-authored Baseball Prospectus’ excellent Baseball Between the Numbers and written for BP’s website. This background in the current state of baseball thought means he can use wOBA when necessary and eloquently explain it in a sentence.
Jonah Keri references additional developments in baseball thinking, but nothing is life changing. One of the “Wall Street Strategies” was the Rays’ plan to young players like Evan Longoria early in their careers to long term deals. It’s a good strategy that teams including the Padres are incorporating. But JC Bradbury wrote about how players are risk averse while teams can afford to be risk neutral right when the deal was announced. The Rays’ plan hasn’t been a secret since. I learned that they tried to do the same with BJ Upton, who wasn’t interested, which exemplified the nuances of applying these ideas to actions in the real world, and real people.
The story is also a great example of why The Extra 2% is an entertaining read for those who are interested in the details behind running a baseball team. But if you’ve been following the sport, don’t expect it to change the way you think about the game.