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Analyzing The Extra 2%: Catching Lightning In A Bottle

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For one last time, we're looking at the excellent book by Jonah Keri. In case you missed the first article, here's a rundown on what I'm doing: 

Jonah Keri is a good writer. I've enjoyed his stuff for years and was intrigued by his announcement that he'd be publishing a book on the Tampa Bay Rays. That book, The Extra 2%, came out in March of this year.

Why do I bring this up? Since Jim Crane has professed an admiration for how the Rays run their show and that persistent rumors link the Rays' GM Andrew Friedman with Houston, I wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look at the organization through the book. It's a quick read, under 300 pages, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's following new trends in baseball.

I had lots to take away from the book, but I don't want to dump it all in one article, so I'm breaking this up into three different ones, each focusing on a different aspect of the book and how it relates to Houston.

Today, we'll look at whether the situation in Tampa Bay can even be duplicated and what might be in store for Houston if they follow the spirit of the book.

I know it's very obvious and it's even become cliche in baseball circles. But, it really does take a lot of luck to win. As a team on the field or as an organization, things have to break right. 

For Tampa Bay, that meant hiring a young executive in Friedman and letting him develop. That meant getting an experienced hand at running the organization in Gerry Hunsicker and finding a guy like Andres Reiner who can revitalize the Latin America market. It means finding the Josh Kalk's of the world and having their work pay off. It means finding success with sports psychologists and Carlos Pena

It also means hitting a home run with a manager who can put all of that together like Joe Maddon.

Any one of those parts breaks down and the Tampa Bay Rays don't look like the same team. Their success is built off what the organization has achieved, but that happened because of many different people, not just Andrew Friedman. A guy like Dan Feinstein is just as crucial, for his expertise in arbitration. Kalk may provide the statistical analysis of Pitch F/X data, but it takes a guy like Maddon to listen to that data.

Which is to say, Friedman would have to try and create the same dynamic that's made him successful again in Houston. He'd have to bring the same people over, lock, stock and barrel (which will never happen), or catch lightning in a bottle twice with his hires here. 

I'm not saying Friedman wouldn't be a success in Houston. As I showed last time, one of his strengths is in finding talented people and letting them work towards one unified goal. I just think it's going to be infinitely harder to make that work in a new city with different front office dynamics. 

There are some GMs who have made that work, like Pat Gillick or even Walt Jocketty with the Reds to some extent. Those guys are typically the exception rather than the rule, though. Even Branch Rickey had a devil of a time trying to build the Pirates up when he ended his career there. 

That's why I say creating a successful organization is harder than just hiring a guy like Friedman. Getting him on board would be a good first step, but he's no panacea for Houston fans, which is the biggest reason why I think Friedman is unlikely to bolt for any other team. He's smart enough to realize what a special thing he has right now in Tampa Bay and he would be hard-pressed to recreate that somewhere else.

So, what might Houston do? If (IF) Jim Crane is going to be the new owner and he wants to follow the Rays thinking in their organizational model, he might just do what I suggested at the end of this week's podcast. Hire someone who can come in, learn the ropes under a guy like Ed Wade for a year or two before having him take over baseball operations. It's not ideal, and I'm not advocating this theory. But, it's similar to what George Postolos did with the Rockets and Daryl Morey.

Would it work again? I guess we'll see.