How the Tampa Bay Rays win consistently for pennies on the Dodgers' dollar
Many MLB teams embrace analytics for innovation and cost efficiency, but few have enjoyed the sustained success of the American League champion Rays.
The small-market Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros to reach the World Series and face the Dodgers.If the Rays win, the fans of Los Angeles would be crushed because the Dodgers would have lost the World Series three times in four years. But fans of teams outside of the mega-markets would be delighted because it would put pressure on their teams to put up or shut up.
The point of the game is to win the World Series.That bears repeating because fans too often are promised a process. Trust the process, or so the saying goes. But this is a saying too: The end justifies the means. In baseball, the end is a championship.
AdvertisementExecutive Billy Beane has led the Oakland Athletics to the playoffs 11 times but never to the World Series. They did it make it to the American League Championship Series once and were swept.Owners rushed to embrace analytics, for innovation and cost efficiency, and not necessarily in that order. Tanking became the flavor of the moment, lowering the payroll and alienating the fan base in the promise of brighter years ahead. The lords of the sport repeatedly pointed to the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros as proof of concept: tear down, build back, win the World Series.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash holds the American League championship trophy after beating the Houston Astros on Saturday.(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)“Having a limited amount of money to spend, you have to be more accurate with your bow and arrow. They don’t miss.”
Joe Maddon, Angels manager and former Rays manager on how Tampa Bay scouts talent.AdvertisementBut the Cubs and Astros are large-market teams. The Boston Red Sox won a World Series with analytics, but they also signed David Price for $217 million and Chris Sale for $145 million. The Dodgers love analytics so deeply that they converted a Dodger Stadium clubhouse to accommodate their enormous research and development department, but they committed $392 million to outfielder Mookie Betts.
The last small-market team to win the World Series? The Kansas City Royals in 2015, and their success was not in the numbers. They put shortstop Alcides Escobar and his .293 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, and manager Ned Yost called it “Esky magic.”
The lesson of “Moneyball” was not to lionize on-base percentage. It was to celebrate the confidence of a team that had identified its best chance to win as zagging when the industry was zigging.“I don’t think you ever want to see there be one particular cookie-cutter form of success in anything,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “That’s not what makes it fun.
Advertisement“I’m really happy for our group that we have the opportunity to be on this stage. Our brand of baseball is not the same as the Astros and the Yankees. … To show that there are different ways to do this, sure, I think that’s great for baseball. By no means is this the only way, whatever this way is. We’re just a good team right now.”
And not just this year. The Rays put up the best record in the AL this year, going 40-20 in the abbreviated regular season, won 96 games last year and won 90 games the year before that. Read more: Los Angeles Times »
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