Blow it up, Stu.
Everyone who actually bothered to read Moneyball knows that it has nothing to do with on base percentage or with computer modeling. It's a book about the impossibility of winning consistently as a small market club. Without the resources of the Yankees, the Red Sox, or -- as it pains me to say -- the Dodgers, success for the spunky underdogs in baseball is temporary. Innovation can buy time at the top, but there's no patent for OBP or accurately evaluating defense. The big boys will learn.
I wanted to believe, so I was fooled for a while. Andrew Friedman denied the existence of windows of opportunity. He said he made every move with one eye on the present and the other eye on the future. I bought it. Jonah Keri wrote a book about the Rays in which he detailed how they tried to be just a little bit better, to get that "extra 2%," in every single facet of the organization. That sounds good, right? It's Moneyball without all the annoying and factually incorrect iconoclasm of the 2002 Athletics. It's about crafting a team, from the front office personnel to the manager to the players, that works together from top to bottom, seamlessly and with perfect efficiency. Fabulous! Sign me up.
Nope. It turns out that The Extra 2% was actually about the death of Moneyball. It's about how the idea of a scientific approach to baseball had already made its way throughout baseball. It's about how having a few good ideas wasn't enough anymore -- to succeed with a small budget, you have to be the smartest, the most innovative, and the hardest working front office, and even then, your gains will be marginal at best. And what if, despite playing with the deck stacked against it, your team is still able to compete? Maybe you do have the best front office? Maybe you do have the best manager?
Maybe. But not for long.
We thought that Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon were the Rays, but it turns out they were just assets. Any asset can be bought. Maybe it will turn out that Matt Silverman is actually the best, and maybe we will come to think that he (and whoever he hires as the next manager) is the Rays. If so, he'll be bought too. The only way for a team like the Rays to live at the top is for the owner, the one immovable asset, to gain an extra 2% on all of the other owners, and to pass that down through his organization. Stu, are you the best?
I don't pretend to know. What I do know is that it's time to stop considering the Rays perennial favorites. Success has lulled us "educated" Rays fans into forgetting our roots. Because our team made the playoffs a few times; because preseason projections have called the Rays World Series favorites; because Jim Hickey improved a few pitchers; because we read The Extra 2% and forgot about Moneyball, we fans lost perspective. Regression is coming, and the Rays do not belong, so blow it up, Stu.
No idea can stave off regression for long. An idea can be bought. No president of baseball operations can stop it. A president of baseball operations can be bought. No manager can prolong the Rays run at the top for more than a few years. A manager can be bought. In the long term, all is already lost, so it's time to stop playing for the long term. Major League Baseball has a revenue system that promotes cycles of contention. Embrace the cycle. The Rays can't sustain the quality of 2009-2014, so it's time to get back to the potential 2007 and hope for the miracle of 2008. Flags fly forever. Blow it up, Stu.