The Los Angeles Dodgers deserve kudos for winning their first World Series in 32 years. But for a moment, let’s look at what the underdog Tampa Bay Rays taught us – and the Dodgers.
The Rays had the third lowest budget in baseball. The Dodgers had the second highest payroll. In fact, two players on the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts, made more money this year than the entire Rays’ team.
How did the Rays even get to the World Series? Sabermetrics (aka Moneyball). It’s the school of analysis made famous by the 2002 Oakland Athletics. It uses on-field statistics to find undervalued players. Another part of this winning formula is developing young (inexpensive) players.
But there’s more. The Rays are innovators in a sport often yoked by tradition. For example, the Rays pioneered “bullpen days.” That’s using a parade of relievers from the start of the game – instead of relying on a starting pitcher for five to six innings. It worked so well the Dodgers used the formula Tuesday night.
“We don’t let ourselves be limited by [our financial challenges],” then Rays vice president Chaim Bloom said last year. “We use them to inspire us, to spur us to work harder and be more creative.”
Here’s the kicker: The Dodgers and the Rays are basically using the same playbook. The architect of the Rays’ Moneyball approach, Andrew Friedman, now works for the Dodgers. So, one lesson might be that success – for both teams – emerged from a blend of creativity and science.