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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team (2016)

by Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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24324111,706 (3.87)16
"It's the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies -- with real players, in a real ballpark, in a real playoff race. That's what baseball analysts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when an independent minor-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, offered them the chance to run its baseball operations according to the most advanced statistics. Their story in The Only Rule is it Has to Work is unlike any other baseball tale you've ever read."--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
This book didn't quite live up to its title.

It's about two baseball writers, Ben and Sam, who spend a season on the baseball operations staff of a team, the Stompers, in an independent baseball league. They have the idea that they will bring "major league" analysis to this team (normally independent leagues don't use a whole lot of metrics) and really use numbers to drive the management of the team i.e. crazy shifts, using five infielders, etc.

As a huge baseball fan, I thought this would be very interesting, but in the reality, Ben and Sam learned a lot, but not sure they learned a lot about using metrics to manage a team. What they learned is that baseball managers don't like being told how to manage much. And that if you recruit the best available baseball players, they get poached by better funded, more appealing independent leagues.

From the title, you think it's all going to work out in movie like fashion. But Moneyball it isn't.

To add to the issues, there's a lot of replication of spreadsheets in the book as well as texts which were all but unreadable on the Kindle edition. You may need a magnifying glass if you don't buy the dead tree version.

This book would have been a great 8 page article in ESPN Magazine, but as a book, it was not a home run. I will give the authors kudos for their total honesty, but while they seem extremely intelligent about numbers, I'm not sure they knew much about how to implement change effectively. The story was more about their thought process than a verdict on the success or failure of their theories. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
My only complaint is that there wasn't more nerdy analytic ideas that the authors got to try out. It really does make you realize though how much of modern team success is down to composition rather than tactics. Sure, aggregate managerial decisions could boost your WAR marginally, but really it's the ability to identify talent and roles (fireman) that makes such an immense difference compared to conventional wisdom. ( )
  Kavinay | Jan 2, 2023 |
Lindbergh and Miller are two journalists who firmly believe in the utility of statistical analysis for improving and managing baseball players and teams. They get the opportunity to essentially manage an independent minor league team for a season, and this book relates what happened. Their story is engaging and hits all the baseball high points: statistics reveal talent no one else sees, clashes with traditionalists, friction and friendship among teammates, victories and defeats. I devoured this book and recommend it to any baseball fan! ( )
  nmele | Apr 10, 2021 |
Best baseball book I've read. Insights into the future of baseball, but also the all too human side as well. ( )
  mbeaty91 | Sep 9, 2020 |
In 2015, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, a pair of sportswriters, bloggers and podcast hosts got the owners of an 4-team independent baseball league* to agree to allow them to apply the relatively new ideas about baseball that are generally housed under the broad term, "sabermatrics." Sabermatrics is the philosophy/practice of developing rosters and considering in-game strategy that is based on deep dives into performance stats and probabilities rather than going by old-school, we've always done it that way attitudes.

* Independent leagues are the lowest level of professional baseball. The leagues are "independent" because they have no affiliation with major league teams.

The book is, basically, a co-memoir. The two men take turns writing chapters. Together, they describe their progress through the season with their team, the Sonoma Stompers. While they don't get to create the team's entire 22-man roster, they are able to add several players of their own choosing for which they study databases of players who had remained undrafted by major league organizations and whose stats indicate potential success based upon the "new" theories. The writers describe the coming together of the team, their struggles to gain the respect of the players and coaching staff for their roles in the team's performance, their growing understanding of the dynamics of clubhouse culture and the specific problems of players performing at such a low level of organized ball. As the season progresses, the two writers, together, weave together a very engaging story and they don't stint in self-examination, either. There's a lot of learning done.

There is also a very interesting section of the narrative about the coming out of one of their pitchers, Sean Conroy, to become the first openly gay ballplayer in American professional baseball. When Conroy starts on the mound for the team's Pride Night that June, the program for the game, signed by every team member, ends up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The biggest part of the story, in a way, is Conroy's teammates' easy acceptance of his sexuality.

Lindbergh and Miller are both quite good writers, so the book flows very nicely and remains interesting throughout. It's a study of baseball, certainly, and as such is more or less of interest to baseball fans only. But this is also an interesting and acute study of human nature.

A personal note that the town of Sonoma is, you'll not be surprised to learn, in Sonoma County, California, just a touch south of where I live in Mendocino County. Yet I'd never even heard of the team, or the league, until I happened to notice an article online about their having fielded the first women players in organized baseball. (They did that the next year, after Miller and Lindbergh had ended their active participation in the organization.) That led me to the team's website, and to their "products" page, which features this book. I was looking forward to driving down to take in some games this summer. Oh, well.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, though for baseball fans only. ( )
  rocketjk | Jun 9, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Lindberghprimary authorall editionscalculated
Miller, Sammain authorall editionsconfirmed
Heyborne, KirbyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pruden, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"It's the ultimate in fantasy baseball: You get to pick the roster, set the lineup, and decide on strategies -- with real players, in a real ballpark, in a real playoff race. That's what baseball analysts Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller got to do when an independent minor-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, offered them the chance to run its baseball operations according to the most advanced statistics. Their story in The Only Rule is it Has to Work is unlike any other baseball tale you've ever read."--

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