Book Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller run the baseball operations department in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller run the baseball operations department in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

Having both served as editor and chief of Baseball Prospectus, a prominent sabermetrics organization, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller made their livings writing articles about Major League Baseball players based on advanced analytics. An off-the-cuff remark during a podcast hosted by the “statheads” suddenly creates an opportunity when they are offered the chance to test whether the use advanced analytics could produce a winning team.

Lindbergh and Miller tell their story about running the baseball operations department of the Sonoma Stompers, an independent league team in the Pacific Association, during the 2015 season in The Only Rule Is It Has to Work.

Readers quickly become oriented with the pecking-order of the many independent league baseball teams that span the country. The local Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, for example, play in one of the highest-caliber leagues in the country–the Atlantic League–which attracts former major league talent.

The Stompers, however, compete in one of the lowest-caliber leagues which presents them with challenges even before they begin to form a roster. Luring major league talent and players released from the lower levels of affiliated ball is almost impossible for the Stompers. Readers will appreciate the challenges that Lindbergh and Miller face as they build a roster based on the stats of undrafted college seniors.

This book showcases the delicate balance the executives maintain when providing advice directly to players and the field manager. Baseball fans are used to seeing their team’s general manager in a luxury box, but would never expect to see him in the dugout discussing shifts or pitching changes during the game. Lindbergh and Miller challenge this norm. This relationship is especially relevant given the New York Yankees decision to hire a managerial candidate who would be open to front office input during game situations.

Baseball fans who tune out Brian Kenny’s analysis of wOBA during MLB Network’s “MLB Now” need not shy away from The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. Lindbergh and Miller never get lost in the nuances of the sabermetrics and their entertaining narratives make this a great selection for this holiday season.

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