‘Only Rule If It Works’ is worth it

Last summer, a pair of stats geeks, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, became part of the Sonoma Stompers front office with the goal to run the baseball team by sabermetrics.

For the uninitiated, sabermetrics is applying statistical analysis to baseball records, especially in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players. The term was coined by baseball statistician Bill James in 1980.

Lindbergh, who is a staff writer for FiveThirtyEight, and Miller, the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus, are, as they describe themselves, “apostles of sabermetrics.”

They ended up in Sonoma after Tim Livingston, the director of public relations and broadcasting for the Stompers, invited Sam Miller up to see a Stompers game in 2014 and Miller decided to do a feature about Stompers’ GM Theo Fightmaster during his visit.

In October 2014, the pair made their pitch to Fightmaster and the then-Stompers owner, Eugene Lupario to run the baseball operations for the team using sabermetrics.

It was a gamble, but in the end, the pair got the OK.

Not only did the pair run the team through sabermetrics, they also wrote an interesting book about the trials and travails of running a baseball team.

“The Only Rule Is It Has To Work,” was published earlier this month and it’s all about the Stompers quick start through the wheels coming off at the end of the season.

To call Lindbergh and Miller stats geeks would be an understatement. I’ve played fantasy baseball for years, but Miller and Lindbergh are using stats that, even after reading an explanation, are still a mystery. They throw out terms such as wOBA which stands for weighted on-base average; BABIP which is opponent batting average on balls in play; FIP or fielding independent pitching, just to name a few. But the stats doesn’t detract from the story.

They take turns writing chapters so you can see what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

And to boot, it doesn’t hurt that all of the names are familiar names to Stompers fans. It’s a blow-by-blow of the season.

It was doubly interesting since I was shooting the Stompers for the I-T and would spend five or six innings two or three times a week in the dugout – because that’s the safest place to shoot.

As I was reading, I recognized some of the games I attended. I was taking pictures of Feh Lentini, then the manager, getting tossed out of a game in early July by the home plate umpire in the first inning. I was shooting on Gay Pride Night when Sean Conroy made baseball history as the first openly gay baseball player. I was there when they threw a five-man infield at Pittsburg’s Scott David. And I was there for the championship game when Andrew Parker’s apparent home run turned into a ground-rule double that knotted the game instead of giving the Stompers a two-run lead.

I heard the dugout chatter among themselves, the taunts directed at the other team and the scorn for the umps’ calls; I had to bit my lip on occasions so as not to laugh out loud. It was my own inside look at a baseball team.

It’s a fun – and sometimes funny – book and a fairly quick read.

Lindbergh and Miller will have a book signing at 7 p.m. Friday, May 20, at Copperfield’s in Petaluma, 140 Kentucky St.

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