The Only Rule is it has to Work — book review


Finally got back into reading books. It was way too long between reading.

The Only Rule is it has to Work” is the first-person story (well, two people) of the Sonoma Stompers’ 2015 season. Two guys from Baseball Prospectus got the dream of a lifetime, to run a professional baseball team solely based on statistics.

Since the book is sports nonfiction, it would have been easy for me to look up what happened and then read the book. I mean, people could have done that for my book (shameless plug).

I do remember hearing about this experiment, but I didn’t know how it panned out, so this was an opportunity to find out whether a team could be built based on stats.

There were three takeaways:

1. It’s not enough to have the numbers. There’s a why behind the numbers. This was a lesson taught early in the book. A player might have a .320/.500/.470 line, but there’s a reason behind that line, and that’s the task.

I think about that with my Capcom Pro Tour database. There was one player who is great, he’s made several Top 8s this year and has even come close to medaling. But his round win rate is .393 (subpar), his comeback rate is .257 (great) and his closeout rate is .703 (terrible). There’s a reason behind those numbers.

The first two numbers tell me he’s falling behind a lot in rounds, and he relies on the comeback, which can only work to a point before the wall smacks them.

But there’s more to those numbers. I chatted with him about his results to see whether his internal analysis was matching up with the numbers I had.

Anyway, that’s what the two authors were trying to do. They had numbers on the players, but they had to find out why. Nobody has great numbers and is available in the independent leagues, there’s more to it. As it turned out, there were some amazing stories behind the numbers.

So as I continue to work on the CPT (and now, Gfinity) database(s), I have to keep this in mind. I can get all the numbers and stats I want. None of it matters if I don’t know the why.

2. Constant and neverending improvement is a must, even when things are going well. When the Stompers were rolling, there were concerns, and the authors knew they had to address it. I didn’t think they would ‘fire’ their player-manager given the great first half, but they went for it. At the time of the move, they clinched at worst a spot in the championship game, but it was a matter of who was going to steer the ship to the finish line.

This obviously reminds me of my past failings, where I was too stubborn and too much of an idiot to make moves because of the fear of rocking the boat. And I wasn’t even successful at that time.

3. The guys had to adjust because their team was getting raided. Since they were in the lowest of levels, being on that team was an opportunity to move up, and plenty of important players did. That led to the team trying to keep their heads above water in hopes of avoiding the championship game, which they couldn’t.

There are some things stats can’t prepare people for.

= = =

In picking up this book, one thought obviously came to mind:

Could I do this?

No, I don’t mean run a baseball team based solely on stats. I mean taking a fighting game player and molding him or her to play solely based on stats. So a player would know when to attack and when to play passive. That would be insane, and very tough to pull off.