Book Review: Caveman Logic & “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work”

book

In my experience, using analytics to influence coaching decisions is a profoundly weird and incredibly interesting exercise, which is why I was very excited to read a book called The Only Rule Is It Has To Work, a newly released book written by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, two Sabermetricians who took over a pro baseball team for a season.

Being a fast reader, I blasted through the pages in about two days. I’m happy to say that got a lot out of this book. If you’re here, you probably would too.

While I don’t know or care much about baseball, Ben and Sam are my kindred spirits. There are not many people who have had the opportunity to use analytics to directly impact how a sports team is run on a day-to-day basis. As I found myself leafing through the pages, I saw a lot of my own hockey experiences in the authors’ words.

Whether it was gaining the trust of the coaching staff, overcoming teething IT issues, or occasionally falling prey to heuristics and losing “objectivity,” I identified a great deal with Ben and Sam’s trials and tribulations. So much so, that I began tweeting at Ben before I even finished the book.

 

 

One thing that struck me was how bashful Ben and Sam were about exercising power. It’s one thing to be a stats guy and to be ignored by the powers that be. But it’s something else to be that power and still be shy about wielding influence. Maybe it’s just part of who they are – they were not professional managers and dropped hints about how they disliked the traditional concept of authority.

Perhaps there’s something to be learned from that, especially in the light of the Arizona Coyotes hiring John Chayka (who I’d consider more as a successful business executive who values empirical evidence, rather than a “stats guru”) as their new GM.

Beat ’em in the alley, beat ’em in the boardroom?

An especially memorable passage in Moneyball detailed Billy Beane’s dedication to physical training, and how he would tell his players, to their faces, that he is in better shape than they are.

It could just be a Billy Beane quirk, but somehow I think that this attitude could be central to his success as the GM of the Oakland A’s – if you aren’t convinced by my facts, I might just convince you with my fists.

It’s the most basic of human instincts. And even in our modern, cultured society, maybe it’s an important tool to have in your back pocket, especially in an industry such as pro sports. Billy Beane may not really be a stats guy, but he knew how to wield power and use intimidation to augment it.

I’m not totally serious when I say this, but if an analytics type were to find himself (or herself) in a situation where s/he has to manage pro athletes, maybe s/he would be well served to learn how to power lift and to take some boxing lessons.

Caveman logic and physical violence in the clubhouse or in the locker room is probably not a good influence on team chemistry, but trusting one’s self physically and not feeling the urge to flinch at a bad time might help with the dissemination of objective information about the game in a team setting.

Maybe.

Go buy The Only Rule Is It Has To Work

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.

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