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WHIP The Competition: Stat-Heads Run Minor League Team, Lead It To First


OK, two sounds I want to play here. This...


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: To Escobar - unbelievable.

GREENE: Some baseball excitement - and now this...


ROBERT CARRADINE: (As Lewis) It's going to be a great year (laughter).

GREENE: From "Revenge of the Nerds" - all sort of captures our next story. The movie "Moneyball" raised the question is an obsession with number-crunching the key to a successful baseball team?

Ben Lindbergh is a baseball writer for Grantland and what first got us interested in him was this idea he hatched. He and a fellow writer decided to run a minor league team this year using number-crunching or sabermetrics. His team - the Sonoma Stompers in California Wine Country. Since we last heard from Lindbergh, the Stompers have been doing really well. They have the league's best record.

BEN LINDBERGH: There are certainly players here who would not have been here if not for that approach that we took, and a number of those players have been a big part of our success. So that makes us feel like it's working. But we will never know exactly what would've happened if we hadn't been here.

GREENE: Have you had to fire any player yet?

LINDBERGH: You know, from the very beginning we had more players than roster spots. And so yes, we had to make some very difficult decisions and have those difficult conversations, and it got emotional, you know? It - players are upset to find out that they're not going to be able to play for this team.

GREENE: Because you had told me that you thought it might be sort of a culture shock. I mean, when you play fantasy, for example, I mean, you're eliminating a name on your fantasy team. When you're running a team, I mean, it's - we're talking about men's lives here.

LINDBERGH: Yeah, that's absolutely been an adjustment. And, you know, there are players that we've grown very attached to just because we are around this team for a couple months, day in and day out.

And we've, you know, formed relationships and friendships with some of these guys. And so there is this added element that we like this guy. He likes us. You know, do we want to go to him and tell him that he can't play for this team anymore because we think someone that we've never met and never seen could possibly be better than he has been? That's a really tough thing that we've had to deal with from time to time. But our players have, for the most part, performed very well.

GREENE: Are we at a point now where we can kind of say sabermetrics, I mean, they can work in the minors like this?

LINDBERGH: I think we can say that at least, you know, sabermetrics and people with our sort of analytical background can coexist. We can live in harmony with athletes and players who maybe don't come from that kind of school of thinking. And I think we've probably both made ourselves smarter over the course of this summer.

GREENE: You write and you podcast about the big leagues, and here you are in the minors. Are you feeling it got to be - it'd be pretty cool to be an owner of a major league team now?

LINDBERGH: I will say that I'm still following MLB. I'm still writing about MLB. But, you know, I live and die on - with every pitch at this level far more than I have in years, you know, since I was a little kid as a fan, which I sort of lost when I began to cover the game professionally. The losses that we've had are harder. The wins are better. There's just much more of a stake to it for me than there has been for some time.

GREENE: Well, Ben, congratulations on the success in the first half of the season. I am praying that we didn't jinx you, and we won't be talking to you in, like, a couple weeks and you will go 0-20 and blame us.

LINDBERGH: I hope not, but the stats say that it won't actually be your fault, so I'll be happy to come back regardless.

GREENE: And you're a stat man. I trust you. Ben, thanks a lot.

LINDBERGH: Thank you.

GREENE: That's Ben Lindbergh, who, along with Sam Miller, is writing a book about the Sonoma Stompers called "The Only Rule Is That It Has To Work." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.