Rico Brogna: Quality Control in Anaheim

Rico Brogna’s primary role with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is to see if statistical data passes the eye test. His official title is Quality Control Coach, and he’s well-suited for the job. Brogna played nine big-league seasons and has scouted and managed in the minor leagues. He knows how to break down what happens on the field.

The 2014 season was Brogna’s first with the Angels, although he and general manager Jerry DiPoto go way back. They were teammates with the Mets in the 1990s and later worked together in the Diamondbacks organization.

Brogna began the year as a special assistant to the general manager, writing reports on players inside and outside the Angels’ system. He moved into his current role when Rick Eckstein, the club’s inaugural Quality Control Coach, departed in August for a job at the University of Kentucky.

According to the analytical Brogna, his day-to-day duties varied, but the focus remained the same.

“Basically, I was matching data with what my eyes told me,” said Brogna. “I worked with a lot of the data that’s provided to us. I’d study video and compare it to the statistical data in respect to how we might use it. I’d also go behind the plate during games and look for things our team was doing, or should be doing. At times, Mike Scioscia or one of coaches might say, ‘Hey Rico, keep an eye on this for us tonight.’”

Defensive positioning was one of the focal points. Jeremy Zoll, Anaheim’s advance scouting coordinator, provided the data. First base coach Alfredo Griffin aligned the infield. Scioscia oversaw the process. Brogna brought a scout’s perspective from his vantage point behind the screen.

“I made sure we were aligned the way the coaches wanted, whether it was straight up or a shift,” explained Brogna. “Also, my eyes might tell me, ‘You know what, the stats are telling us this, but it looks like he’s making adjustments with his swing and going the other way.’ It was kind of on-the-spot advance scouting. I was lining things up with the data and either reinforcing it or challenging it.

“I got the best of both worlds – scouting and data – but I wasn’t sitting on a fence, I was utilizing both. Butch [pitching coach Mike Butcher] was great. We watched video and he was really open to trusting my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of swings over the years. I was always reading swings as a first baseman and you can build a big library in your brain of what hitters’ tendencies are and what will happen if you pitch them a certain way. Experience teaches you.”

Brogna’s experience lends itself to communicating with players as well as coaches. He sat in on hitters’ meetings this year, and while he didn’t have a hands-on role, he was ready whenever his input was needed. If a question came his way, he had both the data and an understanding of how to share it.

“One thing you want to prevent is paralysis by analysis,” said Brogna. “As a coach, you need to know how to filter. I’ll use my playing experience as a guide, recognizing that while all of this is great information, it’s hard to take all of it to the field.

“What you want at the plate is a direct plan that can be modified in an instant without too many alternatives. You have A and you have B. You have to be able to play fast – you have to be able to think on the run – and too much information can freeze your mind. Without a straightforward focus, you’re more apt to be caught in between and not have full conviction in your plan.”

The Angels are fully convicted when it comes to preparing their hitters. Like all teams, they go over opposing pitchers before the first game of each series. Unlike most, they also had shorter hitters’ meeting – quick recaps – before each game this season. Some would end with, “Rico, do you have anything to add?”

Brogna – and Eckstein earlier in the year – added an important element of scouting-meets-data to the Angels’ game-planning. Other organizations are employing a Quality Control Coach as well, and while the title differs team-to-team, there’s a universal constant.

“You need to use all of the information the right way,” said Brogna. “The data and your eyes have to work together.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Robert L
Robert L

Great stuff