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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

From 9 am on March 26th to 12 PM on March 27th, I had the privilege of spending time with two special people. One man, Rico Brogna, was a former Major Leaguer; the other man, Gabriel Costa, is a Catholic priest and mathematician.

My 27 hour adventure begins with Rico Brogna’s visit to my baseball and statistics class at Quinnipiac University on March 26th. What follows in this posting is a summary of Rico’s presentation to my class on the scouting philosophy for one ML team. The first new thing I learned about scouting was that a ML team has two scouting departments. One department scouted only the amateur players; the other department was assigned to scouting the professional players. Rico scouted the professional players.

The team Rico scouted for had these scouting principles. They will not only identify a player’s athleticism and physical tools, but also his ability to consistently convert those tools into performance. They will measure the whole player as accurately as the individual parts. They will widen their scouting lens in an effort to identify the traits of winning players. These traits will include character, instincts, competitiveness, and consistency. They will evaluate all players (amateur, international and professional) on a grade scale that reflects what they believe their ultimate Major League value to be. They will consistently base their evaluations on what they believe a players’ sustained value will be at the Major League level rather than the more frequently used system of identifying what a player may be capable of only at his very best.This process will allow a team to properly assess a player with regard to both talent and monetary value. A player is rarely as good as his best day and as bad as his worst day. Therefore, they should attempt to identify no more than the level at which they believe a player will consistently perform.

The process of building a MLB roster should include these principles. A heightened value will be given to a durable and dependable starting pitching. The ability of a starting pitcher to handle the workload is vital to a team’s success. Starting pitchers as a group should generate 1,000 innings. A versatile bullpen is needed. They are aware of how usage has historically affected relief pitchers. Relief pitchers should be on shorter term contracts to allow the ball club greater flexibility. A premium value is placed on the hitter who couples patience and plate discipline with the ability to provide extra base power. A solid roster is built around a group of players who can be expected to share their most productive seasons in unison. These typical years occurred between the ages of 26-32. A model of success is built on drafting and developing your own players. An extreme value is placed on young, homegrown talent while also focusing on acquiring low cost players from outside sources via trades and waivers. The most effective way to produce long-term success is to have a long-term plan. The ability to estimate future team performance relies on the ability to project future personnel. The contract status and length of control for each player must be monitored.

To make their philosophy work the following MLB Scouting Grading Scale will be used: 20 is a “prospect” not yet MLB ready, 30 is an organizational player, 40 is an substitute (a utility player), 50 is the MLB average, 60 is consistently above the MLB average (an occasional All-Star), 70 is a consistent All-Star (potential H.O.F), 80 is a H.O.F franchise player.

By 3 pm, I am off to West Point to address Father Costa’s class. (to be continued)


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Here we are with our friends, John-Norman and Marcia Tuck at the Charlotte Sports Park..  Of course, it was the only chilly, rainy day all week.  Read my preceeding blog for game details.

 

Dr. Stan the Stat's Man

Dr. Stan

 

Dr. Stan and Tara

Baseball Buddies, Dr. Stan and John-Norman Tuck

 

John-Norman Tuck and Marcia

John-Norman Tuck

 

John-Norman Tuck

 

At the Game

Watching the Rays vs. Yankees Spring Training Game

Charlotte Sports Park

 

Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FL

 

Final Score

 


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

My friend, the talented artist, John-Norman Tuck, http://john-normantuck.com/ , who I spoke about in an earlier blog posting bought four tickets to the Yankees –Rays spring training game in Port Charlotte, Fl. Whereas I am a huge Yankee fan, John-Norman is just as big a Rays fan .

The date was March 12; 2013. The baseball gods must have disliked something I have done. The weather was like opening day back north. The temperature was 58 with a gusting wind and cold showers. John-Norman and I with our two wives arrived at the ballpark called Sportsman Park, the home of the Rays Class A affiliate the Charlotte Stone Crabs. The stadium holds 5500 people with seating. Around the stadium from behind third base to behind first base is a large grassy area. This area and a cement area behind the outfield wall allow another 1000 people with standing room only tickets to watch the game. The game was sold out for a month. We could only get the standing room tickets. The grass was soaked so we had no choice but to go behind the outfield fence where the eating tables were located. We grabbed four chairs and sat behind the centerfield fence. We did bring umbrellas but found out from security they were not allowed in the park. Thankfully we had our Mickey Mouse rain ponchos.

Because of the rain there was no batting practice. We sat on four metal bar seats at a table behind the centerfield fence. The Yankee starting pitcher was Ivan Nova. As a Yankee fan I was interested in seeing if Nova would have a bounce back year. None of the eight starting positional players for the Yankees was a starter last year. There uniform numbers corresponded to speed signs on a highway (numbers like 65 or 70 and as high as 96). Two of the starters Nix and Nunez were reserves last year. The first five spots in the Yankee batting order were E. Nunez, J. Nix, T. Hafner, J. Rivera, and F. Cervelli. Let’s face it with Cervelli batting fifth you know there is a big problem. Two of the starters that I was interested in were Travis Hafner and Melky Mesa. With the injuries to A-Rod, Granderson, and now Tex, players like Travis Hafner, Dan Johnson, and Melky Mesa roles have expanded. Even a player like Mustelier, wearing number 96, may make the team as a reserve third baseman. Hafner looked old at bat striking out twice and going hitless and Mesa went hitless but made two circus catches in the outfield.

The Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Jennings hit a rocket to the left centerfield area where Mesa made a remarkable back handed catch. Our seats were great for seeing the catch. This was the highlight of the first seven innings of the game as neither team could score a run. It seems like both teams expected the game to be a rainout and the players looked like they were sleep walking. As for Nova’s performance, he limited the Rays to four hits, striking out two and issuing no walks in four innings. The highlight of his performance was giving up no runs after having men on first and third with no outs. I would not call him sharp but it is only spring training. The Yankees scored three runs; two of the runs were unearned in the eighth inning to win the game 3 to 1.

After the game the four of us headed to a sports bar two miles away called Joe Crackers. The restaurant was filled with Rays’ memorabilia. It was a great place to eat after the ballgame and continue to discuss our predictions for the coming season.. From there John-Norman and his wife headed north on 75 to Sarasota and Tara and I headed south on 75 back to Naples. The four of us vowed to repeat the outing next year. It was a great time in spite of the weather. We also made plans to head to St. Petersburg to see a Rays-Yankee real game at the end of May. Photos follow in another posting.


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

After retiring in 2001 as an active player, Rico spent a short time figuring out what a 32 year old retired ballplayer will do with the rest of his life. He continued his connection to Major League Baseball scouting for such teams as the Rays, Rockies, and Diamondbacks. He returned to his roots and coached the Watertown High School boys basketball team from 2006-2009. Next year he managed the Mobile Baybears, the Diamondbacks AA minor league affiliate. In 2011, Rico was the head football coach at Notre Dame-Fairfield High School in Ct. He left his coaching position at the end of the season.

This brings us to today. The person who suggested Rico meet with me was Father Gabe Costa, a Professor of Mathematics at West Point and a leader in the field of sabermetrics. While playing baseball, Rico attended Post College as a part-time student earning his BA degree in business management. Rico wants to further his education and enroll in a graduate program. Father Costa felt I could help Rico decide on a program. One of several programs Rico is considering is a leadership MA program combining mathematics with political science and economics. His interest in mathematics was nurtured by his work as a pro baseball scout. Today many teams use sabermetrics, a field of mathematics, developed by the likes of Bill James and Paul Depodesta, to evaluate baseball players. As a scout, he used these mathematical tools to quantify a player’s ability to contribute runs for his team. Rico will be talking to my baseball and statistics class about his use of statistics to scout players.

My interview with Rico turned to the question: What does it take for a player to be a successful Major Leaguer? Of course a player must have the ability but ability alone is not enough. In the book Moneyball, Billy Beane was depicted as a true “five tool player”. Many baseball scouts viewed him as a better prospect than both Darryl Strawberry and Beane’s minor league teammate Lenny Dykstra. Whereas both Strawberry and Dykstra were successful in the majors, Beane failed as a Major Leaguer. Rico referred to baseball as a game based on failure. In what other endeavor can you be successful 3 out of 10 times and be a Hall of Famer? Beane’s  failure was more mental than physical. Beane could not live with failure. Failure in prior plate appearances affected his future plate appearances. Rico told me that every time he came up to the plate he had a game plan. Many times if there was a runner on base he would want to see a lot of pitches so he would take the first strike. He told me that failure must be accepted and that when you approach home plate past failures should not change your game plan for hitting. Rico wrote in an article, “You have to have the skills and work ethic to become a Major Leaguer, but learning the subtleties of the game is the difference between winning and losing. The talent level in the big leagues is amazing. Emotionally, there is a lot of pressure. Until I came to grips with that pressure to perform and win, I didn’t become a better player.”

This posting concludes my discussion of Rico Brogna, the Major Leaguer. On a personal note, I found Rico to be a very humble and respectful individual. In my correspondence with Father Costa, he describes Rico as a fine gentleman. Considering his serious arthritis condition, it is amazing what Rico was able to accomplish during his ten years in the majors. Young players should consider Rico a role model for how a Major League player should conduct himself.  Rico will never be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame but the combination of Rico the player and Rico the gentleman makes him a Hall of Famer in my eyes.


 
Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

After signing his contract with Detroit, it was off to Bristol, TN, the Tigers Rookie League affiliate. At the age of 18, Rico was forced to adapt quickly to living on a monthly paycheck of $250.00 after taxes. That year he appeared in 60 games batting .254. The next year he was off to Lakeland, Florida and Class A ball. At the age of 20, he was promoted to AA ball in London, Florida. At 21, he was again promoted to AAA ball and played for the Toledo Mud Hens. It was at Toledo that he experienced the low point of his career. His production fell off and he was demoted back to AA ball. He finally admitted to the Tigers that he was playing with extreme pain throughout his body. The Tigers sent him to specialists and they diagnosed his problem as Anklosing Spondyltis, a severe form of spinal and joint arthritis. There is no cure for this disease but it can be controlled by medications. His prescribed anti-inflammatory medications enabled his career to continue. In 1992, at the age of 22, he returned to AAA Toledo. It was at this point that he told me he experienced the high point of his career. His Toledo manager told him he was going up to the big club. He immediately shared his excitement with his wife, mother, and father. In 1992, he appeared in nine games with the Detroit Tigers getting 5 hits in 26 at bats. His first hit was a bloop double to left and his first home run, a booming shot into the upper deck in right at Tiger Stadium, was against the Yankees. He was traded to the Mets in 1994. Rico thinks the Tigers traded him because of his condition. He believes, at the time of the trade, the Mets had no knowledge of his diagnosis. 

Rico played his next three years (1994-1996) with the Mets. His best year with the Mets was 1995 when he led all first baseman with a .998 fielding average, committing only three errors in 1,208 chances. That year he also batted .280 with 22 home runs. Concerns over Rico’s arthritis condition, led the Mets to ship him off to the Phillies. Rico was a fan-favorite in New York and the Met fans hated to see Rico go. Rico had his three best years with the Phillies (1997-1999). For those three years he averaged over 21 home runs and close to 100 RBIs. In 1998, he led the league with10 sacrifice flies. His best offensive year was 1999 when, at the age of 29, he batted .278 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. His OPS was .790. After his best year in 1999, Rico signed with the Phillies for $4,200,000, his highest paying one year contract. He told me because of his serious arthritis condition he could only negotiate one year contracts. In October, 1999 he had shoulder surgery, followed by knee surgery in January, 2000. In May of 2000, Rico suffered the same type of injury that Curtis Granderson suffered this year in spring training. A fastball delivered by Matt Blank fractured his arm. Rico was waived that August by the Phillies after appearing in only 38 games. He finished his career in 2001 after brief stints with the Red Sox and Braves.

In our conversation, he was very candid about the three managers he had with the Tigers, Mets, and Phillies. Sparky Anderson was his manager when he first arrived in the majors. He told me Sparky did not like dealing with the young players. He would assign a veteran player to mentor a rookie. Rico loved playing for his next two managers. His manager with the Mets was Dallas Green. He described Green as a tough, no nonsense manager that was a great motivator. With the Phillies his manager was Terry Francona. The years from 1997 to 2000 were Francona’s first years as a manager. Rico called him a player’s manager because of his ability to communicate with his players. 

 A Philadelphia sportswriter wrote: “In a game filled with selfishness and arrogance, Brogna is a delightful oasis.” To be continued . . .


 


 
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