The role of quality assurance coach is a relatively new one in Major League Baseball. The Cubs have had a man serve in this role only since 2015. Henry Blanco (2015-17), Chris Denorfia (2019) and the current QA coach, Mike Napoli (who’s held the job since last year), are the men who have filled this role with the team.
Just what does such a coach do?
It’s a data-driven role, and Brittany Ghiroli and Eno Sarris of The Athletic put together this article explaining exactly what the QA coach (or “quality control” coach, as some teams title the role) does.
One of the reasons the Cubs didn’t have one until 2015 is that, per the article, the role of the QA coach was created by Joe Maddon while he was with the Rays. Maddon brought the concept to Chicago; Blanco was hired as the Cubs’ first QA coach on November 22, 2014, just a few weeks after Maddon’s hire.
Here’s how Ghiroli and Sarris described the way Maddon created the role back in 2007:
When then-Rays manager Joe Maddon pitched Tim Bogar — a minor league coach for the Astros — on his vision, he wanted an extra set of eyes.
“Joe pretty much made the position,” said Bogar, who first met Maddon for breakfast at the winter meetings in December 2007 to discuss the beginnings of this new job. “He wanted to get ahead of the game and stay ahead of it. He came up with (quality) assurance, not control, (because he didn’t want to) control the problems.”
Instead, Maddon wanted to assure that there would be none. With then-Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman, Maddon (now the Angels manager) said the early premise was simple: The Rays felt like there was too much data and wanted someone to keep them ahead of it.
That makes a lot of sense. All managers have a bench coach now, another role that didn’t exist in baseball decades ago, another set of eyes and ears in the dugout. But that man can’t necessarily keep up with all the data that baseball analytics departments produce, and the question of whether a bench coach could do that was addressed by Maddon:
“If your coaches are good enough you don’t need a data coach,” said one front office executive. “Isn’t that the role of the bench coach?”
Bogar and Maddon, among others, disagree. While in the early 2000s, bench coaches were often responsible for delivering numbers-based information, advanced analytics isn’t just a one-pager of numbers anymore. It’s become such a huge component that some feel like it’s too much to list it as a side job for the bench coach.
“It has all become so accelerated over the past 15 years,” Maddon said. “All front offices are quality control now, really. With (Bogar), I was asking him to see the things you can’t in the dugout. There’s a lot of numbers involved, but there’s also feel. Feel is a big part of the experience. But in today’s game if you can’t put a number on something specifically, it’s hard. That’s what makes the quality assurance role so important, it encompasses all of that.”
So the role is also kind of a liaison between the analytics department and players, a way for this coach (who is almost always a former player) to help boil down those numbers in ways that players can trust and understand.
I do know that the Cubs QA coach role also includes helping out the guys in the video room who are deciding whether or not to advise the manager to challenge an umpiring call. This is just another way to help get information to the manager that he otherwise wouldn’t be able to have, in the moment.
The whole article from The Athletic is an interesting read. It gives a lot of credit to Maddon for creating this role and for its help in getting the Rays their first winning season and World Series appearance in 2008.
So if you’ve ever wondered what a quality assurance coach does... now you know.