White Sox Scorecard: Breaking Down La Russa’s Press Conference

The White Sox have had their amount of bad luck this year, especially regarding injuries. Two weeks ago, Tim Anderson went down and onto the Injured List. Yesterday, Michael Kopech left the game after 13 pitches with a knee issue. He says he’ll be back for his next start, but he definitely could not put any weight on the knee when he tried a couple of practice pitches after the injury.

Some things aren’t bad luck, though, including managerial decisions. Sox manager Tony La Russa was a controversial hire from the beginning. Firing Rick Renteria in 2020, after winning manager of the year, was startling but hiring the retired La Russa at 76 years old, 25 years after his last stint with the White Sox (1979-1986), was even more startling. In 2021, the White Sox would be the premium destination for the best of the best as a young and upcoming team vying for a World Series title.

Many jokes, criticisms, and editorials have been directed at La Russa’s performance, but patience is wearing thin in Chicago as the White Sox don’t seem to be meeting expectations. La Russa fanned the flames of that fire on June 9th by intentionally walking Trea Turner on a 1-2 count which Max Muncy followed with a home run. Let’s dive into La Russa’s explanation of the decision at his post-game press conference.

Reporter: Can you explain the thought process?

La Russa: Let me ask you a question, is there some question on whether that was a good move or not?

Now, I like the gamesmanship of trying to make it look like walking Trea Turner with 2 strikes in a close game is no big deal. Happens every day, right?  According to MLB.com, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has never seen an intentional walk on 1-2, but he also mentions that La Russa is a Hall of Fame manager. Which is true, La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame 8 years ago.

Deflecting the question, though, is not going to work. No matter how incredulous you may look, the intentional walk was very unorthodox, and it was at a critical junction of the game. At the time, the Sox were losing 6-5.

Reporter: With the count at 1-2?

La Russa: Do you know what he hits against left hand pitching 0-1 or two strikes?

I don’t know if La Russa knows what Turner hits with two strikes against left-handed pitching, because he didn’t say, but according to MLB.com, Turner is 5-15 with a 1-2 count against lefties this year.

There is no argument that Trea Turner is a pretty good baseball player.  He is slashing .298/.351/.464 with a .815 OPS this year.  He has been better, but he is still good. And still acknowledged as the fastest, if not one of the fastest, players in baseball. Be careful putting him on.

The way I read this, with a 1-2 count, there was a 66% chance of getting him out if you pitch to him.  Seems like decent odds, though not overwhelming. Freddie Freeman was on second, so 33% of the time, a base hit scored a run, White Sox down by 2. If the next pitch was a ball, bringing the count to 2-2, Turner is a .259 hitter with a two strike count against lefties. That means the White Sox would have had a 76% chance of getting him out.

La Russa: You know what Muncy hits with two strikes against left-handed pitching?

At this point, Muncy had just returned to the lineup after being on the injured list. I don’t know if La Russa knows what Muncy hits with two strikes because he didn’t say. But Muncy wasn’t up yet, and there was no guarantee he was going to get two strikes.

Regardless of count, Muncy is slashing .133/.291/.222 with an OPS+ of 67 (33 points below league average) against southpaws. Clearly, there is some data reinforcing statistics to show that getting to Muncy could be a good call.

La Russa; Is that really a question? Because it was 1-2? Turner with a strike left against lefties is something you should avoid if you can. We had an open base and we had Muncy behind him. That is a better matchup.

It was an actual real question that everyone across baseball was asking, except for La Russa. It is true that Muncy was a better matchup. But it didn’t work out. Muncy hit a three-run home run, breaking open the game to 9-5. The White Sox put a little rally together late in the game and lost the game 11-9.

La Russa: That wasn’t a tough call.

Well, it should have been because it didn’t work out. It is true that when you make the tough call and you are right, you are a genius. In 1998, Buck Showalter intentionally walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded in the ninth inning when Arizona was only up by 2 runs. Arizona got the next out and Buck is a genius. But when you are wrong, you are an idiot. In 2015, Russell Wilson threw an interception at the one-yard line in Super Bowl 49 to lose the game. At this time, Marshawn Lynch, the most physical running back in the game, was still with Seattle. Pete Carroll was not a genius, at least not that day. La Russa falls into the Pete Carroll category.

In fact, why was Bennett Sousa, a lefty, even pitching to Turner.  Turner is a .270 hitter with a .782 OPS overall against lefties this year. In 17 innings, Sousa has a 9.00 ERA with a 1.174 WHIP. In his last 2 innings, he has given up 6 earned runs on 5 hits with 0 strikeouts. He has an opposing batting average of .371 against lefties versus .238 against righties, and a worse WHIP against lefties 2.13 versus .145 for righties. It looks like Muncy isn’t the better matchup after all.

Tony La Russa will always be a great all-time manager, but White Sox fans have questioned the hire the very day it happened. The game against the Dodgers was just the latest in perplexing moves that La Russa makes on at least a weekly basis and though he says he is accountable, we really aren’t seeing that accountability just yet. In their last eight home series, the White Sox are 0-5-3. Very few opportunities for fans to cheer.

Author

  • Larry Goldman

    Larry spends his nights and days watching, researching, and writing about sports in Chicago and the national conversation.

Leave a Reply