Should the Chicago White Sox FIRE Tony La Russa?
Updated: Apr 29
The reason for this video has nothing to do with Tony La Russa’s decision to walk Trea Turner earlier this month….well, it mostly doesn’t have to do with that.
TLR’s managerial decision to intentionally walk Turner after getting ahead of him 1 ball and 2 strikes was probably the most questionable managerial decision since Grady Little allowing Pedro Martinez to pitch at Yankee Stadium during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
But while the decision looks awful on paper, his reasoning wasn’t completely flawed.
In case the average baseball fan doesn’t research analytics, Bennett Sousa really only has one strikeout pitch. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, he only throws two pitches: a slider and a four-seam fastball. His four-seamer is basically useless, as opposing hitters are batting .438 against him whenever he uses it. It’s definitely not a strikeout pitch as he only has a 2.6 strikeout percentage when he uses the four-seamer.
In La Russa’s view, he probably thought that Sousa had one chance to either jam Turner or strike him out with his much-better slider. Remember: Turner has a great chance at being a 2022 all-star starting shortstop. If Turner lays off the 1-2 slider, would Sousa try to throw a fastball or slider on 2-and-2 and/or 3-and-2? Who’s to say Turner, who’s having a much better year than Max Muncy this season, doesn’t drill a 2-2 fastball over the fence for a two-run homer?
A manager can’t live in fear, which is why Sousa was sent out there to face Turner. But if Sousa is on the mound to face Turner in the first place, why can’t he finish the at bat? Again, it’s a very weird situation. I’m guessing that La Russa trusted too much in the analytics and feared that Turner, a great ballplayer, would know to lay off the 1-2 slider. Sousa could in theory deliver another slider on 2-and-2, but then who’s to say he doesn’t hang the slider in the middle of the zone? The manager and pitcher can’t live in fear and second-guess themselves. I’m guessing La Russa panicked and didn’t want Sousa to waste pitches in case Turner would get back in the count and force a walk, foul off pitches, or drive a base hit through the infield. And the more pitches that Sousa throws, the more susceptible he is to getting tired and maybe giving up an extra-base hit to Turner.
I bring up the Trea Turner-Bennet Sousa dilemma because it just shows how La Russa seems to have aged out of baseball. He trusts the analytics too much because the analytics are supposed to be approved by everyone. He wants to be a hip baseball manager, but he’s out of place when it comes to trusting in one’s gut versus trusting in the analytics. There needs to be a steady balance of trusting the stats and knowing their players. And with La Russa, the Sox look like a far cry from the up-and-coming ball club during the end of the Rick Renteria regime.
A year after White Sox GM Rick Hahn moved on from manager Rick Renteria, the White Sox looked just as bad as the 2020 playoff collapse. Probably even worse.
A disastrous 10-1 loss in Game 4 of the 2021 American League Division Series showed White Sox fans that Rick Renteria probably wasn’t the problem.
So is Tony La Russa the solution? It sure didn’t look like it against the Houston Astros. And before I go into what happened during last season’s playoffs, let’s first evaluate the weird happenings of 2022.
The Sox just feel like a ballclub destined for mediocrity. Stuck in the quicksand of baseball purgatory, the southsiders feel like the early 2000s White Sox who couldn’t compete with the grinder Minnesota Twins. The current Twins, like those early Ron Gardernhire-led teams, don’t have a big power hit besides Byron Buxton. But, like Christian Guzman, Torii Hunter, and the Twins teams from 20 years ago, the 2022 Twins can score runs in clutch situations and find ways to win, despite their ridiculous amount of injuries this season.
Average baseball fans probably don’t know anybody on this Twins team besides Carlos Correa and the aforementioned Buxton, but Luis Arraez is actually the unknown star of this team. He’s batting an unreal .346 and has eight more walks than strikeouts this season. Gilberto Celestino is also silently batting .283 in 138 official at-bats. Like Jerry Manuel’s White Sox who had Frank Thomas, Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, and others on the roster, the Twins don’t pound the ball like the Sox, but they can still beat the Sox into submission, as evidenced by Minnesota’s sweep of Chicago during April at Target Field. Furthermore, when we made this video, they’re 7-and-0 against the Pale Hosers since last August.
As of June 7th, the Twins had three starting pitchers on the injured list, with Joe Ryan briefly being on the COVID-19 reserved list. So for all of the White Sox fans who blame the slow start on injuries, that’s hardly the case. The Twins have earned the right to be in first place. Every team has injuries, and Minnesota has quite possibly had it worse than the White Sox. Please stop complaining about “If only Eloy Jimenez was healthy.”
The Sox aren’t playing good baseball. That much is clear. And by the way, that triple play baserunning blunder has nothing to do with La Russa. But it still doesn’t escape the fact why it took TLR so long to move Andrew Vaughn up in the order, B) Why Leury Garcia once batted in the 3-hole and C) Why it took La Russa so long to give Danny Mendick a shot at second base when Josh Harrison clearly wasn’t getting it done. Mendick was on the postseason roster last year by the way, so he could definitely play at least a little bit.
The Sox lost during last season’s ALDS against the Astros. But the way they lost that series just shows how this team is not great against hard nosed and dynamic offenses. By the way, Chicago entered the 2021 ALDS after dumping all four in the toilet when they last played at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Yes, I know that the Astros have been to the AL Championship Series every year since 2017. But the postseason moves by La Russa were questionable to say the least, especially for a guy who’s supposed to be an expert tactician and clubhouse leader.
For starters, why was Lance Lynn starting in Game 1 when his all-time career against Houston is very lackluster? Remember: Lynn knows Houston very well since he used to pitch for the Texas Rangers.
After a terrible start in Game 1, Lynn’s ERA ballooned to 4.41 all-time against Houston. Even worse, the Astros now have a .441 slugging percentage whenever Lynn pitches.
It doesn’t matter too much since Lucas Giolto pitched in Game 2, but momentum is everything in a short series. Would things have been better if Gioloto pitched Game 1? Probably not, but going down in a 1-0 series hole isn’t a good start against a great franchise like Houston.
Giolito came into the series red hot, so it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility for Giolito to pitch in Game 1.
Another questionable decision in Game 1 was having Robert steal second base with 2 outs. The stolen base came just several pitches after Robert got hit by a pitch, and for a minute there, it looked like he had to leave the game after getting drilled at home plate. Why would La Russa tell Robert to steal second HEAD FIRST when he just got hit by a pitch near his wrist? The steal sign was most likely his call since there were two outs. Robert could’ve easily re-injured himself, and stolen bases just aren’t as important anymore due to the analytics of baseball. Also, Martin Maldonado is a fantastic thrower from behind home plate with an excellent pop time. Not smart baseball Mr. La Russa. With all of that in mind, a lot of baserunners steal bases head first instead of feet first nowadays, so blaming La Russa for Robert going hands first is not entirely fair.
Game 2 was La Russa at his worst. Up by two runs, he chose to go with Garrett Crochet (crow-SHAY) out of the bullpen instead of Michael Kopech (KOH-peck). Keep in mind that Kopech didn’t even pitch in Game 1, whereas Grochet pitched the day prior and wasn’t even that good. In his 1 inning of work, Crochett gave up 3 hits to MLB’s best offense.
With runners at first and second, Crochett relieved Giolito and was clearly tired from pitching on Thursday. Grochett walked his first batter, Yordan Alvarez, to load the bases. On an 0-2 count, Grochett left a juicy fastball in the middle of the plate to tie the score.
Would Kopeh have done better in this spot? He was definitely fresh from not pitching in Game 1. Once again, a controversial decision from La Russa.
The worst decision by far was taking his best defensive outfield out of right field and putting the utility guy in Leury Garcia at the 9-position. Why is Adam Engel in the lineup if you’re going to take him out eventually? Because of his defense, Engel should be a late game addition, not a subtraction.
The baseball gods knew of La Russa’s horrendous decision, which of course meant Leury (LORE-ee) Garica taking a terrible route on Carlos Correa’s (core-RAY-uh) line drive. Correa’s frozen rope made it 7-4, and the Astros were now in business. Kyle Tucker’s subsequent two-run homer put the game away, but the game was clearly lost because Adam Engel wasn’t in right field.
This is a very minor point because Dallas Keuchel (KY-kull) stunk after the All-Star break, but Keuchel used to pitch for the Astros. He was even a major contributor during their 2017 World Series winning ball club. Danny Mendick took Keuchel’s final spot on the postseason roster. He never played a single inning against the ‘Stros.
For a team who’s borderline desperate for someone to eat some innings, Keuchel would’ve been a nice option during these bullpen games. The entire starting rotation for the Sox couldn’t get it done, but Keuchel’s history with the Astros and knowing their lineup might’ve made a slight difference on the mound when Grochett and Kopech were evidently tired.
Andrew Vaughn should probably have never started at designated hitter the entire ALDS as he entered the series in a 9-for-79 slump in his last 80+ plate appearances. La Russa went with the overrated “right-handed batter versus lefty starter” matchup in Game 2, even though this data has its flaws. The playoffs are all about playing your best player every game, and Gavin Sheets was clearly the better option all series long. Vaughn is a much better player in 2022 than his 2021 counterpart, but in 2021, it was definitely a platoon situation between Sheets and Vaughn.
La Russa’s decision to play Leury Garica over Adam Engel in Game 3 turned out to be the right one as Leury saved the Sox’s season with a three-run bomb to straight center field.
However, Game 4 was the icing on the cake on why La Russa should no longer be the skipper.
With the bases loaded and 2 outs, La Russa allowed Carlos Rodon to pitch to postseason legend Carlos Correa. Remember: Rodon had to miss several starts that season due to throwing shoulder concerns. Rodon’s breaking ball had zero bite to it as he walked the previous two hitters prior to Correa’s at-bat.
A.J. Pierzynski, a former legendary White Sox catcher who was on color commentary during the FS1 broadcast, voiced his concerns about keeping Rodon in the game. Is Pierzynski a Hall of Fame manager? Nah. Not even close. But he is a former catcher who can tell when a pitcher isn’t right or is laboring. He also caught Philip Humber’s perfect game in 2012.
Knowing that his offense has struggled most of the series, why wasn’t Kopech in the game in that bases loaded situation? More importantly, why was La Russa so reluctant to go to Kopech all series long?
Just a lot of head scratching decisions from a 77-year-old manager. Rodon clearly was only going to give you 4 innings at most in Game 4, so why not bring in Kopech to maintain the 1-0 lead? The Sox needed to keep the lead to give their struggling offense some confidence, even if it was just 1-nothing.
That being said, the Sox scored 1 run in half of the ALDS games. Besides the excellent performance in Game 3 and a 5th inning rally in Game 2, the offense was pretty much a non-factor. The starting pitching was even worse, as Rodon was the only starting pitcher to not give up a run through the game’s first two innings. Simply put: The Sox got dominated in every facet of the game, including the managing component.
However, the hiring of La Russa was highly controversial due to his stances on players who protest the national anthem and his agreement with the immigration policy in Arizona. Furthermore, he hadn’t managed in 10 years, and his two Driving-Under-the-Influence arrests were bad publicity for the White Sox public relations team.
Finally, Renteria’s team won a playoff game during the very weird COVD-19 season. All three of those White Sox playoff games were on the road by the way, with the Sox being very competitive in all three games.
Renteria was also a Spanish-speaking manager who could relate to the Hispanic ballplayers in the clubhouse. He’s from Cuba, as is Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu. However, he clearly mismanaged his bullpen towards the end of 2020, with the playoff series against Oakland being a practical debacle. He took his starting pitcher out in the first inning of Game 3 against the Athletics when Dunning wasn’t nearly that bad to back up such a move.
In came La Russa, but the Sox looked even worse in the playoffs than Renteria’s crew did in 2020. The Sox won Game 3 against Houston, but they still had to come back from an early 5-1 deficit.
Simply put: the Sox were overmatched from the opening pitch, and some of that comes with La Russa’s managerial decisions.
But would the Sox be a better team without La Russa? There’s always hope. The 2003 Miami Marlins fired their skipper during the season and then ended up winning the World Series with Jack McKeown.