Tony La Russa’s bad night a mere part of a rocky start

There are a couple of elements that make discussing Tony La Russa’s performance in 2021 inherently difficult. He has a plaque in Cooperstown, and he wears his Hall of Fame ring in the dugout. His body of work spans thousands of games, making the dissection of any one seem trivial.

There’s also the matter that he’s 76 years old and spent the previous nine years outside a dugout, which makes it too easy to use his age for concern-trolling or wisecracking, obscuring the times it may actually be at least partially relevant.

The thought I keep coming back to is the one that popped up when the White Sox hired La Russa, in that their soft-baked managerial decision-making generally works as well as it deserves to. Of course you shouldn’t succeed when the manager is actively undermining the front office. Of course you shouldn’t succeed when you insist upon a manager with no experience or previously expressed desire. Of course you can do better than a bench coach elevated to the main gig without interviewing outside candidates, although Rick Renteria possessed credentials that made him worth a shot, and he ultimately served the mission.

La Russa at least represented a new spin on the White Sox’s steadfast refusal to conduct themselves like a healthy organization in this regard, because while he was 76 years old, nine years removed from his last job, forced upon the front office by an owner resolving a 30-year-old regret, even with an unresolved second DUI charge on his record at the time, he also has the game’s most impressive résumé, and he was able to put together a credible coaching staff mixing a handful of incumbents with some intriguing new names. This wasn’t Robin Ventura assembling a crack team of holdovers and guys who had the same agent.

But it doesn’t take much for the concerns to resurface. Last week, La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation was shaken to the family level by toxic-culture allegations. This week, he goes and looks like Robin Ventura in the dugout, keeping his starting pitcher in the game several batters too long without a good reason afterward. There were multiple reasons why this hiring could bust the day it happened, and La Russa is courting both the personal and professional aspects at the moment.

* * * * * * * * *

Watching a gassed Lucas Giolito face four unnecessary batters on Tuesday night took me back to June 28, 2015, when Ventura let Jeff Samardzija blow a 4-0 lead to a better Tigers team in the eighth inning. It had all the same hallmarks: extended at-bats near the 100-pitch mark, diminishing life and command, louder contact, and yet Ventura didn’t pull him until Detroit had the opportunity to post five runs.

After the game, Ventura defended the decision:

“He still had something left in the tank,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Victor being a switch-hitter, you are taking your chances either way, whether you get up (Zach) Duke at that point or Put or Jake (Petricka). He still had enough in the tank to go get them and it didn’t work out.”

Samardzija didn’t have much left, but at least in this case, you could at least say that Samardzija insisted otherwise:

“I felt good,” Samardzija said. “Absolutely. I feel fine. I can pitch, man. I felt good out there. It’s just about making the pitches.”

Six years later, Giolito wasn’t as willing to erect a false front:

Giolito was unhappy with his performance, but his postgame explanation of how the seventh went awry after six innings of normalcy was unambiguous.

“I didn’t have much left in the tank,” Giolito said, before pivoting back to the more familiar self-flagellation of a top athlete. “The seventh was my inning. I have to get the job done. I didn’t. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling.”

Some may see the candor as evidence of softness, but a lot has changed in six years, because the threats of fatigue are better understood. In fact, the White Sox hired a guy who specializes in the field. You’d like players to have at least some idea of how much they can offer at a given point, even if you also want them to have the confidence to overcome a shortage. Failing that, you need to have a manager that can make the decision for him.

And here’s where La Russa face-planted. James Fegan transcribed the full answer, and while the first 13 words reflect poorly on him …

“Is that what he said? Well, then, that’s my fault for not recognizing…”

… the next 18 are worse.

… because I looked at it, he walked the leadoff guy, which wasn’t good, and he gets two outs (note: he got one out), at that point, I was confident he would get the third out.”

Maybe La Russa misspoke when he said Giolito got two outs, but he managed as though Giolito got two outs. It looked a lot like the way La Russa handled Matt Foster back on April 7, because Foster actually recorded two outs, which was the main reason why La Russa let Foster wage three more unsuccessful battles to cap off an ugly evening before he went to the bullpen.

La Russa fell on his sword then

“That’s the clearest example of why I’m upset with myself,” La Russa said. “He faced too many hitters. That’s lousy managing. Pushed him too far. Stupid, lousy, no excuse.”

… but the self-critique rings hollow when he makes the a worse version of the same mistake three weeks later. At least Foster was a reasonable first man in after a well-timed hook on Dallas Keuchel, and La Russa had the outs right. Giolito was left to fend for himself despite getting the game to the late innings by himself with a rested bullpen behind him, perhaps because La Russa fed wrong information into his own thought process.

There’s also the matter that La Russa didn’t stop with not stopping Giolito. He also let Billy Hamilton and Leury García bat for themselves as the tying run down three in the eighth inning, even with Zack Collins and Andrew Vaughn on the bench, and Luis González there to preserve defensive integrity afterward. Nothing about it makes sense, and even La Russa’s previous decisions contradict the logic. Hamilton entered the game as a defensive replacement for Jake Lamb because the Sox had a one-run lead. If the Sox should find themselves down three later, shouldn’t Hamilton then require an offensive replacement?

That’s not the way La Russa saw it. He said he was looking for a single, as if Hamilton and García were better bets for keeping the line moving.

* * * * * * * * *

Tuesday night’s game was La Russa’s 5,115th as a manager, but only the 22nd as the manager of a White Sox team this century. Everybody in his position, whether an icon or a total greenhorn, has some awkward moments in April as he makes playing time for the entire roster, tests skill sets and judges the likelihood of regression in either direction. To that end, part of the reason La Russa stayed with Giolito is because the bullpen has failed La Russa plenty this season, even when La Russa couldn’t have timed his pitching changes any better.

The raging against La Russa’s decisions on Tuesday was exacerbated by bigger issues. The offense couldn’t capitalize on five Detroit errors, going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position because it continued its season-long issue of pounding too many low pitches into the ground. Adam Eaton added to the discomfort, reenacting the Stations of the Cross by falling down three times. None of these factors absolve La Russa, but they do make his part look and feel worse.

The problem pertinent to La Russa is that a game like this feeds the specific behind-the-times fears his idiosyncratic hiring generates. Every manager makes mistakes, but a guy like La Russa is not supposed to let a game overwhelm him the way it did Ventura, and he’s certainly not supposed to get the outs wrong. Then again, maybe it’s unfair to expect Tony La Russa to be Tony La Russa after nine years away, especially nine years where so much of the approach to the game shifted, especially if he has a different set of off-the-field problems that indicate he’s not keeping up. (He’s quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article saying, “You can’t accomplish what we’ve accomplished when you’re toxic,” which is even more wrongheaded than relying on Hamilton and García.)

I don’t want to be thinking about that, but I also don’t want to be ignoring it, because Jerry Reinsdorf incurred this risk of hiring a Hall of Famer Baseball Person for everybody when he assumed the label stopped after three words. This is the part that neither the fans nor the front office signed up for, but just like a surprisingly leaky bullpen and a slew of outfield injuries, we also have to adjust to the hand we’re dealt.

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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asinwreck

Miguel Cairo, December 2020:

“Tony is a very smart man, and he is well-prepared and I don’t think he will have any problems,” Cairo said. “He don’t miss anything. He’s way ahead of the other manager and the other team. He manages the game before the game happens.”

Red_Hair_White_Sox

Batting Hamilton was bad. Batting Garcia was indefensible

Buehrlesque

Both were 100% absolutely indefensible and IMO even more egregious than the slow hook for Giolito.

As Cirensica

One thing that I don’t quite get is that Katz went to the mound prior to Goodrum’s homer. What did they talk about? If Giolito said he was gassed during the post-game session, than what happened in that mound visit? Isn’t one of the first question a coach or manager ask is to whether everything is OK? Are you tired? etc? Did Katz just went up there to talk about summer camp plans for their families? The new Justin Bieber album?

metasox

and Katz is supposed to be the Giolito Whisperer

soxfan

“…candlesticks always make a nice gift…”

funkerdan

There’s that. Which makes me think someone, anyone, everyone is lying. It’s fine, I’m used to it. I would have accepted the argument that Giolito ‘earned the chance to lose the game’/’it’s his to lose’, even with the previous shelling. I missed the part about them calling up the other Luis I guess so why Hamilton AND Garcia were hitting… I suppose you could argue either should have been pulled but understandable if one was left in to not decimate the defense. Who cares about defense though if you’re not winning. We should just deploy the clown defense. Where we just run out 23 clowns on uni’s with pie. lots of pie.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

It’s pretty clear that Katz and LaRussa were hired by two different people with two different motivations so I wouldn’t be shocked if they aren’t exactly on the same page. It would not be the first time the White Sox had some communication issues in the clubhouse/dugout.

To Err is Herrmann

I haven’t lived in Chicago for 27 years. In fact, I live in town of heat and dust near the Mexican border. So I haven’t kept up with the news. I never understood why Tony La Russa wanted this job. I have assumed many things: 1) he thought the White Sox were in a place to possibly win the World Series and soon, and 2) he didn’t find executive work fulfilling and just wanted to be in the dugout again, why not? Did TLR ever state directly why he wanted this job? Just curious.

Joe

Clear-eyed an unsentimental analysis as always, Jim, and the Eaton “reenacting the Stations of the Cross by falling down three times” line made this lapsed Catholic laugh out loud.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

Eloy Eloy Lama Sabachthani?

tommytwonines

I wouldn’t be surprised if Eaton gets tonight off after his knee issues yesterday.

So we’re looking at Lamb, Garcia, Gonzales or Hamilton in the OF. Maybe (hopefully) Vaughn gets the nod in left. Not good.

Foulkelore

I don’t know if a player is still allowed to just drop a suspension appeal whenever they want and start the suspension immediately, but if still possible, it would be smart for Eaton to take the suspension tonight and rest the legs.

soxfan

I’m trying to talk myself into some arrangement of those guys being “not so bad” and failing miserably. Maybe Vaughn, Hamilton, Gonzales? Best I can do.

Foulkelore

No, it ends up bad no matter what for one night (your attempt is probably as good as any). However, if he’s ineffective or at risk of aggravating it tonight, they might as well kill two birds with one stone and get the suspension game out of the way too. I doubt it gets reduced from one game to no suspension, given he shoved a couple of guys.

Greg Nix

Hamilton/Garcia batting –> the “looking for a single” line is absolute idiocy. Even ignoring that a homer would have been much preferable to a single, those two are among the 20 or so worst hitters in the majors. How are they more likely to get a single than Vaughn?

(Vaughn btw is now 15th in the league in Avg Exit Velocity.)

Just facepalm after facepalm this season…

Greg Nix

Fully expecting Giolito to get pulled after 60 pitches next time out.

HallofFrank

This was the most disheartening quote I’ve heard from TLR so far. Since it’s more or less factually inaccurate to think Hamilton or Garcia has a better shot at a “single” than Vaughn (or Collins?)—much less getting on base or doing damage—I can really only explain this one of two ways. Either (a) he doesn’t know his players or (b) he sees them as types of players, so Vaughn and Collins are the burly power hitters and Garcia and Hamilton are the speedy singles hitters. Neither is great, but (b) is somehow worse in my mind than (a) and I think that’s exactly what’s going on. It’s not an encouraging sign for the future.

tommytwonines

I think it’s more the veterans over rookies mentality for TLR.

mrridgman

It could have been worse; TLR might have been looking for “a sacrifice fly”

MrStealYoBase

Not the most uplifting topic, but just want to say this is some of your best work Jim.

lifelongjd

The bullpen has been borderline disappointing in terms of performance vs expectations and I have no doubt that played into leaving Gio in. Not defending the decision, but perhaps LaRussa’s gut was telling him to trust his Ace over Heuer (or whoever else), especially how his bullpen has performed. Foster, Crochet, Bummer, and Hendricks all have underperformed after setting expectations extremely high.

The Leury/Hamilton decisions are indefensible. I realize Robert was out sick, but these guys are giving you nothing at the plate. Batting them in the 8th makes absolutely no sense.

HallofFrank

Leaving Giolito in to face even Ramos was questionable at best but, you’re right, a defensible one. Leaving him in after the home run, and after Jones scorched a ball just after it, was not. I agree, though, that the failure to pinch hit for Leury/Hamilton was a worse decision.

patrick

Seems like a rough spot to be in this early…if his gut is telling him to thrash his top 5 SP when he is obviously out of gas for the sake of not trusting a bullpen which was heralded as one of the main reasons for optimism with this team, we’re in for a long season. I’m not sure how they all decided at once to be bad, but that bullpen needs to figure itself out otherwise Lynn and Gio’s arms are going to fall off.

metasox

I take some of what he says with a grain of salt as well because that isn’t something he will just come out and say

BuehrleMan

It makes me unhappy that Tony La Russa is the manager of the baseball team I root for.

MarketMaker

yep. and that’s regardless of his actual performance.

LuBob DuRob

TLR deserves to get pounded for the game last night. At the same time not a fan of the Gio quote.

metasox

Too late now. Should have told Katz to get him out

Soxfan2

Something about La Russa’s idiotic managing yesterday and knowing that the right hire was in the dug out across made me even more upset.

Root Cause

And if you think JR was loyal to Ventura, wait until you see what he will endure with LaRussa.

Joliet Orange Sox

WXRT is playing Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind reminding me of both my youth and those happy days of earlier in the week when we could make jokes about Jim’s typo of calling Texas 1B Nate Lowe Nick. Right now I’d like to go back to that happier world when I wasn’t thinking about how to put up with TLR during the day between games.

asinwreck

Some good news.

Foulkelore

La Russa has a lineup tonight that doesn’t require Leury in the outfield, but he still has Leury starting at 2B instead of Madrigal. Tony sure loves himself some Leury Garcia. Versatility of a tool becomes a really dangerous thing when you don’t know how to use that tool. Maybe Nicky is out for another reason.

asinwreck

Versatility of a tool becomes a really dangerous thing when you don’t know how to use that tool.

I don’t have the time or self-loathing to do a deep dive into Tony La Russa’s use of Scott Hemond, but such a dive would support the argument that this is a continuity in La Russa’s career.

MarketMaker

it’s not a good sign that larussa is making everything look harder than it needs to be. i know he’s splitting atoms with his strategery, but he could also consider just not overthinking it.

MarketMaker

the article about larussa’s ARF is not a good look, by the way. especially the part where his wife and daughter are very publicly disagreeing with him. can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next, tony!

Trooper Galactus

You know, I could get over the cheapness of the offseason and them not adding anything of significance other than Hendriks. I could not get past hiring TLR to manage the team, and he is only entrenching that opinion every day he’s managing. This was supposed to be our year; the year we could just sit back and enjoy this young team dominate. Honestly, him not only being on the team but actively undermining it with his shittiness is making any enjoyment more difficult. They’re still over .500 and on the cusp of leading the division, but man, April has just felt miserable for me as a fan, and TLR is a HUGE part of that.

soxfan

I hope La Russa makes me eat my words, but I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea what he’s doing. Just checked tonight’s lineup and he’s got both Hamilton and Garcia in the lineup again. I understand with injuries it’s almost impossible to avoid at least one of them right now (unless you believe in Gonzalez), but why you’d sit Madrigal to squeeze them both in the lineup is beyond me. Considering they both played last night you don’t even have the “need to keep the bench fresh” argument.

As bad as Collins and Vaughn have been at the plate, you can at least squint and see their potential value while both have been serviceable in the field. There is zero reason to play Hamilton and Garcia in the same game unless there’s a late inning situation that calls for speed or versatility.

GrinnellSteve

I saw the lineup, and I’m beyond pissed. It’s like he’s heard all the criticism of not pinch-hitting for either or both of Hamilton and Leury, and now he’s just fucking with us. He’s smarter than we are, and he’s a Hall of Famer baseball person.

HallofFrank

Frankly, I’d rather see Gonzalez right now. I guess the guy who probably is a devil but may not be beats the devil you know?

HallofFrank

MLBTR’s Steve Adams was asked in a chat why Vaughn isn’t starting more. He replied:

“I have no idea but it is a failure by Tony La Russa and/or the White Sox org as a whole to do this stop-and-start crap with him. He should be getting regular at-bats rather than sitting on the bench and starting three games a week.“

Trooper Galactus

Mike Tauchman traded to the Giants for Wandy Peralta. Recalling the discussion about trading for Tauchman here a few weeks ago (for Matt Foster, as I recall), the Yankees are getting not even two years of control over a pretty crappy 29-year old reliever for him.

asinwreck

While there’s a PTBNL going with Peralta to New York, the low price didn’t surprise me given the Yankees’ roster crunch and Tauchman’s power outage. That said, the fact that the Giants’ bullpen is performing well enough to deal Peralta while we see consistently shaky performances from Sox relievers means Hahn couldn’t even try to deal from depth.

It’s possible Tauchman may be on the move again after Mike Yastrzemski returns. Tauchman still makes more sense than any of this team’s LF options (especially if La Russa won’t play Vaughn).

Trooper Galactus

Tauchman just looks to me like Jake Lamb but actually an outfielder. Neither belongs on this roster.

HallofFrank

You’re wrong that Tauchman is another Lamb, but now that Vaughn is a LFer and Mercedes is lighting the world on fire, you’re right that he doesn’t belong on the roster.

Trooper Galactus

Yes, Tauchman’s 59 wRC+ is clearly better than Lamb’s 54. I stand corrected. Sorry, I just do not understand why anybody gets even remotely interested in the possibility of Mike Tauchman on the White Sox.

HallofFrank

Well, Tauchman’s wRC+ is actually 113 which is clearly better than Lamb’s 54. So, yeah. But, giving them both the benefit of a more than 20 PA sample… Lamb’s highest wRC+ since 2017 is 79. In 2019, Tauchman’s was 128. Even if you want to say 2019 was a fluke, he has AAA numbers to back it up: 139 (’17), 153 (’18), and 126 (’19). Plus, if Tauchman did work out, he’s got a few years of control left. So, you can continue to conflate Lamb and Tauchman in your mind if you want, but it’s not a comparison based on fact.

To be clear: I would never have been thrilled about starting Tauchman in LF. He was always a quick solution to a problem that was my preferred solution only because all the others (Hamilton, Garcia, or a FA) were so bad. But, I certainly didn’t consider Vaughn in LF and Mercedes at DH, and that’s worked out beautifully so far. I’d probably still rather have Tauchman than Foster just for the depth, but I’m glad LF has worked out the way it has.

texag10

Tauchman was running a 60 wRC+ with the Yankees. He’s just 3-4 in his only game with the Giants that is massively inflating his numbers.

HallofFrank

Right, which is why I insisted on “giving them both the benefit of a more than 20 PA sample”…

HallofFrank

Wandy Peralta is more valuable than Matt Foster. In defense of this claim, I’d direct you to Fangraphs’s writeup of the trade, Peralta’s advanced metrics, and anything in Foster’s numbers or profile except the first 13 IP of 2020.

And Tauchman is *certainly* a better use of LF ABs than Jake Lamb.

Trooper Galactus

On a team pinching pennies, paying Peralta a few million to be mediocre for two seasons is not as valuable as having Foster in pre-arb for two seasons and able to make a decision from there. Personally, I think Foster has plenty of life left in him still, while Peralta has basically spent his career to date being uninspiring and that’s not liable to change as he approaches 30.

I did read the FanGraphs writeup, and I still do not see anything about either Peralta or Tauchman that makes me want them anywhere near the White Sox.

Last edited 3 years ago by Trooper Galactus
HallofFrank

According to Fangraphs he’s getting paid less than a million. Are we looking at the same players?

Either way, you’re right he hasn’t been inspiring, but neither has Foster. Wandy’s uninspiring ZIPS projection (0.2) is still 0.4 higher than Foster’s (-0.2). And even though Wandy is almost 30, his K/9 is at his career-high and BB/9 at a career-low. If the advanced metrics or projections are to be trusted, he’s certainly a better use of a bullpen slot than Foster—and this year he’s better by standard metrics, too.

Richard

One possible reason for starting Garcia and Hamilton tonight is that Casey Mize, the Detroit right handed starter, has a much weaker record so far against left handed batters (1.062 OPS) than against right handed batters (.782 OPS).

Trooper Galactus

Looking at Garcia and Hamilton’s numbers this year against RHP, I’m not particularly confident they’re the ones to jump on that split.

As Cirensica

Handedness doesn’t matter for Leury or Hamilton. They can’t hit …period.

funkerdan

Leury read this thread before the double header.