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Some of Tony La Russa’s in-game decision-making has confused White Sox fans greatly, and well within the boundaries of knowledge mere fans possess. It’s hard to say he’s making moves on information only the clubhouse knows when Lucas Giolito tells everybody his fatigue went undetected by La Russa. Similarly, it doesn’t pass basic transitive logic when he subs in a player defensively, but doesn’t replace that player in situations where a bat is needed.
In his own monthly review of baseball — not to be confused with Month in a Box, exclusive to supporters of Sox Machine on Patreon — Jeff Passan highlights the key failures and says “patience in some parts of the White Sox’s clubhouse is growing thin.”
The latest came last week, when, trailing by three, with runners on first and second and one out in the eighth, La Russa allowed Billy Hamilton and Leury Garcia to hit, even though Robert was available on the bench. La Russa’s explanation after the game was that he was “looking for a single there.”
It wasn’t the only mistake he made that game. After an awful start in which La Russa let his best pitcher, Lucas Giolito, languish for seven runs in one-plus innings, Giolito had bounced back with a solid six innings. La Russa sent him back out for the seventh. Giolito wasn’t going to ask out of the game. That responsibility fell on La Russa, who after the game said he didn’t realize Giolito was gassed.
I’d caution against drawing wider conclusions based on this report. Passan isn’t particular enamored with La Russa and hasn’t been for the better part of a decade. It’s also tailored to feed the fears that many White Sox fans harbored since Jerry Reinsdorf arranged this marriage in a way that might exploit credulity.
Yet it’s definitely worth filing away, at least for starters. Passan didn’t mention any of La Russa’s issues with his Animal Rescue Foundation, which would’ve been fodder for extra shots. Plus, Matt Spiegel said he heard similar, and if we could see it from our vantage point, it makes sense that people closer to the action would feel even more burned.
Byron Buxton beat out Mercedes for the AL’s Player of the Month honors, but Mercedes garnered the acclaim among newbies by hitting .415/.455/.659 over 22 games. Carlos Rodón was denied Pitcher of the Month by Gerrit Cole, who has a worse ERA (1.43) and no no-hitter, but insane numbers everywhere else. For instance, 62 strikeouts against three walks over 37⅔ innings.
James Fegan identifies the tension in La Russa’s tendency to play veterans over rookies, especially when the younger players have a much better answer for the question “What have you done for me lately?”
In watching Vaughn struggle Friday night against Shane Bieber breaking balls snaking away from him, it’s easy to imagine why La Russa saw Emmanuel Clase’s 101 mph right-handed cutters coming and figured a left-hander could be of more help in trying to erase a two-run deficit. He said “the team deserved it” when explaining why he hunted a favorable matchup rather than simply allow for a teachable moment for Vaughn, and cited that he had pinch-hit for him before and not seen his work diminish in response. It’s turning to the utilityman for that offensive matchup that stands out.
Collins hasn’t played much, and certainly hasn’t looked like he’s gotten rolling to the degree he was in Arizona, but is hitting .229/.325/.371 (105 wRC+), is certainly capable of running into a home run, and La Russa has made it clear he doesn’t fear using his backup catcher to pinch-hit. Still, he went to the veteran García. When it comes to young players forcing their way to more opportunities, the thresholds seem higher than those for veterans.
Here’s another criticism of La Russa from somebody (Rob Arthur) who doesn’t have a history of knocking his methodology. Arthur notes that La Russa was more aggressive than most of his contemporaries when pulling his start at the end of his Cardinals tenure, which makes his slow hook surprising even after a nine-year layoff.
Lucas Giolito isn’t the only Cy Young candidate who’s disappointing an AL Central team early, and getting beat on his signature pitch. Just like Giolito’s changeup isn’t having the same effect on hitters, Kenta Maeda is leaving his slider in the heart of the zone on a much more frequent basis, and consequently, he has a 6.56 ERA over his first five starts.
Emma Baccelieri notes that teams are averaging more than a strikeout an inning for the first time in league history. At the same time, hard-hit rates and BABIP are down, so less-than-stellar contact isn’t being rewarded either.
I don’t like the fixed six-game series that minor league teams are playing in 2021. For everybody, it’s a bummer to have a whole day without any action, which are Mondays this year. For me, it’s harder to mix-and-match affiliate trips when teams are stuck in one city for six days, with those dark Mondays serving as a moat on the calendar before and after. There’s only one week during the summer where Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis are all home at the same time this year.
Alas, it cuts down on travel, makes scouting more convenient and improves sleep habits enough for leagues to consider sticking with this sort of schedule even after COVID-19 isn’t a pressing concern.
Speaking of the White Sox’s affiliates, the White Sox just unveiled the rosters minutes ago, so be prepared for four affiliate previews between now and Tuesday evening.