Tony La Russa met with the media prior to the series opener against the Minnesota Twins.
Speaking on his much-maligned recent lineup decisions, including a discussion of the value of left-handed bats against a right-handed starter, he had the following to add on the subject:
La Russa: "There have been a lot of managers in a lot of games and they had same seven or eight out there. That’s not how it was taught. There’s a guy I enjoy, a gentleman was there, we broke in together, Mr. Kelly, and use the roster. Something comes up different every day ...— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) April 22, 2022
Let’s let that percolate for second.
Read it again.
Ponder it again.
Go on, re-read it once or twice more.
Grow more and more concerned?
Now, that we are all on the same page, we need to address the elephant in the room: La Russa just may no longer be fit to be an everyday manager in the major leagues.
The simple fact that in Tony’s eyes, the issue comes down to who he chooses to play each day, but that does not suitably capture his nonsensical decisions over the past few games.
Now, foibles like making a concerted effort to keep all 26 men engaged along the long drag of a regular season may not be your personal fan-centric cup of tea, but it is a perfectly reasonable concern for a manager, if a bit outdated. Personally, I do appreciate not letting guys rot away on the bench, instead targeting playing time for them to keep mentally engaged throughout the year.
But in these circumstances, thought and care needs to be put into where and when to make substitutions, as normally replacing a starter with a bench player is a step down in the quality of player. This is where the prime focus of Tony’s reliance on old, outdated information and strategies in the face of readily-available proof really begins to show through.
The fact is that he is at a point in his graceful aging where he is unable to accept when he may be better served by simply trusting the numbers.
No amount of mental gymnastics can justify putting a player like García, while a perfectly talented and valuable member of this ball club, in the position of batting second or third in a game against a division opponent.
Advanced metrics (actually, basic counting) illustrate the true value of the first three spots in the lineup — they will inevitably end up with the most at-bats, and therefore should be among the team’s very best hitters.
Obviously, with injuries piling up early in the season, the Sox are missing some players who would make the daily lineup process much easier, but they still have one of the deeper sets of offensive talent in baseball. And unless more than half of the team mysteriously goes missing, García will never be counted among the best or most important offensive players on the White Sox.
This is demonstrated most acutely by the very fact that Leury’s value comes from defensive flexibility, above all else. In truth, he is likely not a player anyone would even identify league-wide as an “offensive player.”
When first defending García in the No. 3 spot of the lineup, Tony did bring up one inarguable fact. Leury, who has been struggling to the tune of a -33wRC+ on the year, may benefit from having José Abreu behind him in the lineup, due to teams choosing to pitch to him rather than get to the looming former AL MVP.
What is glaringly obvious to any of the rest of us non-Hall of Fame Baseball Persons: Why on earth would Tony put a priority on getting Leury freakin’ García going, ahead of future All-Stars like Eloy Jiménez or Andrew Vaughn?
Why not, even, the promisingly competent Jake Burger, or left-handed power bat Gavin Sheets?
Why not your struggling primary catcher, Yasmani Grandal, who carried you for stretches offensively last year?
This has been pretty anti-Tony to this point, but let me leave you with the thought that is was my breaking point on the issue, and the realization that confirmed my stance.
Anthony La Russa Jr. is too smart, and too good of a baseball manager to be making the types of decisions he is making currently.
I said it.
The proof is in the pudding.
Unfortunately, Tony is closer to eating actual pudding than basking in the proverbial glory of his past successes at this point. He has begun to tarnish his own stellar career by stubbornly clinging to the life of a major league manager — a life that has sadly passed his current physical capabilities.
You may not be a fan of the man, the manager, or how he was hired for the job, but La Russa has seen and experienced baseball at the highest levels.
When viewed against his own illustrious career however, it becomes clear:
Tony is a great manager.
An actual legend of the sport (sorry. Leury).
But Tony shouldn’t be at the helm of a unicorn of a White Sox team just getting into their championship window in 2022. Not because he is a bad manager, but because he is honestly too good to be this bad.
For his sake, I hope La Russa can accept that, before he continues doing a disservice to both this team and his own legacy.