Tony La Russa’s intentional two-strike decision immediately backfires in the White Sox’s loss to the Dodgers

White Sox coach Tony La Russa, accustomed to criticism or doubt during his more than a year in charge at Chicago, made an unusual and costly tactical error in the sixth inning of Thursday’s 11-9 loss to Los Angeles. Dodgers (score box).

The Dodgers, at a 7-5 margin, had a runner at first base and two outs in the innings when Trea Turner stepped on the plate against White Sox southpaw Bennett Sousa. Sousa worked a 0-2 count against Turner before opening a wild field that allowed the runner to advance. Instead of allowing Sousa to continue against Turner with a 1-2 score in his favor, La Russa called for an intentional walk – the first of the season to have a two-goal count – to bring in Max Muncy, who was making his comeback from an elbow injury.

This proved to be the wrong decision in the shortest amount of time, as Muncy unloaded a three-run home run on the fifth pitch he saw, extending the Dodgers’ lead to 10-5:

A reasonable person might ask, what the hell was La Russa thinking? Here’s our best attempt at explaining his thought process. It all boils down to La Russa 1) greatly overestimating the chances of Turner hitting and scoring another run (we can say for sure that La Russa wasn’t worried about Turner drawing since he had one); and 2) greatly underestimate Muncy’s chances of extending the shift.

It’s true that Turner entered the game with a .303 batting average for the season, but that mark isn’t representative of his true chances of registering a shot, given the count. Turner hit .269 on hits that went 1-2 this season, and even that number likely exaggerates his chances, as he’s a career .226 hitter in these situations.

While we can’t know how likely La Russa was to feel that Turner would be hit, we can safely assume that his calculations were more likely than Muncy’s chances of extending the frame. Was that a fair assumption to make, even without hindsight? Not.

Muncy has historically been a very good hitter; he didn’t accumulate a .240/.364/.499 slash line from 2019-21 by accident. He hasn’t played as well this season after injuring his elbow late last year, and he came on Thursday with 0.150/0.327/0.263 in his first 168 games. He was even worse against southpaws, hitting 0.125/0.300/0.150 in 40 hits. (Sousa, meanwhile, has reverse splits so far in his big-league career.) His average and maximum output speeds are below average, and he is swinging less often overall, notable for someone who has always shown an approachable approach. more passive on the board.

It’s reasonable to think that Muncy has been compromised by his elbow injury and that he may perform worse than expected — specifically with regards to batting average and power. Even so, the one thing he has continued to excel at doing is getting to the base. Even with his putrid hitting average and slugging percentage, he hit base more often than the league’s average hitter. You might doubt his ability to hit the ball hard right now, and you might be right about that, but you shouldn’t discount his eye. Also, Sousa has lost 11% of the hitters he’s faced this year, which means a savagery attack shouldn’t have been ruled out of the realm of possibility. (Although, to be fair, he threw a league average hit rate and never had any control issues on the minors.)

Muncy, in turn, seemed to have exception for Turner’s two-stroke walk.

We should also point out here that an intentional walk decision is rarely as simple as the base-out state and a comparison between the walked batsman and the chosen batsman. There is also the scout that comes after the chosen scout. In this case, it would be Dodgers wide receiver Will Smith, an above-average hitter. If Sousa had just walked with Muncy instead of giving up a three-run home run, he would still have had to face Smith with the bases loaded. This is far from an ideal result for the White Sox.

The funny thing about La Russa’s decision is that the odds were still in Sousa’s favor registering an exit and exiting the entry. That’s the beauty of playing defense: the odds are that any plate appearance will end in an elimination, regardless of the circumstances. That’s how baseball works. Of course, that statement is also why allowing Sousa to continue his battle with Turner would have been the most sensible choice, and that’s without diving deep into the numbers like we did above.

La Russa’s judgment has been in question since he took office before last season, and the White Sox’s underperformance to date has led fans and members of the media to wonder if he should end the campaign. If La Russa continues to make decisions like the one he made on Thursday—decisions that feel wrong at the time and after the fact, and that backfire immediately—demands for his resignation will only increase.

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