Yesterday in the Dodgers‘ 11-9 victory over the White socksChicago manager Tony La Russa made the surprising decision to intentionally walk Trea Turner on a 1-2 count to face Max Muncy.
Many of you probably know what happened, but let’s briefly review the situation just in case before we dive deeper into the thinking behind La Russa’s call and explain why, regardless of the outcome, it’s was the wrong decision to make.
LA was up 6-5 in the top of the sixth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field yesterday. The White Sox had just squandered a 4-0 lead in the previous inning when starter Dylan Cease gave up six unearned runs. (La Russa let Cease throw 45 pitches in the fifth before going to the bullpen, but we won’t get into this questionable decision here.)
With Gavin Lux at second and two outs, Freddie Freeman fielded an RBI single to make it a two-run ball game. La Russa brought in left-handed reliever Bennett Sousa, who had a 6.50 ERA going into yesterday’s game, to take on right-handed Trea Turner. Sousa quickly jumped ahead in the count, 0–2, before uncorking a wild throw that lifted Freeman to second. La Russa quickly reported the intentional march. Muncy made him pay with a three-run home run to left field.
As Muncy headed for the plate, White Sox TV broadcast duo Jason Benetti and Steve Stone questioned La Russa’s move in real time. Their dialogue was representative of what everyone watching thought.
Benetti: “Wait a second.”
Rock: “They’re intentionally taking him for a walk.”
Benetti: “The 1-and-2?”
Benetti: “Can you explain this to me?”
Rock: “I think you don’t want Turner doing more damage anymore and you want to take advantage of left-left.”
Benetti: “Typically at two strikes, the league’s batting average is pretty low.”
Rock: “Oh yeah. That’s it.”
Benetti: “When was the last time you saw someone intentionally stepping on 1 and 2?
Rock: “It does not happen often.”
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If it’s hard to tell in the transcript, audio clip, which you can find here, makes it clear that both Benetti and Stone are bewildered by, and almost certainly at odds with, La Russa. Still, this exchange does a good job summarizing the arguments for and against taking it for a walk.
La Russa loves her platoon advantages. He was one of the first managers to regularly use left-handed relief specialists to tackle a hitter. More often than not over three decades, the left-on-left game has worked in La Russa’s favor.
“Turning without shots, one shot or two shots is very dangerous against the right[ies] and especially on the left[ies]”, La Russa told reporters. “Now, if maybe [right-handed hitting Will] Smith was punching behind him, that would have been another thing. Muncy is there so it’s an easy call for me.
La Russa is correct in his assessment that Turner is dangerous no matter how laterally the pitcher is, and that Turner is a better hitter against southpaws. What he doesn’t say is that Muncy, too, does damage regardless of laterality, and that he, at least in terms of batting average, is a better hitter against southpaws.
Since 2018 (entered yesterday’s game)
These gaps, of course, do not take into account the situation: runner in scoring position and two out. Here’s how each player has fared in such situations since 2018.
Turner RISP Splits
Muncy RISP Splits
OK, so there’s a lot of data here. Some of it could even be used to support La Russa’s decision. For example, consider only what both players did against lefties with runners in scoring position and two outs. In such situations, Turner, whose overall numbers are similar to the Robin Yount peak, turns into Babe Ruth. Meanwhile, when Muncy, whose overall numbers are akin to Adam Dunn, faces two-out lefties and runners in the running position, he turns into 1977 Jimmy Wynn.
That said, La Russa’s logic breaks down when you consider some of the other information.
• The gap between the two players disappears when you look at the numbers against lefties with runners in scoring position, regardless of the number of outs: Muncy’s .977 OPS in these situations is the same as OPS lifetime of Mickey Mantle, while Turner’s oblique line is remarkably similar to the one Jimmie Foxx had in his career (.325/.428/.609). Again, the sample sizes for Muncy and Turner are small (Muncy, 170 PA; Turner, 119 PA).
• Turner was hitting with one man on base. After the intentional walk, Muncy found two. The Dodgers are more likely to score multiple runs with Muncy and two men than with Turner and only Freeman on base. With two out in the sixth inning, the priority should have been preventing a multi-run hit, even if that meant risking a Turner RBI single.
• There were, and I can’t stress this enough, TWO STRIKES on Turner. It is extremely difficult to hit with two strikes. MLB batters are batting .167 after going to a 1–2 count. It’s true that Turner is a very good hitter, but like all hitters, he also gets worse when it’s a 1-2 count (.231/.280/.349).
Had the wild pitch started Turner’s plate appearance, or with Turner ahead in the count, the intentional walk would have been the right call as Turner is a much better hitter against the left-handed pitch. But that was not the case here.
In the end, La Russa decided it was better to give Muncy three strikes to drive at least one run than give Turner one to do it just because of a peloton advantage which realistically , does not exist for a southpaw against Muncy.
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“On the cusp of a personal milestone that puts him on the Hall of Fame highway, and at the very start of the MVP discussion, Manny Machado says he wants to avoid talking about one topic: Manny Machado.”
This is how Tom Verducci begins this excellent portrait of the padres third baseman, who is no longer the brash young star portrayed as baseball’s villain. Instead, he has a career year and is enjoying his new role as the veteran leader of a very good San Diego team.
Manny Machado lets his play by Tom Verducci do the talking
He plays better than ever and pushes his controversial past into the dustbin of immature youth.
Let’s run through some of our other big SI baseball stories from this week.
How worried should we be about these struggling stars? by Nick Selbe
Salvador Perez and Nick Castellanos are among the underperforming talents in 2022. Will they turn the tide?
Hot Seat Index: Which MLB managers could be fired next? by testamentary laws
Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon lost their jobs over the past week, and other skippers could soon get the boot.
Joe Maddon’s firing deepens Angels’ era of instability by Nick Selbe
Los Angeles’ knee-jerk response to a 12-game losing streak is more of the same impatience that owner Arte Moreno displayed during his tenure.
“That b—- was special”: Rickey Henderson’s Days As a Made Guy by Howard Bryant
In his new biography of the traveling speedster, author Howard Bryant captures Henderson’s safe last days in the field – a final act as only Rickey could write.
The Absolute Improbability of Nick Castellanos Drives into Deep Left Field by Jon Wertheim
Three successive seasons. Three serious moments. Each broken by a home run from Nick Castellanos. Unlikely. Comically unlikely. The question: how improbable is it? We discovered.
The Phillies had no choice but to fire Joe Girardi by Tom Verducci
Trying to win without a reliable defense and a bullpen is a losing formula. The veteran manager didn’t create these problems, but added them.
3. PLEASE NOTE by Matt Martell
The Rays won yesterday’s game at Tropicana Field, 2-1, to complete a three-game sweep of the Cardinals. Yet the most notable part of the box score was not the score or the roster names, but the game time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. It’s tied for the shortest nine-inning MLB game played in the past decade. The other 114-minute contest? A 4-2 White Sox win over blue jays July 6, 2015.
The final nine-inning game played in less than an hour and 54 minutes was also played at Tropicana Field between the Rays and a team from Missouri. On August 8, 2011, Tampa Bay defeated the Royals4-0, in 113 minutes.
4. W2W4 by Nick Selbe
The game between the Dodgers and giants is still date TV, but this weekend’s set has an added layer of intrigue with the expected return of Clayton Kershaw from the injured list on Sunday. He will face Carlos Rodón, who has posted a 6.00 ERA in his last five outings after a dominating start to the season.
Elsewhere, Saturday’s game between the Cardinals and Reds will pit veteran Adam Wainwright against rookie Hunter Greene. The two have an age gap of almost 18 years, which dwarfs the 10.2 mph gap between their average fastball speeds (Wainwright is 88.3, while Green is 98.5) .
5. CLOSEST to Matt Martell
The Phillies are 7-0 since firing Joe Girardi last Friday. Going into the weekend, their playoff odds, which had fallen to 21.5% at the time of Girardi’s sacking, are up to 36.3%, according to FanGraphs. Their problems have not gone away. The defense is still abysmal and the bullpen remains unreliable. But early returns from interim manager Rob Thomson are promising.
That’s all for us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next Friday. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to subscribe to SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, email us at [email protected].