The Chicago White Sox’s complicated coexistence with Tony La Russa

THIS IS IT: one last stand against the stenographers and yes-men, the bean-counters and numbers-crunchers, the button-pushers and script-readers. One last stand against those who live in mortal fear of being wrong, those who trust the numbers more than their gut, those without the stones to go against the percentages and live with the consequences.

All of this, every bunt based on a hunch, every defense of an unwritten rule, is for them. It’s for every guy in every dugout who doesn’t have the savvy or the experience to know that a one-run game sometimes reveals itself slowly starting in the fourth or fifth inning. It’s for the guys upstairs who can’t look up from their screens long enough to care that a real-life game is taking place involving real-life humans. It’s for anyone who discounts the predictive power of experience, how one game portends another and for anyone who fails to see the occasional competitive advantage of a fastball to the ribs.

This is Tony La Russa’s quest: a 76-year-old man, a Hall of Famer, engaging in the quotidian task of proving a big-league manager can still be an active participant and not simply a curator. La Russa believes many of the same things he has believed his entire managerial career, which everyone — including him — thought ended when he retired after the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series. He believes he can coax a hitter out of a slump by forcing him to swing on a hit-and-run. He believes there are times — many times — when giving up an out to gain a base is both necessary and prudent, and he believes anyone who disagrees is either ignorant or afraid to make a mistake.

His players are among those who do not adhere to the tenets of his faith. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is so analytically driven, and so pitch-sequencing compulsive, that he’s been known to sit down at a computer to assess a just-completed game before he removes his spikes. Starter Carlos Rodón, an All Star for the first time, breathed life back into his career this season with the help of a new-agey pitching coach, Ethan Katz, and a device called Core Velocity Belt, which helped him incorporate his lower half into his motion.

“We’re constantly using the metrics,” Rodón says. “Spin rate, carry, perceived velocity. All of it goes into knowing how to use your tools.” He threw a no-hitter in his second start of the season; his strikeouts are up, and his walks are down. In a June 8 start against Toronto, his 106th and final pitch of the night was 97 mph.

Liam Hendriks is one of the game’s best closers: second in baseball with 23 saves, 0.74 WHIP and a ridiculous K/BB ratio of 16.3. After each game he goes over his arm’s extension rates and the vertical stats on each of his pitches. These numbers dictate his workload; decreased extension generally indicates his arm is getting weary, and a lack of rise on his fastball means he’s getting under his pitches and leaving them flat in the zone.

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Read More: The Chicago White Sox’s complicated coexistence with Tony La Russa 2021-07-21 11:53:53

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