Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa has never been one for second-guessing himself, but he had more than enough people doing it for him on Wednesday. And they had a pretty good point.
Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers at home, the White Sox found themselves down 7-5 in the top of the sixth inning with Freddie Freeman on first, two outs and Trea Turner hitting. Chicago pitcher Bennett Sousa opened the at-bat with a called strike, then got a foul to push the count to 0-2 before missing with a slider enough to allow Freeman to take second base.
At that point, the White Sox were a strike away against an elite hitter — Turner's .324 batting average over the past three years leads all of MLB — from staying within striking distance.
Instead, La Russa decided to intentionally walk Turner, even though his pitcher was already ahead on a 1-2 count, to the confusion of everyone around him. That included a fan impotently yelling, "Tony, what are you doing? He's got two strikes!" in the background.
"When was the last time you saw somebody intentionally walked on 1-2?"
"Doesn't happen often."
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) June 9, 2022
Now, intentionally walking a guy when you're up 1-2 in the count is an odd enough decision. Taking such a risk would certainly look bad if, say, the next batter, Max Muncy, crushed an opposite-field homer to push the Dodgers' lead to 10-5. Yup, that would be bad.
Muncy, making his return from the injured list due to an elbow injury, appeared to have taken exception to La Russa's decision, with lip readers interpreting his post-homer conversation as, "You f***ing walk him with two strikes. F*** you, b****!"
The White Sox would eventually lose 11-9. You can do the math on how much that intentional walk might have cost them.
After the game, La Russa disregarded a question about his apparent folly by asking how that could be a question, then pointing to Turner's splits with two strikes against left-handers and Muncy's splits in the same situation.
From NBC Sports Chicago:
"Is there some question about whether that was a good move or not? You know what he hits against left-handed pitching? With 0-1 or two strikes, you know what he hits? You know what Muncy hits with two strikes against left-handed pitching? Is that really a question? Because it was 1-2? Turner was a strike left against a left-hander, something you can avoid if you can.
"We had an open base and Muncy happened to be the guy behind him and that's the better matchup. If somebody disagrees, that's the beauty of this game. Welcome to it. That wasn’t a tough call.”
At this point, let's just take a look into the actual numbers.
Should you IBB Trea Turner with 2 strikes?
Since he debuted in 2015, Turner is a .229/.245/.375 hitter against left-handed pitchers on a 1-2 count, according to Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, Muncy has been a reverse-splits guy in his career, hitting .251/.365/.492 against southpaws.
La Russa pointed to Muncy's numbers against left-handers with two strikes, but that's specious since the manager had no way of knowing the Muncy at-bat would reach two strikes.
The numbers look a bit better for La Russa if you only focus on this year (Muncy has a .450 OPS against lefties in 50 plate appearances, while Turner has a .572 OPS in 19 PAs against lefties on a 1-2 count), but there is a reason for that. Muncy had been struggling with an elbow injury all season before hitting the IL. He certainly looked healthy in his return, his first game with multiple extra-base hits of the season.
So La Russa might have been betting less on the numbers he threw out and more on the hope that Muncy was still playing hurt after sitting out 13 games. Which is certainly a gamble to take when you already have Turner on two strikes.
More from La Russa:
"Turner, with no strikes, one strike or two strikes, is very dangerous and especially against left. If [Dodgers catcher Will Smith] was hitting behind him, it would have been a different thing. But Muncy's there, it's an easy call for me. If [Sousa] gives up a hit there, I'd be walking into the lake or something because that would have been stupid.
"I don't get surprised too often, but that one — does anyone in this room really think we should have gone after Turner? No chance. Muncy's the guy to get out of the inning, we dismissed him."
It's clear from all of this that La Russa fears Turner like he's 2004 Barry Bonds and has a very dim view of Muncy as a hitter, which made for some excellent bulletin board material for Muncy, as he indicated after the game.
From SportsNet LA:
"I wanted to make them pay, I'll just leave it at that."