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5 ways Pedro Grifol can manage the White Sox better than Tony La Russa

by Tim Moran

At the time of the Tony La Russa hiring, the main rationale for bringing on the then-76-year-old was his championship track record as a head coach. Many said that his prowess in managing games would more than make up for any clubhouse rifts stemming from the age gap between La Russa and his players.

Two years and many headaches later, the overwhelming majority of Sox fans can agree that TLR was not the skilled in-game manager he was billed to be. There’s a myriad of examples we can and will get into, but the bottom line is that the White Sox lost several games between 2021 and 2022 where poor decision-making played a significant factor.

Now, with 53-year-old Pedro Grifol set to take over the reins, there is an opportunity for the White Sox to pick up some wins solely through improved managerial decisions. A common theme across all areas was La Russa’s indifference toward analytics, using certain advanced metrics sparingly. Grifol professed his appreciation for analytics in his introduction presser, which hopefully will elevate his team’s performance across the board.

Ultimately, we can boil down the multitude of ideas into five central themes.

#1: Lineup Decisions

Leury Garcia started 88 games for the 2022 Chicago White Sox. 88 baseball games. Let’s not mince words—that can’t happen again. La Russa played a guy with a .210/.233/.267 final batting line for more than half the season, hardly entertaining other ideas before finally benching Leury consistently beginning in July. Grifol can boost the lineup simply by identifying his best players and playing them as much as possible without wasting time on sunk costs.

While injuries were a significant hamper on the roster last season, TLR also had plenty of chances to formulate a consistent lineup structure, and failed. Players would bounce all around the lineup from week to week, with Jose Abreu in third or fourth and Tim Anderson at leadoff (when healthy) being the only exceptions. A lackluster lineup will find a hard time catching fire without proper time to settle in, and Grifol should look to maintain a persistent structure as much as possible.

#2: Bullpen Flexibility

Old school through and through, La Russa had a rigid understanding of when certain bullpen arms can pitch. For example, Chicago’s previous manager believed Craig Kimbrel would always struggle when not in the ninth inning.

Furthermore, he struggled to pitch his best reliever, Liam Hendriks, outside of the ninth inning when extremely high-leverage situations called for it. Flexibility in arm usage can be a huge positive, as the White Sox proved when they won 8-3 on June 10, 2022, after TLR green-lit an analytics department recommendation to use Reynaldo Lopez as an opener.

La Russa also deferred to same-handed matchups even when not appropriate, including one prime example we will cover in the next section. While he would sometimes cite unique handedness splits in making certain decisions, he seemed to forget about them at other times.

#3: Intentional Walk Decisions

Pedro Grifol: Please never intentionally walk a batter on a 1-2 count. Infamously, Chicago’s favorite Hall of Fame manager decided to walk Trea Turner on a 1-2 count on June 9, 2022. Unintimidated by the lefty-lefty matchup, Max Muncy strolled to the plate and promptly hit a three-run bomb. The South Siders would go on to lose 11-9.

Even worse, Bennett Sousa also has reverse splits, meaning he performs better against right-handed batters. La Russa would walk Oscar Gonzalez in another two-strike count in August, but got away with it that time. Whether they’re a fan of advanced analytics or not, any fan would direct Grifol to avoid two-strike intentional walks in 2023.

#4: Bunt Less

Data analysis in recent years has shed light on the inefficacy of bunting in baseball. In nearly all situations, run expectancy goes down if a sacrifice bunt is executed. Yet the Sox were eleventh in baseball last year in sacrifice bunts, laying down 16 of them. A quick peek at the teams at the top of the list vs. the bottom reveals a sharp divide in which the best offenses bunt the least. The 2022 correlation may be exaggerated, but it will always be there to some degree.

#5: Bring Energy

Any athlete can attest to the spark an energetic coach can provide when the team rallies around them, both in the middle of games and practice. The South Siders were in desperate need of a fire lit under them in 2022, but never got it. In fact, their leader could barely stay awake at times.

Armed with relatively youthful energy and bilingual speaking abilities, Grifol should face no difficulties motivating his squad in 2023. Here’s hoping he can sustain a winning culture in the process.

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Featured Image: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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You have to build a winning culture before you can sustain it. These Sox were on their way with Renteria, but never quite got there. Grifol will have to totally transform that clubhouse.

#6. Communicate with players. Several times, TLR said something along the lines of, “They have cubbies, I have an office,” signifying his belief he was more important than his players. That’s an unnecessary divide. It’s a team sport and a good manager should be approachable. Yes, Grifol has an office, and for good reason (mostly to have closed-door conversations), but it already seems like he’s been in touch more with the players during the offseason than TLR was and he seems a more humble guy, seeking consensus with his coaching staff so they deliver a unified message.

#7. Pull starters when it’s clear they’re done. I didn’t like how Ozzie threw his players under the boss when the team wasn’t playing well, but I’ll always love how he tried to pull his starters when the worst they could get was a ND. Yeah, I know that pitcher wins are among the most useless stats in baseball, but it still gets in the mind of certain pitchers that they lost the game and TLR let them sink rather than try to bail them out.

#8. Hold players accountable. This goes along with the communication and lighting a fire under players, but I mention it specifically because it seemed players just didn’t care if they made mistakes, Liam and his colorful language aside. Players need to know they’ll be chewed out if they give up on a play. And if it’s an honest mistake…

#9. …Correct mistakes through better teaching of fundamentals. The White Sox cannot run themselves into triple plays. They cannot keep throwing to the wrong base. They cannot keep failing to loft a fly ball when there’s a runner on 3B and less than 2 outs. The Sox have a roster at least as talented as the Guardians, but the Guardians rarely beat themselves. The Sox beat themselves constantly by playing with poor fundamentals.


Not drinking and staying awake in the dugout should have been #1


LaGenius is a manager not a head coach. This is not college baseball. The sixth way Grifol will be better than LaGenius is his BAC will be under .16

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