Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Congratulations to Tony La Russa, the Latest Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and La Russa were all great baseball managers. They each had their own individual approach to winning games.  

In the list of smart coaches and managers, Tony La Russa is one of my favorites in reference to innovative thinking and competitiveness 

He was an innovative grinder who out-prepared his competition regardless of the situation.

Innovate to Compete
La Russa was in the forefront of using computer-driven statistics for game preparation and  game decisions in the 1980's. This innovative approach enabled him to anticipate forthcoming tactical situations before deploying certain adjustments. 

This covert strategic tool helped him win 12 division titles, six pennants, three World Series title (1989, 2006, and 2011) and four "manager of the year" titles.

"Computer Tony" La Russa and a few other managers were using statistics more than a decade before the over-marketed Moneyball's hype became popular. 

He was credited for the advent of the specialized bullpen that utilizes specialty players in certain game situations. From the seventh inning and on, a different bullpen pitcher was employed for either one specific hitter or one entire inning. LaRussa would also occasionally utilizes a specific type of hitter against a specific pitcher for the purpose of creating an advantageous mismatch

When managing the Cardinals, he would bat the pitcher outside of the ninth spot in order to gain a slight advantage of having a stronger hitter to bat ahead of the lead-off hitter..

These innovations originated from La Russa's competitiveness and his ability to see certain inflection points during a game through his employment of statistical analysis.  

Another interesting tactical innovation was using a non-baseball personnel signaling in the next move while he and/or his coaches were signaling a fake move.  

The Signature Approach
The gist of Tony La Russa's approach is to "overmanage" a game by creating a slew of advantageous offensive and defensive mismatches based on individual players statistics and tendencies in certain situations. The baseball segment of our group are used to seeing La Russa's repeating this grand tactic in all of his games. 

If it was a late inning game where the score was either even or his team was one run ahead.  We instinctively expected that Tony would be playing his game of strategic mismatching.

Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa's mentor referred the last three innings of a game as the most important part of managing.a game.   Those who understand advanced baseball strategy (the strategic assessment side of the game), know the specific set of intricacies that I am talking about.

Side note: Historically, Herman Franks a Chicago Cubs manager was the first manager who used Bruce Sutter as a closer during the late innings.  

The Other Compass Point
Beside being an innovator, Tony La Russa also treated his players like family. This honest act of benevolence creates trust and credibility.  The players trusted him in his management of strategic decisions  whether it worked or not.

The Positive Results From La Russa's Approach
La Russa’s teams won more games than they lost because they scored more runs than they allowed; 1,523 more runs to be exact. It was 23,964 runs for La Russa’s teams in his 5,097 games, and 22,441 for the other side.

How did they score more? Well, they bested their opponents in many phases.

In the 5,097 regular-season games La Russa managed, his teams laced 1,523 more hits than their opponents, drew 686 more walks, and got hit 19 more times. Getting on base over 2,000 more times should lead to more runs.

They also did it while expending fewer outs. The 2,000-plus extra times on base came in just 1,100 more plate appearances than their opponents had. Must be all those times they led heading into the bottom of the ninth in home games.

But it wasn’t just getting on base, as that 1,523 edge in hits includes a lead in homers of 480. They got on base more and they slugged more.

La Russa’s teams also did a better job on the bases. In his career, his teams stole 854 more bases than their opponents while only getting caught stealing 27 more times. That’s an edge of about 240 runs right there.

That’s pretty well-rounded: better power, better speed, better batting, better patience at the plate. To that you can add a few other things. Despite having more guys on base, La Russa’s teams hit into 79 fewer double plays while hitting 113 more sacrifice flies and laying down 28 more sacrifice hits. Also, the edge in walks comes almost entirely due to managerial strategy: La Russa’s 686 extra walks came primarily from a 554 lead in intentional walks.

There was a downside, but it was negligible. His teams fanned 647 more times. Big deal. They hit six fewer doubles. Yawn. They also had 126 fewer triples. In all, though, his teams beat the opposition in many ways.
Source: Hardball Times

In summary, his team would defeat their opponents with an array of different approaches.

Comments From the Compass Desk
I highly recommended the reading of George Will's Men At Work if you are interested in one perspective of La Russa's approach to viewing the game of baseball. 

Computer Tony

His intellectual perspective to the game of baseball also inspired a published software game that emulated his strategic thinking skills.  Instead of the visual flashes of the current software game style, Tony La Russa' Ultimate Baseball game emphasized on the cerebral side of baseball.

Click herehere, here and here for Tony La Russa's view of Moneyball.

The Question of the Day
Do you know the technical distinction between La Russa's type of strategic approach and the over-hyped Moneyball's approach?

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