It’s only been a little more than two weeks since the Arizona Diamondbacks hired Tony La Russa as their chief baseball officer, so forming any opinion on the hire at this point is premature.
There is still plenty of evaluation to do, and that likely will be followed by a good amount of change.
But there are pundits who have strong opinions on how they think La Russa’s tenure in the desert will go. That group includes ESPN’s Keith Law, who was asked by Doug and Wolf Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM how he thinks La Russa’s stint will progress.
“I don’t,” Law said. “I think he’s essentially the shadow GM and first of all, I will say it’s unfair to just look at what La Russa did as a manager and make huge assumptions about what he’s going to do in this essentially shadow GM role.
“It seems like he’s been brought in either to directly replace (GM) Kevin Towers or to hire a replacement for Kevin Towers of his own choosing.”
La Russa’s impressive résumé includes six pennants, three World Series wins and 2,365 victories. Will that translate to success in the front office? Law doesn’t think so.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see anything in La Russa’s background that says he’s got the right skill set to be the GM or this “super GM” over the GM’s position,” he said. “That’s not because I didn’t agree with a lot of his in-game tactics, but there’s a huge evaluation aspect to that job, there’s a huge people management aspect to that job that’s very different from managing players.
“The reality of baseball today is that you must incorporate analytical work into your decision making because the other 29 teams are doing it. You need to do it, at the very least, to understand what your competitors are doing. I looked at the comments by La Russa, I think on your show, that show he’s kind of anti-analytics, at least in a big part of the job which means he’s potentially leaving value on the table, but also that it’s not going to be a strength of the front office.”
On May 19, La Russa spoke with Burns and Gambo and clarified his stance on analytics. “My opinion is that it’s a valuable tool, but mostly a tool to help you identify talent and then prepare the talent,” he said. “I think the biggest problem I see is there are teams that have gone way overboard and they are really interfering with the way the managers and coaches conduct strategy during the game by running the analytics and forcing them into it.”
Law doesn’t believe a mere acknowledgement of analytics will be enough for the Diamondbacks to compete.
“When you’re dealing with a relatively low payroll, relative to your competitors, you need to be strong in areas like analytics, where you can find an advantage that doesn’t require lots of money.”
The Diamondbacks’ payroll of over $112.5 million is the 11th biggest in baseball and third-biggest in the National League West. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the sport’s biggest payroll at over $235 million, while the division-leading San Francisco Giants have a payroll of $154 million.