Sarah's Take: La Russa can be catalyst of change
D-backs in need of spark after difficult, injury-riddled start to their season
Tony La Russa, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this July, joined the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. He will oversee baseball operations in hopes of turning around the D-backs' season.
La Russa, along with the late Sparky Anderson, are the only two managers to win world championships in both leagues during their careers. He has won everywhere he has managed. Undoubtedly, La Russa can help the D-backs have a better organization.
From the beginning of the season, nothing has gone the D-backs' way. Even before the team went to Australia to open the season -- where they had a flat tire on their bus going to an exhibition game -- they lost Patrick Corbin, their ace, for the year with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
After the Dodgers swept the D-backs in Australia, Arizona's eighth-inning setup man, David Hernandez, also had to have Tommy John surgery.
Since then, the D-backs have had serious pitching problems. Already, manager Kirk Gibson tried to revamp the starting rotation which has the highest ERA in the National League. So far, it hasn't helped. The bullpen has pitched the second-most innings in the league, just behind the Dodgers.
Knowing their offense needed improvement, general manager Kevin Towers obtained Mark Trumbo in the offseason to add power to the outfield. During his career with the Angels, Trumbo became known as a one-dimensional power hitter. Before sustaining a stress fracture in his foot in late April, Trumbo had seven home runs. With Trumbo on the disabled list for at least another month, the D-backs don't have a serious power threat, other than Paul Goldschmidt. However, don't ask the Dodgers about the D-backs' power shortage after Saturday, when Arizona hit five homers.
The D-backs are tied for last, along with the Padres, in walks. Walks are just as important as hits, sometimes more important since they wear out opposing pitchers. The D-backs have the fourth-worst on-base percentage in the National League. When a team doesn't get on base, it doesn't manufacture runs, so they must either link hits together or rely upon hitting home runs to score.
These things are difficult. Without traffic on the bases, opposing pitchers have less stressful innings, enabling them to last longer in the game. Most teams have better starting rotations than bullpens; therefore, the teams want to wear out the starting pitcher early so that they can face a middle reliever to pile up runs.
La Russa understands how to run a productive offense. Even when he had the "Bash Brothers" in Oakland during the late 1980s and early 1990s, he preached patience at the plate.
Since the D-backs are a small market team, they can't afford high-priced offensive superstars. They need to develop an innovative plan to have a long-term, productive offense. Established power hitters who know the strike zone are difficult to find, and they are expensive.
The D-backs need to develop a culture among their hitters that stresses the importance of getting on base and accepting a walk, so they can get cheaper players and have a productive offense. With La Russa's experience and willingness to try innovative ideas to help his organization be a perennial winner, the D-backs should be able to be a competitive team in the NL West, regardless of the size of their payroll.