Tommy La Stella has accumulated 103 plate appearances and produced 54 percent more runs than an average MLB hitter. His .411 wOBA and Ben Zobrist-esque 13.6 percent walk and 10.7 percent strikeout rates reflect the approach of not just a solid bench player, but a frequent starter.
In this post, we’ll discuss La Stella’s production and try to determine whether 3 AM should be playing even more.
Expected run value
While the utility infielder has created plenty of runs, he’s done so at perhaps an unsustainable rate. La Stella’s career ISO of .117 is nearly half that of .262 ISO he’s currently posting. And xStats, which incorporates Statcast metrics, suggests the lefty batter’s wOBA should be a lower, but still nice, .369.
Yes, La Stella’s .411 wOBA is very likely to come down, but to what level? Significant regression might not actually occur, as his has xOBA has never dipped below .340 during his tenure as a Cub. Even more impressive, La Stella’s career xOBA against lefties is over .330. In theory, he might be more than just a platoon player.
What makes TLS such an appealing option for Joe Maddon is a deep understanding of the strike zone. Compared to Javy Baez, La Stella swings at ~45 percent fewer pitches outside the zone and connects with 37 percent more pitches. This isn’t to suggest La Stella should play over El Mago — he shouldn’t — but to point out the sharp contrasts between the infielders’ approaches. Both La Stella’s o-swing rate and contact rate are at least 15 percent better than MLB averages.
The eye test matches the defensive numbers: La Stella isn’t the best defender. Totalling a -5 and -4 DRS at second and third base, respectively, the infielder falls flat in comparison to Kris Bryant and Javy at those infield spots. La Stella playing regularly would mean sacrificing defensive value with the belief his bat would make up that cost.
So should La Stella play more?
The answer isn’t a hard-and-fast yes or no. Instead, Maddon might be inclined to play La Stella more frequently against pitchers with whom he matches up well. Doing so might mean Javy, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., or Jon Jay will sit more. In fact, we already saw in Sunday’s lineup how La Stella’s insertion led to Jason Heyward playing center field.
Simply put, La Stella can hit. It’s just a matter of if he can hit like this on a more frequent basis. To this point in the season, the Cubs have had another well-above-average bat hanging out on the bench. But Maddon, who stated that this is now the point in the season when winning is prioritized over development, might be inclined to play 3 AM more often moving forward than any of us imagined.