Random thoughts on La Stella while waiting for a big move

Random thoughts on La Stella while waiting for a big move

It is an anxious tension that this entire offseason has brought me. The Cubs jumped the start of the offseason with the managerial swap of Joe Maddon for Rick Renteria. This felt emblematic of a crescendo of good vibes spreading from Wrigley for the first time since perhaps the Theo Epstein hire. The Cubs major league roster saw the addition of three current top 100 prospects, and a fourth waiting in the wings only due to service time considerations. The renovations are no longer something that will be done but something that is being done. And as I wrote following the Addison Russell trade the front office would truly be playing with a full deck heading into the offseason for the first time in Chicago.

It was less than a month ago that Joe Maddon was officially announced as the 54th manager of the Chicago Cubs, and the good vibes seem to have all but disappeared. The Cubs lost on their first big target in Russell Martin in a situation I predicted nearly two months prior to occurring. The whispers are getting louder that the Cubs might not land their top pitching target in Jon Lester as well. An offseason that is all too familiar for fans of the northside Chicago team seems to be unfolding.

There is still plenty of time for the Cubs to make yet another splash, and it is debatable the need for a big fish this offseason. However, Cubs fans are left with one player acquisition to talk about at this point in the offseason. It was less than inspiring giving up on the upside of Arodys Vizcaino‘s oft injured right arm for a second baseman with few strikeouts and even fewer extra base hits. The immediate reaction was summed up here by Rice. Trading a power arm for a middle infielder seemed the direct antithesis of the move everyone was expecting the Cubs to make this offseason.

The trade struck me as odd probably more due to giving up on the hope that was Arodys Vizcaino. Cubs fans had waited for nearly two years for the promise of Arodys Vizcaino, and I was a big believer that his arm was special. The fact that the front office considered his now healthy right arm expendable dealt a severe blow to that notion. The return being a light hitting second baseman did little to cushion it. However, once the initial disappointment cleared it is an interesting addition to the team.

Tommy La Stella‘s presence on the 25 man roster creates some interesting scenarios. That is because Tommy La Stella has played 343 of his 349 games as a professional . One is second base and the other is designated hitter as a second baseman. The only other “position” he has played is designated hitter. His scouting report at Baseball America reveals why he has been limited to the one spot.

As a defender, scouts see La Stella as adequate at best. He has limited range and an average arm, but he does make the routine play consistently. He is a good baserunner but he has below-average speed.

I suppose it is possible that he could handle a corner outfield spot in a pinch, but given his limited arm and range it is hard to see him beyond manning the keystone. The question then becomes do the Cubs invest one of five total bench spot on a no pop second baseman only. Remember that one of those spots goes to a backup catcher and likely two outfields. That means that there would be room for one more infielder on the bench to cover the remaining positions. Or does the Cubs extreme flexibility in players like Arismendy Alcantara, Luis Valbuena, and Javier Baez allow them to carry such a limited player on the bench.

I must admit that my thoughts on La Stella’s role on the team was protection for having heading north from Arizona with both of Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez. La Stella’s presence provides a ready player that can fill a spot in the lineup. If the Cubs really like La Stella there is room on the opening day roster for all of them, but this also means that Baez can follow the Anthony Rizzo development path.

Jed Hoyer explained the trade as this to Jesse Rogers:

“We tried to trade for him several times in the past,” general manager Jed Hoyer said after the deal was complete. “He’s left-handed, gets on base, and doesn’t strike out a lot. Those are three things we need.”

It might be that simple. The Cubs while have an excess of middle infielders and dearth of pitchers truly did make a trade from a strength to weakness. The Cubs have a number of hard throwing right handed relievers and lack left handed bats that get on base and don’t strike out. However, I can’t help but feel that La Stella has the opportunity to earn more playing time than just a start once or twice a week at second base given roster construction. Though it should be noted that La Stella has three option years remaining and is hardly a lock to even make the 25 man roster by opening day.

I, like many people, were really intrigued by 10 THINGS I BELIEVE ABOUT BASEBALL WITHOUT EVIDENCEKen Arneson written nearly a month ago. If you have not read it please take some time to read through this piece because there are many intriguing ideas and questions raised by the piece. I want to focus on belief number 8 here for the purpose of this discussion.

Belief Without Evidence #8: Diversity is Good for Batting Lineups

This belief is related to the belief about the definition of the quality of a pitch, and to the belief of a biomechanical/psychological foundation to all of this. A lineup with too many batters with similar strengths and weaknesses can make it easier for a pitcher to settle into a psychological/mechanical rhythm and mow down such a lineup. A lineup that is diverse (some hit fastballs, some like it inside, or low, some slug, others make contact, etc.) makes a pitcher have to change his approach from at-bat to at-bat. That forces the pitcher to have to make a variety of quality pitches in order to win. It’s harder for a pitcher to win if he has to have multiple pitches working well.

So when I praised the Giants for having Pablo Sandoval, I did not mean that an entire team of hitters like Pablo Sandoval would be ideal. But having one or two guys like him in a lineup with some more patient-type hitters is a good thing.

As I said there are many thought provoking ideas contained in the article that has rightly been praised by many. My first reaction to reading this piece is a rationale for the importance of Starlin Castro to the lineup, but those feelings are only stronger regarding the unique skill set Tommy La Stella brings to the table. This is how Baseball America described La Stella as a hitter prior to his callup by the Braves.

He uses the whole field, and is a pest to pitchers because of his hand-eye coordination that allows him to work deep counts. La Stella needs to hit, because that’s his only plus tool.

The Cubs lineup in 2015 is very likely to feature Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant for a majority of the season. Now these hitters are all of varying ability levels and exact skills, but they are similar types of hitters, each is a power hitter with strikeout concerns. Similar pitch sequences and approaches can be used against the three right handed hitters. This is why perhaps despite having a much lower ceiling and less flexibility than Mike Olt, Tommy La Stella fits this roster better because he presents a different approach the opposing pitcher has to attack on the mound. The effect is likely small and is unproven. But as bullpens become better, doing damage against the starting pitcher becomes even more important. The theory is at least logically sound for why Starlin Castro and Tommy La Stella being potentially important pieces in a dangerous and balanced lineup. Their presence might make the entire lineup better.

Tommy La Stella is the type of hitter that I used to be afraid of the Cubs having. La Stella as a patient, left handed batter with excellent bat speed and less than excellent speed is a prototypical old-school number 2 hitter in the lineup. I used to fear Cubs manager’s resolve to leave a sub-optimal OBP in the top of the lineup due to type of hitter with other managers, but that fear is completely mitigated by the presence of Joe Maddon. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t one of the most exciting things about the Maddon hire was to see his ability to use and manipulate such an athletic and versatile roster. How a seemingly square peg like La Stella fits into Joe Maddon’s plans will be fascinating to watch unfold.

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