Chicago Cubs: Grading Tommy La Stella’s season

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 12: Tommy La Stella
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 12: Tommy La Stella /

Tommy La Stella turned in a solid season for the Chicago Cubs, filling the role of utility infielder.

TOMMY LA STELLA. B+. . IF. Chicago Cubs

This season marked the third year in Tommy La Stella‘s tenure with the Chicago Cubs. Before the 2015 season, La Stella was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the North Side where he has been serving as a utility middle infielder.

In his first season with the Cubs, La Stella slashed .269/.324/.403 with one home run and 11 RBI in 33 games. A year later, La Stella appeared in 74 games for Chicago and slashed .270/.357/.405 with two home runs and 11 RBI.

Coming off back-to-back seasons in which he recorded an OBP+ of at least 100, La Stella was primed for a solid campaign.

La Stella shined in limited role

Coming into the 2017 season, everyone knew, barring injury, that La Stella would not have a significant role in the Cubs’ offense. What he would provide is a left-handed bat off the bench that can play multiple infield positions.

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With a limited role, La Stella shined when he was called upon. In 73 games (151 plate appearances), the 28-year-old slashed .288/.389/.472 with five home runs and 22 RBI. Even though La Stella has only been in the major leagues four years, he set a career high in home runs and RBI in 2017. In addition to that, La Stella logged a career-best 123 OPS+ in his limited offensive role.

Of the 125 at-bats La Stella logged in 2017, 112 of them came against right-handed pitchers. La Stella excelled when facing righties, slashing .277/.390/.455. While he posted solid numbers against right-handers, La Stella posted even better numbers when facing lefties. In 13 at-bats in 2017 against left-handed pitchers, La Stella slashed .385/.385/.615. Yes, that is a small sample size, but in 36 at-bats against left-handers from 2014-2016, La Stella slashed .306/.375/.444.

La Stella brings defensive versatility

For a utility man to stick on a major league roster, it is important they play multiple positions. La Stella does just that. This season, as with last, La Stella split his time between third base and second base. Even though the majority of his time on defense was spent at second base this season, La Stella performed better at third base.

In 92 1/3 innings at third base, La Stella recorded 14 assists, nine putouts and did not commit an error. Despite that, La Stella saved -2 runs at the hot corner while falling below the league average in range factor per game.

Along with his solid play at third base, La Stella posted good enough numbers at second base. In 133 1/3 innings, La Stella logged 26 assists, 27 putouts and one error for a .981 fielding percentage. La Stella’s -6 defensive runs saved at second base put him below league average in the category, and so did his 2.52 range factor per game.

What is La Stella’s role moving forward?

One thing is for sure; the Cubs have a stacked infield. With Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Ian Happ fighting for starting spots, there may not be room for La Stella. With that being said, a team can always use a left-handed bat off the bench, especially one that can hit lefties and righties.

La Stella is still young at 28 and will not become a free agent until 2021. With those two factors in mind, there may be a market for La Stella if the Cubs decide they do not need him anymore. I would not imagine the return would be huge for La Stella, but if the Cubs could get back a solid bullpen arm or a minor league starter, I would consider it a win.

Entering this offseason, everyone except the Cubs’ main core has a chance to be traded as the front office attempts to re-build the starting rotation. While La Stella may not be worth much on his own, he could be the deciding piece in a much larger deal this winter.

Reason for the grade

As you see, I gave La Stella a pretty high grade for the season. It wasn’t due to La Stella’s impact on the Cubs’ but rather how well he fulfilled his role. As a bench player, the number one thing you can do is get on base. In 2017, La Stella did that well.

The only knock against La Stella that I have would be his numbers on defense. He only committed one error in 2017 but his defensive runs saved and range factor was below league average.

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While La Stella’s role may not be a huge one, he does it well, and that is why he gets a solid grade.