Chicago Cubs: Tommy La Stella is thriving following a change of scenery

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

Former Chicago Cubs pinch-hitting extraordinaire Tommy La Stella is off to an incredibly hot start with the Los Angeles Angels this season. His hot start begs the question as to whether or not the Cubs made a mistake letting him go.

In the offseason, the Chicago Cubs front office decided to trade their pinch-hitting specialist, Tommy La Stella, to the Los Angeles Angels. In the trade, the Cubs received pitcher Conor Lilis-White, who to this point has been irrelevant.

What has been relevant is the start that La Stella has gotten off to with the Angels. So far in his short stint, he has looked like an entirely different player with the most significant change being his power at the plate.

In his first 27 games this season, La Stella has hit seven home runs and driven in a team-leading 18 RBI. With his seven home runs, La Stella is second on the Angels and has hit one more home run than Mike Trout. La Stella even has more home runs than both former teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. That’s a far cry from the La Stella in Chicago who only hit a total of nine home runs in 303 games. Although the lefty must still have some Chicago left in him, seeing as he hit three home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in two days.

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I believe a big key in La Stella’s improvement at the plate has a lot to do with his sudden increase in playing time. Through his 27 games this season, La Stella has made 23 starts between second and third base for the Angels. That’s allowed him to make 90 plate appearances and take 76 at-bats.

2018 with the Cubs was a different story. The whole year the pinch hitter only started a total of 24 games. Through his first 27 games last season, La Stella only made 45 plate appearances to go along with 41 at-bats. Last year, La Stella didn’t take his 76th at-bat until June 10th which was his 51st game of the season.

La Stella’s breakout wouldn’t have happened in Chicago

La Stella’s hot start will most certainly have some fans in Chicago wishing the Cubs would have held on to him. With the numbers he’s putting up early on it’s hard to argue with that. But realistically I don’t think La Stella ever would have gotten the chance to shine here the way he is with the Angels.

Several obstacles stood in La Stella’s way, but the biggest was perhaps the way the fans and more importantly Joe Maddon viewed him. In Chicago, La Stella was thought of and used mostly as a pinch hitter. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was great at it, arguably one of the best Cubs’ pinch hitters of all-time.

Over his four-year career with the Cubs, he appeared as a pinch-hitter 187 times, the most in Cubs history. As a pinch-hitter, he went on to post a slash-line of .288/.404/.399. His ability to come off the bench at any moment and come up with a hit even earned him the nickname “3 AM” from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

But aside from being a pinch-hitter, La Stella wasn’t really given much of a chance to be a platoon player. Like any player in the big leagues, he needed to get consistent playing time on a more regular basis to get into a rhythm at the plate. He got that chance with the Angels, and now he’s showing what he can do.

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Now, of course, the other reason La Stella struggled to see the field was due to the talent level on the Cubs roster. When guys like Bryant, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ and David Bote play at second and third base, it’s hard to get any playing time. La Stella was the odd-man out in that scenario, which ultimately led to him being traded.

Following the trade of La Stella, the Cubs were able to go out and address a need for a veteran utility infielder. In his older age, Zobrist isn’t nearly capable of handling second base regularly, and Addison Russell was still serving the rest of his 40-game suspension. So to replace La Stella, the Cubs signed Daniel Descalso, who has been a pleasant surprise early on in the season.