Tommy La Stella played a valuable role for the A’s down the stretch after being acquired from the LA Angels at the 2020 trade deadline.
Sometimes, the most unheralded players are the best contributors to a team’s success. The Oakland A’s know that better than most.
Infielder Tommy La Stella fits the above description well. A late bloomer in his own right, he’s not the flashiest or most dynamic player on the field at any given moment. No one would mistake him for Fernando Tatis Jr. or even his own teammate Matt Chapman, who is renowned for his gold glove and elite bat.
But make no mistake about it, when La Stella played in 2020, he made an impact.
In 28 games played for the Angels in 2020 before his trade to Oakland, the veteran second baseman posted a .371 OBP, .845 OPS and 131 OPS+ across 117 plate appearances, all well-above average outputs, even if prorated over a normal 162 game sample size.
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In a similar 27 game regular season stint with the A’s following the trade, La Stella recorded a nearly identical .369 OBP, a less robust but still solid .792 OPS and a 124 OPS+ across 111 plate appearances.
His overall stat line for 2020? A .281 batting average with a .370 OBP, .819 OPS and 127 OPS+. A very productive season by most standards.
Those numbers also don’t stray too far off from his career line of .281/.349/.754, an encouraging sign that he can sustain his 2020 pace going forward.
His defense is rather middling, however, racking up a -1.6 UZR according to FanGraphs, which indicates his fielding leaves something to be desired.
La Stella’s defense is graded across multiple positions, though, and is not an overall liability in the field, which is the more important thing to keep in mind here.
In making the case to retain La Stella, it’s worth noting that the A’s don’t have any immediate replacements lined up to succeed the sixth year veteran should he depart in free agency this off-season.
Utility-man Chad Pinder is capable of playing the position, but probably should not assume regular duties at the keystone. Instead, he’s best served in his current role as a… utility man.
What’s more, Oakland’s farm system is completely devoid of second base prospects. While the team has multiple shortstop and third base prospects who could transition to second base upon their arrival to the big leagues, those players are years away from making any sort of impact, further magnifying the need to address the second base hole.
And while the A’s may see a culture change this offseason due to the potential departure of longtime front office executive Billy Beane, the team may still find themselves cash-strapped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the idea of splurging for a major free agent to fill the second base void (DJ LeMahieu?) is probably out of the question.
The A’s haven’t had a second baseman as consistent as Tommy La Stella since Jed Lowrie or even Mark Ellis. La Stella’s hitting tool was clearly on display in 2020, and the team should be able to live with his glove considering it isn’t an outright liability.
With all this in mind, it’s time for Oakland to herald an unheralded player.