If you’ve read any of my columns thus far, you probably could see this one coming. Tommy La Stella, erstwhile OBP machine second-base fantasy sleeper for the Atlanta Braves and current Iowa Cub, has been one of the most fascinating baseball stories this year—well, at least for someone like me who likes to think about labor and contracts and the ugly side of baseball.
The short version is that La Stella, despite putting together a pretty solid year as a utility/spot start guy, got sent down to the minors after the Cubs acquired Once, Future, Past, and Present Cub Chris Coghlan. Understandably frustrated, La Stella made the unexpected move to, well, not report. He did not show up in Des Moines and held out in his home of New Jersey. Held out might be the wrong word here, as La Stella does not have the leverage that an NFL player like Joey Bosa does in his current holdout or like a young top draft pick like Jacob Groome did in this year’s Rule 4 draft. La Stella didn’t make any dramatic demands or pleas of unfairness; he just decided to take some time to think about what he wanted from his future.
Unsurprisingly, the minds at Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville have had some wonderful takes on the situation. Twitter pal and good writer Tom Hitchner produced a piece near and dear to my heart that tied film analysis to the La Stella situation in an effort to talk about anticlimax in baseball. And Ken Schultz put together a lovely piece explaining the ways in which La Stella’s holdout was not what it might seem, and that a young player might actually deserve time to get his head together.
And it’s times like this that I’m grateful to my colleagues for being such good people. Baseball Prospectus, despite its beep bop boop computers reputation, gets that people, who are sometimes flawed and complex, play the game. In the mainstream press, La Stella has not fared so well. Most notorious is the piece that Schultz critiques in his BP Wrigleyville essay, a fairly brutal polemic against La Stella by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
I don’t want to give my editors conniptions by spending an entire article getting furious at another reporter, so let me give the very quick blow-by-blow of what I find problematic about Sullivan’s piece. First he opens with a fairly hamfisted Carlos Zambrano comparison that smacks of typical Anti-Latino sentiment in major-league baseball writing. Second, the piece refuses to believe La Stella’s own explanation of his behavior, casting not-so-subtle aspersions on his claim that his refusal to report to Iowa was not about being demoted. But third, and worst of all to this leftist’s mind, he sides with management. A longish quote:
Troy Tulowitzki is still searching for his missing production 11 months after leaving Coors Field.
Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field last night for the first time as a visiting player, facing the Rockies nearly 11 months after the blockbuster trade that sent the five-time All-Star shortstop from Colorado to Toronto. Because the Blue Jays went 31-10 with Tulowitzki in their lineup last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1993 the trade was immediately labeled a success, but Tulowitzki didn’t actually play all that well in those 41 games and his contract meant neither team involved was viewing the deal as strictly a short-term move. Tulowitzki’s mediocre performance has continued this season, which has to be worrisome for the Blue Jays given that he’s 31 years old and signed through 2020 at an average annual salary of around $20 million.
When the Blue Jays acquired Tulowitzki they did so knowing that his raw hitting numbers would decline because that’s just how things work with Rockies hitters. Coors Field undeniably boosts offense, often to extreme degrees, and hitters departing the Rockies can generally be counted on to post less gaudy raw numbers in their new homes. However, projecting how Rockies hitters will fare elsewhere can be tricky due to a potential “hangover” effect playing home games at altitude can have on a player’s performance in road games. In other words, it’s not always as simple as taking a longtime Rockies hitter’s road numbers and penciling those in as his overall numbers, because the road numbers might be underrepresenting his true, non-Coors Field talent level.
Tulowitzki spent the first decade of his career calling Coors Field home and took full advantage, hitting .321/.394/.558 in 526 games there compared to .276/.349/.468 in 522 road games. Even with a hangover effect possibly dragging them down those road numbers alone would have made Tulowitzki the best-hitting shortstop in baseball from 2006-2015, so the Blue Jays gladly would have signed up for .276/.349/.468. Instead he’s hit just .226/.306/.405 in 95 games following the trade, including .214/.294/.423 in 54 games this year. Once the king of good-hitting shortstops, his .717 OPS ranks 15th among the 26 players who’ve logged at least 50 games at the position this season and Tulowitzki is the third-oldest player in that group. His post-trade fall is magnified even further by the emergence of a potentially historic group of young shortstops.
The White Sox hit seven home runs, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Carrasco toss four-hitters, and Jose Altuve goes for the cycle.
The Weekend Takeaway
There are no givens in baseball. A 10-run lead can evaporate under the misdirection of a tired bullpen, a no-hitter can be lost on a misplayed fly ball, and a ninth-inning tie can be broken on a walk-off balk. Still, there are certain markers which, once they are passed, provide a feeling of security.