Since the departure of centerfielder Michael Bourn the Atlanta Braves have been desperate for a leadoff hitter. The Braves have been plugging in everyone imaginable at the leadoff spot, praying that someone would eventually blossom. The Braves have perhaps been overlooking the solution to this problem, Tommy La Stella.
Over the course of the last two years the Braves have been one of the worst teams in baseball from the leadoff spot. In 2013 the Braves finished 27th in batting average (.242) from leadoff spot, and 26th in on base percentage (.305) from leadoff spot. 102 games into this season, the Braves sport league ranks of 27th in batting average (.246) from leadoff spot, and 23rd in on base percentage (.320) from leadoff spot. These ranks put the in the same family as teams like the New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, and San Diego Padres. Not good company.
The Braves have been using B.J. Upton in the leadoff role for the last 25 games; Upton has been average at best hitting .252, with a .306 on base percentage, and 32 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances (La Stella only has 23 strikeouts in 50 games). Over the last two weeks Upton has hit .200, with a .300 on base percentage, and 11 strikeouts. Needless to say, it is time for a change.
Since being called up in May, La Stella has done nothing but impress. In 204 plate appearances La Stella has batted a nice .282 with a stellar .351 on base percentage. Something Upton couldn’t even dream of doing. This is by no means a fluke either, La Stella batted .322 with a .407 on base percentage during his four years in the minor leagues.
When I think of what kind of leadoff man La Stella would be, I instantly think of St. Louis Cardinals third baseman, Matt Carpenter. These guys have very similar approaches to the plate, are on base machines, and have proven to be very durable. Now obviously these two are not the speediest guys in the world, but Carpenter has actually been arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball despite the speed deficiency. They even boast a similar stat line, compare the 162 game average. (Remember that La Stella batted eighth early on in the year, so that contributes to the low runs. La Stella would be at the top in runs hitting leadoff, especially with the hitters the Braves have)
Tommy La StellaMatt Carpenter
La Stella actually had a brief five game stint in the leadoff role in which he only tallied two hits. But this was early on in his rookie campaign and was clearly a curtailed sample. La Stella is without question ready to take on the ropes now.
Let’s face it, La Stella is the best fit for the leadoff spot right now. He’s an on base machine — has reached base in 41 of 50 games –, doesn’t strike out, in the lineup everyday, and an excellent situational hitter.
La Stella could be the leadoff hitter of the future and the Braves are in dire need for that leadoff presence, especially with the post-season push on the horizon. Now is the time to insert La Stella into the one-hole and hopefully ride that all the way to the World Series.