How a 30 year-old utility infielder has more home runs than Mike Trout
“Tommy is definitely showing more power. I couldn’t tell you if it’s a conscious effort to drive the ball more, if he’s just squaring up the ball better. I really couldn’t pin it down for you, but he’s been really good for us.” —Brad Ausmus, Angels manager
If you had to guess who would have the most home runs on the Los Angeles Angels by the end of April this season, the obvious answer would be Mike Trout. You might even guess Albert Pujols. Nope, it’s Tommy La Stella. He’s tied for the most home runs (seven) on the team along with Kole Calhoun and leads the team in RBIs (18). La Stella has hit seven home runs in only 74 at-bats compared to Calhoun’s 104 at-bats. He has never hit more than five home runs in a single season, but as of right now, has more homers than Mike Trout. Obviously this is a small sample size, but it’s still incredible. How is Tommy La Stella, a generous five-foot-eleven infielder per Baseball Reference, accomplishing this?!
Tommy La Stella in 343 plate appearances from 2017 to 2018: six home runs
Tommy La Stella in 79 plate appearances in 2019: seven home runs
— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) April 26, 2019
Did La Stella suddenly get stronger after he was traded from the Cubs in the offseason? Maybe a little, but the biggest different for La Stella has been, surprise surprise, an increase in his launch angle. According to The Athletic, La Stella increased his average launch angle from 8.1 degrees to 13.9 degrees.
He also worked with hitting coaches Paul Sorrento, Shawn Wooten, and Jeremy Reed on his bat path to barrel up the ball more consistently. In fact, the entire team has been changing their hitting approach to focus more on barreling up the ball and not striking out. In a league where strikeouts and home runs are rampant, the Angels are actually walking more than they’re striking out, which is benefiting La Stella. According to FanGraphs, his strike out rate in 2019 is 6.3% vs. his career strikeout rate which is 12.6%.
He also has benefited from more consistent playing time vs. his time in Chicago where Cubs manager, Joe Maddon liked to mix and match his lineups often depending on the pitching match-up. This affected La Stella at the plate because the majority of his plate appearances were as a pinch hitter. He worked on relaxing his hands more and not gripping the bat so tight.
Due to the consistent playing time that La Stella is getting with the Angels, he’s made an adjustment on being more aggressive with pitches in the zone. During his infrequent pinch-hitting appearances with the Cubs, his approach was more passive at the plate, as he was just trying to protect and slap the ball the opposite field. With the Angels, his new aggressive approach along with increased launch angle, has resulted in a significant increase in power.
“What’s gotten into this guy!?”
Tommy La Stella is now tied with Mike Trout for most home runs this season …..that’s SIX pic.twitter.com/skN2EHRuG4
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) April 21, 2019
Will this home run trend continue for Tommy La Stella? Probably not. I’ll go out on a very safe limb and say that Mike Trout will most likely have more home runs than him by the end of the 2019 season, but this is what makes baseball more unique than other sports. Many of us could’ve predicted who would be in the NBA Finals this year, but nobody could’ve predicted that a five-foot-eleven utility infielder would have more home runs in the first month of the season than possibly the greatest player to ever play baseball.