The Rundown: La Stella Should Lead Off, Weird Baseball Turning Point, Top 50 Trade Candidates

I don’t mean to push you around — and feel free to tell me to get bent — but with with the Cubs offense unwell and trying to get back to good, perhaps they need to consider moving 3 AM to the top of the order. I know it’s been a long day and some of you are probably not overjoyed at the prospect of Tommy La Stella leading off and I’ll understand if you’re gone before this paragraph ends. This is the real world, though, and it’s one in which Joe Maddon has searched in vain for a consistent No. 1 hitter.

Sure, Anthony Rizzo nearly went big fly for the third straight game and it’s fun to see the big first baseman starting things off. As for me, I’d rather see him doing damage from a couple spots down in the order. And I could be wrong, but I figured moving him into the leadoff spot was more a matter of shaking something loose, both for Rizzo and the rest of the team.

With all other options pretty much exhausted, La Stella is the best bet to hold down the top spot at this point, at least until Ben Zobrist comes back. Despite very limited opportunity this year, TLS has quietly been putting up some very solid numbers (requisite SSS warning). His 22.9 percent walk rate is the highest on the team, his 8.6 percent strikeout rate is the lowest, and his 85 percent contact rate is third (Ben Zobrist – 87.8; Jason Heyward – 87.1).

Oh, and you wanna guess who’s got the third-best hard-hit percentage (33.3) on the team? That’d be La Stella, with only Miguel Montero (35.5) and Zobrist (35.9) ahead of him. If you liked that little bit of trivia, see if you can guess who’s got the highest line-drive rate on the team. Give up? It’s La Stella again, silly-head. His 33.3 percent mark outpaces Jon Jay (29.9) and Kris Bryant (19.4).

All this adds up to a 0.4 fWAR that is equal to Ian Happ and higher than Montero (0.3), Javy Baez (0.2), Albert Almora Jr. (0.2), or Kyle Schwarber (0.0). And TLS has done it in only 35 plate appearances, which we can take in a couple different ways. The first would be to dismiss the stats as born of too small a sample to be valid. Totally get that, can’t argue with it.

On the other hand, we can look at some of those peripherals — like contact rate and batted-ball metrics that actually feed the counting stats — and see that they’re pretty well in line with his career numbers. So if we extrapolate those out over 200 PA’s, even factoring in a 20 percent drop-off over a larger sample, La Stella would be at 1.97 fWAR. That would put him second on the team to Bryant’s 2.4 fWAR. And with 97 fewer plate appearances than Rizzo, who’s at 1.9 right now.

I understand that that was a highly imperfect way to look at La Stella’s potential impact, but even applying a more significant regression would see him as one of the top-producing players on a team that has had noted issues with consistency. Maybe you don’t like the way he went AWOL last season. Maybe you’ve just got something against Eye-talians. Casting personal bias aside, though, it’s pretty clear the man for the ever-changing leadoff hitter job is Tommy La Stella.

Now Maddon’s just got to figure out who to sit in order to make that happen.

That game was weird as hell

Though the traditional line of demarcation for Weird Baseball was still almost six hours away, the Cubs and Pirates got into some strange shenanigans right from the jump Friday evening. Rizzo hit a home run that wasn’t, then wasn’t again upon review, which angered Maddon to the point that he got ejected before Rizzo’s plate appearance resumed.

I don’t know if it was that he objected to being dressed like a Red Stripe bottle — although the concept behind the Heritage Night jerseys was actually very cool — or if it was a matter of pulling a Norman Dale and making Davey Martinez manage, but Maddon was on a mission.

Given the lineup he’d constructed, it was almost as though the manager had just gotten fed up, said “F— it,” and threw a bunch of names into the air to see who’d bat where. Either embarrassed by what he’d put together or intrigued by what they’d do without him, Maddon then got himself run in an effort to spur something. And it worked! Sort of.

The Cubs lurched and stumbled into three 1st-inning runs, after which they did nothing for the next seven frames. They collected only three hits from innings 2-8, two of which came from La Stella and Eddie Butler to open the 2nd inning. Gotta love having your seven and eight hitters on first and third with no outs and then getting nothing. Still, the Pirates only did enough to hold a one-run lead.

Or should I say Martinez allowed them to get the lead by not pulling a tiring Butler when it was clear he didn’t have his best stuff any longer. Butler had managed to get two outs already, but there’s no excuse for leaving him in there against Josh Bell. A dangerous hitter as it is, Bell seems to really dial things up against the Cubs. His triple off the wall in left plated two and put him in position to score on Andrew McCutchen’s single.

Sorry to turn this into a recap, that’s not the point. The point is that all was doom and gloom, at least on the social media front, as everyone lamented another tough loss in which the Cubs merely rolled over and died. Until they went all Grinch and did that thing where their collective heart grew three sized and they absolutely destroyed Pirate pitching in the 9th inning.

By the time Juan Nicasio had thrown his sixth pitch of the final frame, the game was tied and the Cubs had the bases loaded with none out. After six Tony Watson pitches, the Cubs were up 7-4 with men on first and second and still none out. Four pitches later, it was 9-4. Sixteen pitches, six runs.

Rather than wait for the moment to come to them, the Cubs seized it and took ownership of it. Some poor pitching certainly helped, but going out there and just boatracing the Pirates like that was pretty great to see. Slightly less great was Wade Davis coming on in a non-save situation and giving up three straight hits. But you knew it wasn’t going to be as tidy as the top of the inning made it seem.

You know, you get the feeling, Ron, that this could be a turning point. Oh, I agree, Pat.

Oh man, and I forgot all about Eddie Butler having to have the sleeves of his undershirt cut off during his warmup throws.

More news and notes

  • MLB Trade Rumors published its top 50 trade deadline candidates
    • Both Pirate relievers mentioned above are tied at 19
    • Tons of potential Cubs targets and former Cubs on the list
  • Tyson Ross made his first Rangers start last night, going 5.2 inning and allowing 2 runs on 2 hits
  • I’m sure there’s more, but I just got this new retro Nintendo system and I want to play a little before I leave for my cousin’s graduation party
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