The Oakland A’s have been one of Major League Baseball’s best teams in 2020. Heading into games played on September 16th, the A’s have a 30-19 record to put them 5.5 games ahead of the second place Houston Astros for the AL West lead. Before the trade deadline on August 31st, the A’s bolstered their roster my acquiring infielder Tommy La Stella from the Angels in exchange for former top prospect Franklin Barreto. Although La Stella isn’t the best player on the A’s, he will be their x-factor down the stretch and in the playoffs.
La Stella has been off to a productive start at the plate in 2020 slashing .277/.368/.447 with a .354 wOBA, .345 xwOBA, and 126 wRC+ across 44 games. La Stella hasn’t hit for much power in 2020 (.170 ISO) but he makes himself a tough out at the plate by only striking out at a 4.3% (100th percentile) clip. If he is able to keep up his current production at the plate, La Stella will set up his teammates by giving more opportunities with runner(s) on base. This forces opposing teams into high leverage situations earlier and more often.
Due to the struggles of Marcus Semien (whole season) and Ramon Laureano (since returning from his suspension on August 18th), La Stella will be a very important bat at the top of the A’s batting order. Semien, one year removed from a season in which he had a 7.6 fWAR placing third in the AL MVP voting, has really struggled at the plate in 2020. Semien is slashing a mediocre .227/.299/.392 with a .301 wOBA, .290 xwOBA, and 91 wRC+. Even though he’s been struggling, Semien has still found himself in the top third of the A’s batting order. In 19 games before he was suspended, Laureano was off to a hot start at the plate slashing .262/.398/.462 with a .370 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Since returning from his suspension Lauerano hasn’t been nearly as good as he was before his suspension slashing .202/.321/.315 with a .291 wOBA and 84 wRC+ across 26 games. Unlike Semien, Laureano has been moved down to the bottom third of the lineup.
La Stella’s importance to the team became more apparent than ever when it was announced star third basemen Matt Chapman was placed on the IL and would miss the rest of the 2020 season. Due to his ability to play third base, La Stella could find himself starting at the hot corner in the playoffs depending on how Jake Lamb, Tony Kemp, Chad Pinder (assuming he returns off the IL), and Vimael Machin finish their seasons and how manager Bob Melvin decides to align his players.