Angels' Tommy La Stella is slugging homers at career pace thanks to new upright stance
La Stella had 10 career HRs entering the season; he now has 11 this season
In the middle of May, we're always bound to see some funkiness on the leaderboards, but perhaps the biggest head-scratcher in baseball is Tommy La Stella sitting 10th in the AL with 11 home runs. He's leading his team despite having 45 fewer plate appearances than Mike Trout. He'd be tied for the lead with his old team with Javier Baez, one ahead of Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo.
This is the same Tommy La Stella that hit one home run last year. Check this out.
Small sample? Yeah. Absurd? Absolutely. His seasonal home run totals before this year went 1, 1, 2, 5, 1. He's at 11 during an off day on May 16 while hitting home runs at a higher rate than everyone in the AL except Gary Sanchez and Mitch Moreland.
What in the actual hell is going on here?
First off, regular playing time doesn't hurt. The Cubs just didn't have room for him to get regular at-bats, but now he's getting regular playing time with the Angels. It's difficult to get into a groove while hardly ever playing and a lot easier when playing everyday.
More importantly, though, La Stella has settled on a new batting stance (OC Register has more on this) in which he's standing much more upright than in years past. Here's La Stella's 11th homer that he clubbed on Wednesday. Note him standing nearly completely straight up:
A fun byproduct of standing more upright is La Stella is hitting a lot more balls in the air with authority. Yes, the launch angle craze can claim La Stella, even though he said it wasn't a goal heading into the season. His launch angle last year was just 8.1 degrees. He was pounding the ball into the ground, hitting grounders a whopping 52.8 percent of the time. While his line drive percentage this season is about the same as last year, he's converting a bunch of those grounders into flies now.
Line drive %
Fly ball %
It's not just hitting fly balls instead of grounders, obviously, as La Stella's hard hit percentage has gone from 31 to 44.8. A player has to hit the ball hard in the air for the launch angle increase to produce home runs and that's exactly what La Stella is doing.
This level of power isn't going to continue for La Stella. He's hitting 28.2 percent of his fly balls over the wall, which is the same percentage as the hulking Dan Vogelbach in Seattle and in the range of stacked mashers like Willson Contreras and Franmil Reyes. He's ahead of Luke Voit, Javier Baez and Khris Davis. La Stella is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. He won't continue to power up in the range of those guys.
Still, La Stella has only struck out eight times this season in 133 plate appearances. Someone who makes contact as well as he does while hitting the ball hard has the tools for sustained success. The power surge won't continue at this rate, but there are certainly reasons to believe the breakout season is real.
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