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Hey, (La) STELLA!

Tommy La Stella’s first season as a Giant was mostly derailed by injury, but his approach to the plate fit well with the team’s hitting ethos.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game One Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

2021 stats: 76 G, 220 AB, .250/ .308/ .405, OPS+ 92

Tommy La Stella is one of those guys that when you see them suited up in a San Francisco Giants uniform, it just makes sense.

He fits the character—or caricature—of some of the stars on the team. Sturdy, un-flashy, straight-laced, thirty somethings who you wouldn’t bat an eye at if he got on the BART at Embarcadero wearing a Patagonia down jacket over a light blue button up and khakis.

You see him take an at-bat, field a grounder in the gap, pull into second after slashing a double and you see Buster Posey. Alex Wood–so brash! Logan Webb–too young! Camilo Doval–too cool! Tommy La Stella–he’s your financial advisor.

Side-track: It’s fun to mentally superimpose La Stella’s face over Kim Hunter’s flat, level-lipped expression as she descends the stairs towards Marlon Brando’s shirt-torn and anguished heap.

My favorite thing about Tommy La Stella: When he steps out of the box during an at-bat.

He rests his bat against his crotch, leans forward, opens his hands like a book, spits into his gloved palms and gently rubs them together. It’s like the Nomar Garciaparra batting routine without the OCD. It’s meditative, centering akin to a prayer.

He then steps back into the box—with a slightly open stance—and probably takes another pitch.

The demeanor is on par with the approach. La Stella doesn’t calmly go up to the plate just to start hacking immediately at anything within reach. He has a game plan, he’s looking for a certain pitch and he is confident enough to wait for it. The Giants, as a whole, did this extremely well. Tommy was no exception.

La Stella saw 1,034 pitches over 242 plate appearances in 2021, averaging 4.27 pitchers per plate appearance. That is high. If he maintained that rate over 500-plus PA’s he would’ve led the National League. The Giants as a team were third in the Majors and first in the National League, averaging 3.99 pitchers per plate appearance.

Of course, that stat does not mean you are the most feared hitter in the game by any means, but logically, the more pitches you see an at-bat, the deeper into counts you are likely to go, which increases the likelihood that the pitcher will deliver a pitch into the zone.

Tommy La Stella’s 2021 season was rough. Not necessarily because of his play, but because it was handcuffed by a hamstring strain that led him to miss basically all of May, June and July before returning in early August.

When he returned, what fans did see of La Stella was underwhelming overall. His start in April was terrible offensively; his return from the IL was improved, but still dulled. September was the month in which he showed flashes of what the front office saw to sign him to a three year/$18.75 million contract. Every offensive category jumped. He walked more, hit for more power and notched an .824 OPS. Those numbers are more closely aligned with his 2020 totals, split between the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, in which he finally shed the career long utility moniker and became an everyday player (albeit in an extremely shortened season.)

As I write this, Tommy La Stella is currently recovering from surgery on his Achilles that will sideline him until March of 2022, a month after players (usually) start reporting for Spring Training.

He is tentatively the Giants starting second baseman, but who knows how his recovery will affect his play. A slow start? Lingering, vestigial pain? Various stints on the IL?

Or he might just take the field with his head down, a blank expression on his face, and play 145 games of baseball.