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Angels In The Infield - The Rise of La Stella and Fletcher


The Los Angeles Angels have suffered injuries all across their infield this season, which has led to them being forced to play journeyman utility infielder Tommy La Stella and fringe-prospect David Fletcher in regular roles.

However, that decision is paying off in a big way for the Halos, as both players are hitting out of their mind to start off the 2019 campaign. And while there is reason to be suspicious of both player's performance so far, there is also a lot to like when taking a deeper look under the hood.

Here are a few reasons to doubt La Stella and Fletcher's 2019 seasons, and a few reasons to believe in them going forward.

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Tommy La Stella, 2B/3B

(.301/.388/.611, 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 0 SB)

What the heck is going on? Journeyman utility infielder Tommy La Stella has stepped into a starting role for the Angels, and he is absolutely crushing the ball this season. It's mid-May, and La Stella currently has 11 home runs. He hit 10 home runs in his first six MLB seasons COMBINED, which should tell you all you need to know about how sustainable this power surge is.

Here's some more info though, in case you need it: La Stella's exit velocity of 88.5 and his hard hit rate of 34.6% are in the 39th and 31st percentile in the league, which doesn't bode well for his future success. His xSlash line of .291/.384/.507 is good, but that slugging percentage is 100 points lower than what he's actually slugging, which points to some power regression - and probably soon.

However, that doesn't mean La Stella is completely useless, as his contact numbers are outstanding. Currently, he has a nice 9.8% walk rate and a minuscule 6.0% strikeout rate - which is near the top of the league.

La Stella has always shown excellent plate discipline, and there's a reason to believe that he can hold an on-base percentage in the .360/.370 range all season, which makes him valuable in OBP formats. While his strikeout rate is considerably lower than his career norms, he has made tangible improvements to his chase rate and his swinging strike rate so these changes may be legitimate. I don't think he'll hold a strikeout rate of 6% all season, but there's a reason to think that his high-contact, high-OBP approach will keep him fantasy relevant even if his power numbers drop off precipitously going forward.

Plus, his performance so far has granted him a starting role in LA, and he's hitting near the top of the order next to Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, which makes him a nice source of runs and RBI. I'm rolling with La Stella in 12+ team leagues while he's hot, although don't be afraid to cut bait when the power surge eventually ends.

 

David Fletcher, 2B/3B/OF

(.299/.342/.438 3 home runs, 16 RBI, 3 stolen bases)

Although he doesn't have the power numbers that La Stella does, Angels second baseman David Fletcher has posted quietly excellent numbers so far in 2019. His contact numbers are jaw-dropping, as Fletcher is posting just a 6.2% walk rate and a 5.5% strikeout rate, which means he puts the ball in play roughly 90% of his at-bats.

Digging deeper, Fletcher has a ridiculous 94.8% contact rate on the season, posting a tiny 1.8% swinging strike rate and a 24.7% o-swing rate, some of the lowest numbers in the league.

Making a lot of contact is obviously good, but it doesn't necessarily equate to fantasy success. However, xStats thinks Fletcher is actually getting unlucky on balls in play. He sports a .334 xBA, which is one of the best in the league. That's right, xStats thinks David Fletcher should have one of the highest batting averages in all of baseball, even though he's only hitting .299.

The rub here is that Fletcher has frighteningly little power to speak of. His 84 mile per hour exit velocity, 1.6% barrel rate and 20.5% hard-hit rate are all among the worst marks in the league, and while he has three home runs it seems very unlikely that he'll reach double-digit round-trippers this season.

Fletcher does have some speed (75th percentile in sprint speed), and he could get 10/12 steals, but really he's just an empty batting average who will get the occasional run and RBI thanks to being in a lineup with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

I'm not ready to roster him in 12-teamers, but in deeper formats, he's a nice batting average stabilizer in the middle infield. Playing time long-term could be a concern with Zack Cozart, La Stella and potentially Luis Rengifo in the mix around the infield. It looks as if Cozart is taking a backseat lately and could be out of the team's plans now that others are stepping up. Rengifo is a nice prospect but may not be quite ready for an everyday role yet. In the near term, both Fletcher and La Stella can be rostered in deep enough leagues if you need a boost in average and runs.

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