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What is going on with SF Giants infielder Tommy La Stella on defense?

New York Mets v San Francisco Giants
New York Mets v San Francisco Giants / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages
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SF Giants infielder Tommy La Stella had offseason surgery on his left Achillies shortly after the conclusion of the 2021 season. He has been healthy enough to hit since the middle of May, but what is going on with him on defense?

What is going on with SF Giants infielder Tommy La Stella on defense?

Since being activated from the injured list, the 33-year-old infielder has appeared in four games on defense. This includes Wednesday's game against the Kansas City Royals in which he appeared at first base for the first time in a Giants uniform.

Additionally, La Stella has tallied 16 innings at third base and two innings at second base. When he signed a three-year, $18.75 million pact with San Francisco before the 2021 season, the expectation was that he would see plenty of time at both of those positions.

However, that has not been the case this year. His absence in the infield has compounded the issues on defense, created an odd roster imbalance, and pigeon-holed him into a role that is not necessarily a good one given his skill set.

The first issue is on defense. For much of his career, La Stella has been a below-average fielder at second base and third base, but he has been playable. Wilmer Flores and Thairo Estrada have struggled at third base and second base, respectively, with the latter grading out as one of the worst at his position in 2022.

La Stella was not great at either position in 2021, but he looked serviceable. And, serviceable would be an improvement.

Secondly, La Stella has joined Flores, Estrada, and Darin Ruf as a group of defensively-limited position players on the Giants roster. Flores, Estrada, and Ruf are defensively-limited in terms of ability right now, whereas La Stella is a function of health.

Teams tend to have one or two positionless players on the roster, so long as they can hit the long ball. However, Estrada (103 OPS+) and Flores (104 OPS+) are the only ones of the four who have proven to be above-average hitters in terms of OPS+.

This leads to the final observation, which is about La Stella's current role on the roster. The left-handed bat has served as the team's designated hitter (DH) against right-handed pitching.

His bat typically has value against righties, but the traditional DH tends to hit with more power and that has not been the case with La Stella. In 2022, La Stella is slashing .222/.250/.413 (84 OPS+) with two homers, eight RBI, and seven runs in 68 plate appearances.

The veteran infielder has eclipsed the 10-home run threshold just once (2019) in his nine-year career. So, his skill set does not necessarily match that of a typical DH.

The season is still early for La Stella and there is plenty of time to turn it around. His absence on defense is out of his control, and given that he is recovering from an Achilles injury, there is no sense in potentially reaggravating the injury. He will play when the coaching staff feels more comfortable with his health.

Perhaps, his appearance at first base on Wednesday is an indicator that his health is improving, meaning that he can fill the role that many expected. For now, he is something like fitting the square peg into a round hole.

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