Bernie’s Offseason Audit: Next Up, The Brilliant Rookie Season Of Tommy Edman

Welcome to another edition of my offseason series, The Audit. I’m taking a look back at relevant members of the 2019 Cardinals — and then peering ahead to 2020.

Just a friendly reminder: for offense, when I cite wRC+ — aka park-adjusted runs created — a mark of 100 is the league average. And the same applies to OPS+ … 100 is average. The more that a hitter gets above 100 in either of these metrics, the better he is. A wRC+ of 150 means that a hitter is 50 percent better than a league-average hitter. An 85 wRC+ means the hitter is 15 percent below average.

Today: Infielder-outfielder Tommy Edman.

The Overview: When the Cardinals promoted Edman from Triple A Memphis on June 8, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in all candor, I didn’t expect the performance that Edman was about to deliver. He was the biggest, and most pleasant surprise of the Cards’ 2019 season. Sure, Edman had a good showing in spring training … but I’ve seen too many spring-training phenoms over the years that aren’t real, and it’s generally smart to keep the enthusiasm and expectations in check.

Edman, 24, was the exception. In 349 plate appearances he batted .304 with a .350 onbase percentage and .500 slugging percentage. He stole 15 bases in 16 attempts. He slammed 11 homers, 17 doubles and 7 triples. He was strong defensively at multiple positions.

The Good: It’s a long list of notable positives, so let’s dive in …

1. Among Cardinals that had at least 180 plate appearances, Edman led the team in batting average (.304), slugging percentage (.500), OPS (.850), triples (7), wRC+ (123), and wOBA (.357.) Moreover, he finished second in onbase percentage (.350) and stolen bases (15.)

2. Edman had 3.2 Wins Above Replacement (the FanGraphs version. That ranked 3rd among Cardinals position players behind shortstop Paul DeJong (4.1 WAR) and second baseman Kolten Wong (3.7.) But the ranking isn’t an accurate reflection of Edman’s value given that he played in only 92 games compared to 151 for DeJong and 148 for Wong. On a prorated basis, Edman had more WAR value than any STL position player in ‘19.

3. Using the Baseball Reference version of WAR, Edman had the third-highest WAR (3.8) in a season by a Cardinals rookie position player during the expansion era, which began in 1962. The only rookies ahead of him are Albert Pujols (6.6 WAR in 2001) and Bake McBride (4.3 in 1974.)

4. In Wins Above Average, Edman’s WAA of 2.7 was the second highest by a Cards rookie position player during the expansion era. Edman was topped by Pujols, who had 4.6 WAA in 2001.

5. Edman was a plus defender at three positions. In Defensive Runs Saved, he was plus 5 in 382.1 innings at third base, plus 3 in 204.1 innings at second base, and plus 3 in 77.2 innings in right field. He also played a few innings in left and center field. But to be an above-average defender at three positions? That’s rare. And exceptional. Defensively Edman turned in the fourth best performance by a STL rookie (WAR Fielding Runs) during the expansion years.

6. Edman was the Cardinals’ best base-runner in 2019. He was credited with 4.7 Base Running Runs by Baseball Prospectus; that ranked 12th among all MLB players. And remember, Edman accumulated all of that BRR in only 92 games. And Bill James Online credited Edman with a plus 27 net base-running gain.

7. When Edman started a game, the Cardinals had a record of 47-28. When Edman didn’t start the game, the Cards were an ordinary 44-43. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

8. Edman was at his best in August-September, when the Cardinals made their move to capture first place in the NL Central and return to the postseason for the first time since 2015. In 224 plate appearances over that time he batted .329, had a .379 OBP, slugged .541, posted a .921 OPS, and was 42 percent above league average offensively in wRC+.

Switch-hitting: Edman was definitely better as a right-handed batter facing LH pitching: .321 average, .583 slug, .964 OPS and a wRC+ that came in at 51 percent above league average offensively. But he was above average as a LH batter facing RHP, fashioning an .810 OPS and a 113 wRC+ that put him 13 percent above the league average.

Edman loves Busch Stadium: He batted .356 at home this past season, the third-best home average by a MLB with a minimum of 175 plate appearances. And his home wRC+ (155) was 17th among MLB hitters.

The Negatives: There were a few…

A) The shortage of walks: Edman drew 16 walks in 349 plate appearances, a 4.6% walk rate that was the 21st lowest among MLB hitters with at least 240 PA…he drew only one walk in 61 PA (1.6%) in close-late situations, tied for 3rd worst among hitters … Edman’s 4% walk rate vs. starting pitchers was 26th worst in the majors.

B) Edman batted only .208 with runners in scoring position with a .237 OBP and .377 slug for a .614 OPS. With men in scoring position Edman was 43 percent below league average offensively in wRC+.

C) Edman was a slightly below-average hitter on the road with a 96 wRC+ in 193 plate appearances away from Busch. There was a 59 percent disparity, for the worse, between his home-road offense.

D) Edman didn’t do a lot of damage on pitches clocked at 94+ mph, recording a hard-hit average of .122 that ranked 19th worst among MLB hitters with at least 240 PA. League average: .206.

Looking ahead to 2020: Can Edman sustain his rookie-season radiance? Don’t snarl at the messenger, but there are three areas that raise questions:

1. Statcast data: Edman’s exit velocity (87.1 mph) ranked 216th and put him in the 19th lowest percentile. His hard-hit rate (32.8%) put him in the 21st lowest percentile.

2. Edman benefited from fortunate batted-ball luck. His batting average on balls in play (.346) was 48 points above the overall MLB average. Example: Edman had a .290 batting average on ground balls which was way above the MLB average of .236. And His .333 batting average on grounders with the bases empty was 92 points higher than the MLB average. Given his issues with exit velo and hard-hit rate, these numbers probably won’t last.

3. Edman overcame his low walk rate in 2019 — but …. generally speaking, a skimpy walk rate can lead to problems in the quest to get on base. To his credit, Edman keeps his strikeout. rate down (17.5% in 2019.) He puts the ball in play at an elevated rate. That’s good. Unless, of course, the batted-ball luck turns on him.

On the flip side: Edman cashed in a lot on fastballs thrown outside, and taking those pitches to the opposite field. He batted .420 and slugged .700 on fastballs away last season. Edman’s veteran, experienced teammates could learn a few things by taking notes on his approach.

Speaking of which…

Cool Stuff from Inside Edge: As we’ve discussed many times, the 2019 Cardinals were awful at hitting pitches other than fastballs. But with at least a little assistance from batted-ball blessedness, Edman defied his team’s trend:

  • Edman batted .314 (43-for-137) on non-fastballs in the 2019 season … 3rd best in MLB among hitters with at least 241 PA’s; League Avg: .233
  • Edman slugged .552 on breaking pitches, 19th best in MLB, and way above the league average of .400.
  • Edman batted .310 (27-for-87) on breaking pitches … 8th best in MLB among hitters with at least 240 PAs.
  • He had a hard-hit average of .241 on breaking pitches, 13th best in MLB. League average, .154.
  • Edman had a .375 batting average on breaking pitches thrown by lefties … 9th best in MLB.
  • Edman batted .356 (16-for-45) on changeups … 10th best in MLB among hitters with at least 240 PAs. League average, .242.

Baseball Reference Projection for 2020: in 375 plate appearances a batting average of .289 with a .345 OBP and .484 slug.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie