On Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers to drop a bomb on the baseball world, sending Mookie Betts and David Price to LA for some other people. More teams got involved, with the Twins receiving one person and sending away another while the Angels were able to advantage of their neighbor’s roster crunch via another swap of more people. The Cardinals, of course, did nothing.
In absence of fun things to talk about, and with my work schedule taking up more of my time this week to prevent me from doing any real digging, I wanted to briefly hit on a few players who made a breakthrough in 2019. This doesn’t include Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson, who are two prime candidates for this sort of thing (Jack is good, look at the sliders and whiffs! Dakota is scary, look at his FIP!). Instead, I’m focusing on some players further down the totem pole who I, at least, haven't given as much attention.
I couldn't complete this list without the latest beneficiary of St. Louis Devil Magic, so we’ll start with the obvious. Both Steamer and ZiPS think a lot of what Edman did in 2019 was real talent, with the latter projecting him for 2.6 WAR in 2020. That’s a step back from his rookie campaign, but nonetheless would make him a solid contributor and one of the team’s best position players.
There’s not a ton which immediately jumps out to make Edman a regression candidate. According to his data available on Baseball Savant, he was best against fastballs but competent against breaking balls and changeups. His plate discipline metrics showed a pretty average approach – not too much chasing balls outside the zone and an average amount of swinging overall. Coupled with a contact-oriented swing, Edman both minimized strikeouts (by, you know, hitting the ball) but also limited walks by making contact before getting deep into counts – Yadier Molina was the only Cardinal who spent less time in 3-ball counts.
When Edman hit the ball, the results were great – he led the team with a wRC+ of 123 – and the underlying contact quality was solid. Edman probably won’t put up an ISO near .200 next year unless the ball stays juiced, and some of his offense improvement was fueled by a .346 BABIP; had he qualified for the batting title, that .346 BABIP would have been the 13th highest rate in the league. The projections forecast both his power and batted ball fortune to regress in next year, which would drag his overall line down from very good to slightly below average.
I might be willing to give Edman a bit more credit for his BABIP, as he’s now run a .340+ rate over his last 1,150 plate appearances if you count the high minors. Among 225 players with at least 250 batted balls last year, Edman was near the 80th percentile in terms of the frequency of balls hit between 0 and 20 degrees (“high” grounders and low liners). The players who ranked ahead of Edman had an average BABIP of .338, and the next ten behind him were at .316. Combine a top-of-the-ball approach with his speed, and you have a player who will probably run higher BABIPs than average.
On the other side of the ball, Edman is potentially more talented. He seemed to handle the outfield much better than expected despite almost no experience out there as a professional. In so-limited-I-shouldn’t-even-be-saying-this opportunities in the outfield, he was +2 outs above average and +3 runs by DRS and UZR. Obviously, that doesn’t definitively tell us he’s a good outfielder, but it validates the eye test results that he was at least capable.
On the infield, he was another +2 outs above average and came in at +8 and +2 by DRS and UZR, respectively. Again, each validates our eyes which told us that he looked like a good defender. Strangely, Edman was 3 outs better going right than left, making him one of only 25 infielders who were better going to their arm-side than glove-side. Maybe that's a benefit of being able to hit left handed.
All that is to say what you probably already know. Edman is a good baseball player who came from seemingly out of nowhere. He probably won’t be as good in 2020 as he was in 2019 (at least on a rate basis), but he’s still likely to be a key piece for the Cardinals. Sometimes, analysis just confirms what you thought you already knew.
My intro may have led you to believe that this article would talk about more players than Tommy Edman. That was originally my intention, but then I found more things to say about Edman than I thought I had. If the Cardinals continue to be boring over the next few weeks, maybe I’ll get around to the other players I had in mind (Wong, Brebbia, and Gallegos if you must know). I imagine I’ll have less to say about them, if that article comes to fruition.
Anyways, thanks for reading. Pitchers and catchers report in five days.