About a year ago, MLB.com put out an article, about the best switch-hitting team of all time. It had plenty of high profile names on it. I dug into the stats to look at something that I think was likely quite important for those guys. What were their splits from the left and the right sides of the plate?
What you are about to see are the 21 players listed by MLB as the best switch-hitting lineup that you could make and their reserves. The first grouping is how those players hit as left-handed batters (average - AVG, on base percentage - OBP, slugging - SLG, and on-base plus slugging - OPS). The second grouping is how those players hit as right-handed batters (with those same categories). Finally, the third grouping is the difference between how they hit as a lefty vs. how they hit as a righty. Negative numbers mean they hit better right-handed and positive numbers means they hit better left-handed. It is sorted by the difference in OPS between the splits. There are totals at the bottom.
While the exclusion of Ozzie Smith at shortstop pissed me off as a Cardinals fan, I got past that. I'll give you a moment to do so as well. . . . . . . . . . okay, moving on.
The first thing I want you to notice is that the average of those 21 players is that they hit a total of 32 points of OPS better from the left side of the plate. That is huge because that is the platoon advantage. Switch-hitters typically bat around 3 times more often as a left-handed hitter (LHH) against right-handed pitching (RHP) than as a right-handed hitter (RHH) against left-handed pitching (LHP). Lance Berkman easily took the biggest advantage of this as his OPS was 218 points higher against RHP.
The second thing I want you to notice is that only 4 of those players had a split higher than 75 points of OPS for their careers and all of those four were better against RHP as a LHH. In fact, 12 of the 21 (57%) were within 50 points of OPS as one another. To be a successful switch hitter, you have to be good on both sides of the plate is what I'm getting at. You can't have ginormous splits.
The topic at hand that I would like to discuss today is that Tommy Edman has some pretty hard splits when it comes to hitting left-handed (against right-handed pitchers) not nearly as well as he hits right-handed (against left-handed pitchers). Not only that, but the discrepancy just continues to get worse and worse year over year.
In 2019, Tommy Edman was .154 points of OPS better as a RHH than a LHH in his first season.
In 2020, he was .212 points of OPS better as a RHH than a LHH.
In 2021, he has been .385 points of OPS better as a RHH than a LHH.
Not only is Tommy quite one-sided each year, but the better side for Edman is the small side of the platoon each and every season. He hits LHP much better than he hits RHP. So far in his career, Edman has been able to bat as a right-handed hitter in just 187 of his 873 plate appearances. That's 21.4% of the time Edman hits from the right side. The right side is the side from which his OPS is 36% better! So 78.6% of the time he gets to be worse by 36%. Ugh.
Ever since Edman was brought to the majors in 2019, and even when he was hitting very well in 2019, I have loved Edman's swing from the right side. I have not been enamored with it from the left side, to be honest. I haven't hated it by any means, but the results recently are not good.
The next thing that I want to do is to look at some spray charts of Tommy Edman's, by season. We'll look at line drives and fly balls on the left of each and ground balls on the right of each.
Edman as a lefty spray chart in 2019 (liners/flies on left, grounders on right):
Edman as a lefty spray chart in 2020 (liners/flies on left, grounders on right):
Edman as a lefty spray chart in 2021 (liners/flies on left, grounders on right):
Lastly, here's a look at all of Edman's ground balls as a lefty (2019-2021) in a spray heatmap:
My question to you is, is it too easy to get Tommy Edman out as a left-handed hitter? Does he fall into the typically thought of Matt Carpenter category of not being able to beat the shift as a lefty?
Yes and no. Tommy Edman still hits .263 from the left side of the plate, but he's still ultra aggressive there, getting on base less than 32% of the time. It's the slugging that is so low there. He simply doesn't hit the ball as well from the left side of the plate at all. He's got a .385 career slugging percentage from the left side - nearly 200 points lower than his right side totals. What's worse is that it has gotten worse the more he's played. Let's compare numbers.
2019 (92 games and 349 PA): .304/.350/.500/.850
2020-21 (121 games and 524 PA): .258/.313/.376/.689
RIGHT HANDED NUMBERS
2019 (92 PA): .321/.380/.583/.964
2020-21 (95 PA): .326/.368/.573/.941
LEFT HANDED NUMBERS
2019 (257 PA): .298/.339/.471/.810
2020-21 (429 PA): .242/.301/.332/.632
His overall numbers are 160 points of OPS worse in 2020 and 2021 as compared to his debut in 2019. I think Cardinals fans are holding onto those early numbers way too hard. He got 26.4% of his plate appearances from the right side in 2019 and had an overall .850 OPS. However, while his RH numbers have slipped by 23 points in the last two years from that first partial season, his left-handed numbers have slipped by 178 points - nearly 8x as much. To compound the issue, Tommy Edman has only faced LHP 18.1% of the time during this two-year stretch.
Edman's sample has been cut short a bit by coming up late in 2019 season, by the 2020 season being impacted by COVID, and by me writing this just 2.5 months into the 2021 season. Would a slightly larger sample help us? Let's take a look at some more numbers, this time from the minor league spectrum.
In 2016 in the minors, Tommy Edman had the following splits.
RHB v LHP - .351/.414/.649/1.063
LHB v RHP - .258/.395/.331/.726
RHB v RHP - 2 PA - .500/.500/.500/1.000
As you can see, the team (or Edman) attempted to hit RH against a RHP twice and was successful once. However, he was 337 points better as a righty that year even discounting those two plate appearances.
In 2017 in the minors, Tommy Edman had the following splits.
RHB v LHP - .301/.326/.451/.777
LHB v RHP - .246/.321/.351/.673
LHB v LHP - 1 PA - .000/.000/.000/.000
Edman was 104 points better against LHP as a RHH that year, again keeping this trend alive.
In 2018 in the minors, Tommy Edman had the following splits.
RHB v LHP - .331/.385/.438/.823
LHB v RHP - .291/.344/.389/.733
Once again, Edman was better. This time he was only better by 90 points.
In 2019 in the minors and majors combined (I can't split), Tommy Edman had the following splits.
RHB v LHP - .331/.390/.622/1.012
LHB v RHP - .295/.339/.466/.805
Edman was 154 points better in the majors and 207 points better overall against LHP as a RHH in 2019 - so the minors numbers were probably around a 250 point split or so. Potentially higher.
Well, what about those fancy xStats that I like so much? What do they tell us? Is Edman just getting robbed left-handed and getting lucky right-handed? Well, again I have to answer with Yes and No.
In an attempt to not overwhelm with too many stats at once, I broke this down into several charts. This first chart on the left has Edman's numbers as a lefty on the top and Edman's numbers as a righty on the bottom (as all of the following charts and data will have - lefty on top and righty on bottom. As you can tell, Edman has gotten a lot more PA (plate appearances) and balls in play (BIP) against lefties in aggregate.
Edman puts about 2.5% more balls in play as a RHH than he does as a LHH. He also has a better walk to strikeout ratio as a RHH. He walks 42.6% of the times he strikes out as compared to as a LHH walking just 31.6% of the time that he strikes out.
As you can see in the last column, he also has a higher batting average on balls in play - consistently - as a RHH. BABIP doesn't stabilize until about 820 balls in play, but you'd figure that a guy can get down to first more quickly as a LHH so the BABIP should be higher unless the player simply doesn't have as good as quality of contact as a LHH. Tommy Edman doesn't. Let's look at those numbers.
When we look at expected stats, remember that they take into account exit velocity and launch angle. They do not take into account launch direction. So if I send a piss missile 110 degrees right at someone or if I send the same shot 40 feet to the right or left, they're seen as the same. That means that the shift is not taken into account on those - like I looked at with Matt Carpenter early this season. Now with Carpenter, I looked at launch direction to more accurately take those into account. I'm not doing that with 663 batted balls. I'm sorry (not sorry).
In this second chart, you can see that his BA and his xBA as a LHH align fairly nicely. His BA is slightly lower, but you'd expect that seeing how often he hits the ball to the right side of the infield on the ground as a LHH. As a LHH, his OBP trails his xOBP by only 7 points, his SLG is nearly right on his xSLG, and thus the OPS and xOPS are nearly identical - overall. You can see that trend is reversing, though. As he hits into the shift more and more his OPS is beginning to quickly trail his xOPS by more and more a season. If you look at how Edman does hitting as a right-hander, in two of his three seasons his BA is well above his xBA, his OBP is well above his xOBP, and in all three seasons his SLG and OPS outrank his corresponding xStats. Why might this be?
This next chart to the left explains why this might be. If you look at the chart you can see that Tommy Edman's wOBA is better than expected as a RHH and worse than expected as a LHH. The reasoning behind that is Tommy Edman has averaged hitting the ball over 3.5 mph harder as a righty than as a lefty. His max exit velocity is about 4 mph harder as a RHH. He also puts slightly more loft on the ball as a RHH as well.
Coming up next are two charts that go together. They will expand upon how hard Edman is hitting the ball combined with the types of balls Edman is hitting. As you can see below, as a lefty Edman hits more line drives and less fly balls. That's probably a good thing as he doesn't hit the ball nearly as hard as a LHH. You don't want lazy fly balls. And while he hits about the same percentage of grounders, he actually hits LESS into a potential shift by pulling grounders less often as a LHH. Hopefully nobody on other teams is scouring the internet here because, it would likely be beneficial to others to shift Edman as a RHH as much or more as they do to him as a LHH. Tommy Edman hits ground balls over four and a half miles per hour harder as a RHH, line drives over 5 mph harder as a RHH, but fly balls only two and a half mph harder as a RHH. So while he hits more fly balls as a righty, it's not as beneficial to him as those line drives are because of how hard he hits line drives right handed.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the above charts involving exit velocity and launch angle is that the xStats figured above do not take into account launch direction (left, center, or right) from the plate, only the vertical angle and speed. As I figured up with launch directions earlier this year in my Matt Carpenter article, I learned two things: 1) Launch direction can matter a whole lot when it comes to tru expectations of what is to happen on the field, especially when there is a grounder into a shift and 2) it takes an awful long time to do by hand, so I will not be doing that with Edman's 663 balls in play for his career. Sorry, not sorry.
Lastly, I wanted to take this one step further and see how Edman does against fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches when he bats left-handed versus when he bats right-handed. What I see when I look at this is that not only does he hit all three better when batting right handed, he hits offspeed pitches a lot better as a righty - and they have begun to throw less to him this year compared to other years. He hits offspeed terribly batting left-handed and the league is beginning to stop throwing him fastballs and feed him more offspeed pitches year over year because of it. The league has not adjusted to throwing less fastballs to him as a righty, which is interesting. I'd expect to see that number go down fairly soon as 65+% is a huge numbers (and nearly 70% in this season is another huger (yes, word now) number.
What I believe I have found today, putting numbers to the eye test that I may have actually got right this time, is that Tommy Edman is simply much better at squaring up a baseball right-handed over the course of his career. He has also been way more productive as a righty and is getting more and moreso over time. This bodes poorly for him, as you can tell by comparing his statistics to the gentlemen from the beginning of the article. Tony Phillips has the largest split in which his RHH side is better than his LHH side of any of the 21 players listed above and his split is just 59 points of OPS better as a RHH compared to Tommy Edman's current .251 point swing - nearly 5 times as much. Edman's gap is only widening at this point. 12 of the 21 players (57%) on the list were within 50 points of OPS of each other and 18 of the 21 players (86%) on the list were within 100 points.
The biggest problem lies in that not only is Edman getting worse and worse from the left side while not really improving from the right side per se, his percentage of plate appearances from the right side is dropping and his percentage of PA from the left side is rising - whether it is the Cardinals doing it (intentionally or unintentionally) or other teams noticing what I've noticed for a couple of seasons and taking advantage of it.
What does that mean? I believe it means that the Cardinals are not maximizing Edman. Should Edman attempt to maximize himself by switching to only a right-handed batter? As of now, he's .309 points better in OPS from the right side. Could/Should/Would Edman bet on himself and say that he could potentially be better than a .632 OPS hitter from the right-side of the plate against RH pitching? I do not know the answer to that question myself, but the possibility is there and I'm saying it should be discussed and potentially explored, even if not in game situations, in the future.