Dynasty Inspection: Tommy Edman

A look at the Cardinals’ super utility player.

Tommy Edman climbed through the minor leagues somewhat unnoticed. Edman had success at the plate at virtually every level but his lack of power kept him well outside of Top 100 prospects lists.

Edman got noticed in 2019, though. The Cardinals brought him up midseason and Edman showed surprising pop to go with his speed. In just 92 games, the switch-hitter compiled 11 home runs and 15 steals to go with a .304 average. Edman couldn’t replicate that success in 55 games in 2020, though, batting just .250 while hitting five home runs and swiping just two bags.

As a result, the fantasy hype around Edman has cooled from a year ago. It hasn’t been a drastic fall, as Edman’s NFBC ADP still sits around 125, but he was in the Top 100 heading into 2020. For dynasty leagues, it also makes it tough to judge exactly what kind of asset owners have in Edman. Is he more 2019 or 2020?

 

The Player

 

Edman was taken out of Stanford by the Cardinals with the 196th overall pick in the 2016 draft. That summer he dominated Low-A, posting a 151 wRC+ and walking more than he struck out. He quickly moved through the lower levels of the minors and reached Double-A by the middle of 2017. From there, he remained productive as he continued to move up.

Stat 2018 (AA) 2018 (AAA) 2019 (AAA)
Games 109 17 49
wRC+ 108 108 108
Batting Average .299 .318 .305
SLG .403 .394 .513
Stolen Bases 27 3 9

You can see why the Cardinals called him up in 2019. To go along with his high batting average and ability to swipe bags, Edman was starting to hit for power, too. Of course, it seems like everybody in Triple-A was hitting for power in 2019, but it was undeniable that Edman was deserving of a big league shot at this point.

As mentioned above, once he made it to the majors, Edman had immediate success in 2019 and followed it up with a lackluster 2020. When you combine his two half seasons into one season, you see a productive fantasy player. In 147 games, Edman has a .283 batting average, 16 home runs, and 17 stolen bases. Stretch it out to 162 games and you have someone who is knocking on the door of a 20/20 season and has eligibility in four different positions. The potential value is obvious.

 

2019 v. 2020

 

Evaluating Tommy Edman‘s two seasons is a unique experience as we are dealing with not one but two small samples. That could make it difficult to figure out which season is more “real” but there is still enough data to look through to see if there were any changes from one year to the next.

Stat 2019 (92 games) 2020 (55 games)
Batting Average .304 .250
Slugging .500 .368
BB % 4.6 7.0
K % 17.5 21.1
Exit Velocity 87.4 86.5
Launch Angle 14.2 8.2

A quick look at the results shows a drop-off across the board for Edman. He hit for a lower average and less power, hit the ball less hard, and struck out more. That’s generally not a recipe to replicate success.  A potential bright spot is that he did walk more. Given that his strikeout rate also had a jump, it’s easy to theorize that this may have been a concerted effort to take more pitches as Edman’s 4.6% walk rate in 2019 was one of the worst in all of baseball. Let’s take a deeper look at his profile.

Stat 2019 (92 games) 2020 (55 games)
Zone % 50.0 48.8
Zone Swing % 66.0 60.4
Swing % 47.7 42.5
Meatball % 7.6 7.4
Meatball Swing % 79.0 64.4
Whiff % 18.9 19.1

So Edman saw slightly fewer pitches in the zone and over the plate but took a lot more offerings in general. Again, this is probably an effort to run counts deeper and take more walks. I wrote up Ramon Laureano‘s profile earlier this offseason and saw something similar. Edman’s meatball swing rate ranked in the bottom 10 of all qualified hitters while his 60.4 % zone swing rate ranked in the bottom 20. It’s tough to do damage with the bat taking the best pitches to hit that often. Like Laureano, it’s possible taking more pitches actually worked against Edman. His whiff rate remained about the same which is an encouraging sign.

It’s also important to note that Edman is a switch hitter. So far in his career, he has been a much better hitter from the right side. And while his numbers dropped from both sides of the plate in 2020, he was still an effective right-handed hitter last season, posting a 127 wRC+ and a .854 OPS. Edman’s drop-off was harsher from the left side, so let’s take a deeper look there.

Stat 2019 2020
Batting Average .298 .233
Slugging .471 .325
wRC+ 113 81
GB % 39.5 52.4

The results obviously declined across the board for Edman as a left-handed hitter. The groundball rate jumped significantly. While Edman has the speed to beat out grounders for infield singles, a left-handed batter putting the ball on the ground that much is generally not good for business. Opposing defenses shifted 31% of the time against Edman from this side of the plate, a jump from 24.8% in 2019, and his wOBA in these situations dropped from .366 to .241.  Teams are going to continue to shift against him more often unless Edman starts to show he can beat the shifts by going to the opposite field or by hitting the ball in the air more frequently.

A look below shows Edman’s slugging from the left side in 2019 and 2020.

2019

2020

The inner part of the zone went from Edman’s strength in 2019 to his weakness in 2020. How did this happen?  Well, it looks like a combination of factors. Edman probably got a bit lucky in some of these spots in his debut season. In 2019, he slugged .778 on pitches middle-inside despite only having an average exit velocity of 78.7 MPH on these pitches. That type of EV shouldn’t lead to that type of success. His expected slugging sat at .558 which is considerably lower but still much higher than his exit velocity would indicate.

Why? Well, Edman was hitting line drives on these offerings 47% of the time. In 2020, the number dipped all the way down to 8% as Edman was trading line drives for ground balls. Overall, on pitches middle-inside and low-inside in 2020, Edman had a ground ball rate over 50%. In 2019, his ground ball rate on these pitches was under 30%. That’s a drastic change and hurt Edman’s production significantly. Instead of driving these pitches Edman was taking them for strikes or pounding them into the ground. Edman will have to decrease his ground ball from this side of the plate moving forward.

 

Conclusion

 

Before getting into final words on Edman, it must also be noted that the St. Louis Cardinals were hit more by Covid-19 than seemingly every other team in the league. So while 2020 was a crazy compressed season for every team in Major League Baseball, it was even more hectic for St. Louis, who played 11 doubleheaders in a 60-game season. A 60-game season on its own will present enough randomness, but the numbers for all Cardinals’ players, including Edman, should be taken with an extra grain of salt. The fact that Edman was caught stealing in four of his six attempts further indicates that maybe everything in his 2020 profile is just noise due to the hectic nature of the season. Edman was only caught once in 16 attempts in 2019 and had an 80% success rate in the minors. It’s pretty clear that this was an atypical season.

Even though it was an abnormal season, Edman’s performance was nowhere near what it was in 2019. He hit for a lower average and less power. Edman is much better from the right side of the plate which is something of which fantasy owners in daily fantasy leagues should take note. From the left side, he needs to up his launch angle and hit fewer grounders. Easier said than done of course, but his 2019 showed that he is capable. He also needs to ditch the patient approach he showed in 2020. His contact ability is his strength and he should play to it.

Edman didn’t have power coming up through the minors, so there is a risk that the thump he had in 2019 was a mirage. Pair that with the reports that the ball will be “deadened” in 2021 and there is a chance that Edman is more of a 10-12 home run hitter than someone who could hit 20+. His value comes from his speed. His sprint speed ranked in the 95th percentile in 2020 and he had a successful track record swiping bags in the minors. In a full-time role, Edman should be able to notch at least 25 steals.

St. Louis lost Kolten Wong this offseason, so Edman will likely be the team’s primary second baseman. A major part of Edman’s fantasy value is that he is currently eligible at four different positions. He may not be able to retain that type of versatility going forward now that the Cardinals traded for third baseman Nolan Arenado, but he should bounce around the diamond enough to maintain eligibility at multiple positions moving forward. The Cardinals getting Arenado is a big boost for the offense and should be a benefit for Edman’s counting stats. He hit first or second in every game but one in 2021 and he should be penciled into one of the top spots in the order to start the season.

For dynasty leagues, Edman’s speed alone gives him a high floor. He’s only 25 and coming off a down season, so the time to buy is now, even if his early career home run numbers don’t return. Only 21 players had at least 20 steals in 2019, and Edman should safely reach that number in a full season. If we assume that Edman’s power dips a little but his stolen numbers increase (because we throw out his wonky 2020 steal rate) then we can see a player that hits .275-.280 with 10-12 home runs and 25 steals. That’s similar to prime Lorenzo Cain, but you can plug him in all over your lineup. Edman was a successful minor leaguer without power, so it’s a nice bonus if it does come back, but he can be an asset even if never does.

Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)

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