The ability possessed by the St. Louis Cardinals to develop talent internally is no secret. Seemingly every year, a prospect you’ve never heard of that sounds like his name fell out of a name generator from MVP Baseball rises to the top and makes a run. Which doesn’t necessarily make Tommy Edman unique.
St. Louis rode into the year with Paul DeJong slated to be their starting shortstop. His sample size of 86 plate appearances was enough for the Cardinals to demote him. Following consecutive years of a well below average wRC+, DeJong slashed just .130/.209/.208/.417. His wRC+ this season sat at just 25, while he also struck out at nearly a 30% clip and scarcely made any hard contact (a paltry 22.8% Hard%). That disastrous opening has left him at Triple-A Springfield since early May.
The Cardinals didn’t feature much of a safety net behind DeJong, either. While there has been something of an expectation that they could pursue someone like Xander Bogaerts before long, the only prospect relief at the position is Maysn Winn, and even he is at least a year or so away from the big leagues. Enter Tommy Edman.
Tommy Edman: Superutility Player
Running with the Cardinals since 2019, Edman has largely made his bones as a super-utility type. He’s spent legitimate time at six different positions while bringing a reliable — even if a bit unexciting — skill set to the plate.
When DeJong went down, there was an expectation that Edmundo Sosa could hold down the position for a stretch. However, he wasn’t healthy at the time. Kramer Robertson appeared in exactly one game there before being designated for assignment. Rookie Brendan Donovan has seen seven games worth of action there, but the Cardinals have shown a preference for deploying him in other spots (A Tommy Edman-type role, if you will).
As such, it’s been Edman that has really been able to latch onto the spot at the six. Which, even without the context of the Cardinals and their penchant for developing talent, represents something of a surprise. Typically, the shortstop position requires someone with a little more pop and a bit different of a profile. If you want to do it “right”, at least, Edman doesn’t seem like someone who would normally fit the bill. Instead, he’s taken the job and run away with it.
That Edman doesn’t profile as a typical shortstop says nothing about the quality of player he is. Just the type of player he is.
Tommy Edman: Extremely Good Defender
Edman’s role in St. Louis to date has been that of an irreplaceable super-utility player. He’s a plug-and-play option and has been since ’19. In logging time at all three outfield spots, as well as second, short, and third, Edman has rarely graded negatively as a defender. He had a pair of individual seasons where he fell just slightly below average at third base and in left field. His only struggle over the course of multiple years came in right. Other than that, it’s always seemed like no matter where management threw him in the field, Tommy Edman was going to find a rhythm defensively. Defensive metrics love him.
Speaking to that defensive prowess, Edman has been a wizard (of course, not The Wizard) at short. Edman trails only Jonathan Schoop among position players in Outs Above Average, with 11. Since making the transition to shortstop, he features the third-highest mark in OAA (with six) and has a UZR/150 of 8.7. It’s not super surprising, given how well he’s performed with the glove anywhere the Cardinals have placed him. But it’s been a massive upgrade over DeJong’s defensive output and likely gives St. Louis one of the best left-side defensive combinations in the game.
Tommy Edman: Quietly Effective Hitter
Interestingly, his offense is what really doesn’t fit the profile of what you’d want/expect out of a top-tier shortstop. Certainly, he doesn’t align with the expectations of somebody like the prospective target of a Bogaerts. But what Edman does do, he does well.
After a pair of seasons in which he fell on the below-average side of wRC+, Edman has driven his offensive production back to something that more closely resembles his rookie output. That year, Edman posted a wRC+ of 124 and a .196 ISO. There was some pop there. But three seasons removed from that season, we’ve seen some clear trends develop on the offensive side for Edman.
One is the loss of power. Edman was likely never going to display pop as he showed during the rookie campaign. And the fact that his .131 ISO this year is the highest since seems to support that idea. Perhaps more importantly, though, he’s driven his approach in the right direction.
Since walking at a clip of just 4.6 percent in 2019, Edman has improved each year he’s been in Major League Baseball. He’s at 8.8 percent this year. And while his strikeout rate isn’t quite as low as his fantastic 13.7 percent in 2021, you could do a lot worse than the 18.1 he’s at this year.
Tommy Edman: Elite Shortstop?
This all culminates in Tommy Edman sitting as the best shortstop in the bigs on June 30th.
Is that reality? Probably not on paper, at least. But Edman’s 3.8 fWAR leads the 21 qualifying shortstops thus far. While he obviously doesn’t bring the impact bat that would really allow him to pace himself alongside the genuinely elite at the position, Edman’s toolbox still puts him in their league: defense and speed. None of those shortstops have posted better defensive figures than Edman has this year. His 19 steals are tied for the most among the group. His walk rate is the sixth-highest, as is the culminating figure in wRC+.
The path to this level has been a fascinating one to watch. Typically, players of Edman’s caliber qualify as more of a niche type that ends up in a journeyman capacity. Versatile players tend to get shoehorned into that role, focusing more time on filling the gaps in the field than on longer-term development. That statement is likely an overgeneralization, but it’s definitely something we’ve seen in baseball in recent years. Some players of this ilk, like a Ben Zobrist, have been able to settle into a more regular position later in their careers. Others are defined by the super-utility role.
Not that that’s a bad thing. I’ve long said that my favorite type of player is a super-utility guy who can hit a little bit (Hi, Josh Harrison). What Edman has done, though, is break out of that loop and latch onto a really significant role on a contending ballclub. He’s got defensive chops and baserunning savvy. He might not be Xander Bogaerts, but being Tommy Edman is plenty fine for this St. Louis Cardinals team, now and in the future.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)