Prediction: MLB’s new rules should increase Tommy Edman’s overall value to the Cardinals in 2023.
Edman already provides substantial value. Last season he ranked 17th among all MLB players with 5.6 WAR, the metric that ecompasses offense, defense, and baserunning. But the quality of his established strengths will increase in 2023.
Let’s take a look …
A BOOST ON OFFENSE
Because of the restrictions on defensive shifts, the switch-hitting Edman will have more uncovered space on the right side of the infield when he bats left-handed. Teams can have only two defenders on each side of second base, and can’t flood the right side with a third infielder. For Edman, that should lead to more singles, an improved batting average, and a higher onbase percentage.
In each of his last five seasons, Edman has been better offensively when the opponent uses a traditional defensive setup with no shift. When the shift was implemented, the tactic successfully suppressed Edman’s numbers on ground balls hit to the right side.
And Edman hits plenty of grounders when batting from the left side. His ground-ball rate was 51.8 percent last season and is 47.5% for his career.
Statcast uses wOBA as a measure. Quick explanation from MLB.com: wOBA is a version of onbase percentage that accounts for how a player reached base — instead of simply considering whether a player reached base. For example, a double is worth more than a single. Don’t be confused or frustrated by wOBA. Just think of it as a fancy-pants version of batting average; the higher above .300 the better the results.
According to the Statcast tracking there was a substantial difference in Edman’s wOBA profile in 2022.
Last season opponents used the shift 60 percent of the time when Edman batted from the left side; in those situations he managed a poor .260 wOBA.
But in plate appearances with no shift – 40% of the time – Edman’s wOBA was fantastically better at .345. That’s an 85-point difference. And over the past four seasons, Edman’s annual average wOBA as a left-handed hitter was 50 points higher when he didn’t swing against shifts.
The pattern is obvious. Tommy’s wOBA improves substantially without the shift in his way. And that’s happened even with Edman’s mediocre rates in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate.
Last season, per Bill James, Edman had .324 batting average on ground balls struck to the left side or to center – and a .169 average on grounders to the right side.
In 2023, defenses will be more creative in attempting to seal off those Edman grounders hit to the right side. For example, the rules permit infielders to go in motion as the pitch is being delivered, which gives the shortstop the opportunity to sprint to give extra coverage against LH batters. But that won’t shut Edman down as frequently as we’ve seen in the past.
Last season Edman batted .265 with a .324 onbase percentage and a .308 average on balls in play. I’d truly be surprised if those numbers don’t go up in 2023.
MORE STOLEN BASES
Because of his outstanding ability to steal bases, Edman can take advantage of changes that include expanded-size bases, limits on pickoff attempts, pitchers taking a break by holding the ball for extra time between pitches, wearied pitchers stepping off the mound to regroup, and an expanded size of the bases.
This is going to be fun.
Edman had 30 steals in 35 attempts in 2021.
He had 32 steals in 35 tries last season.
Only two players – Starling Marte (65) and Cedric Mullins (64) – had more stolen bases than Edman (62) over the past two years. And over that time, Edman has a phenomenal 88.5% success rate on his steal attempts, going 62 for 70.
In each of the last two seasons Edman was rated the No. 1 baserunner in the majors according to metrics used by FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. Per Bill James, Edman has an excellent net gain of +46 at stealing bases since the beginning of 2021.
Manager Oli Marmol likes to get his team running and will be more aggressive with that in 2023. Considering Edman’s profound success at stealing bags before the new rules went into place, his thievery in 2023 should draw smiles from Willie McGee, Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith.
Since 1991, the Cardinals have had a player steal 40 or more bases in a season only five times:
- Delino DeShields (55) in 1997.
- Gregg Jefferies (46) in 1993.
- Ray Lankford (41) in 1991.
- Ozzie Smith (43) in 1992.
- Lankford (42) in 1992.
Edman should snatch 40 or more bases in 2023.
What about 50? It’s possible.
DEFENSE SHOULD REMAIN ELITE
Edman won a Gold Glove at second base in 2021, and should have won another Gold in 2022. But he split his time between second base (615 innings) and shortstop (622 innings) which made it difficult for voters to lock in on one position.
Bottom line: Edman was third among all MLB players last season with 19 Outs Above Average (OAA). Edman was fourth with 11 OAA at shortstop even though he ranked 29th at the position for most innings played. And though he ranked 24th for innings played at second base, Edman was No. 4 at the position with eight OAA.
Edman will be the team’s primary shortstop in 2023. But at both short and second base last season Edman was credited with defensive runs saved when he shifted, and was above league average in saving runs when the Cardinals didn’t shift. Edman’s range was a plus at both spots. His sprint speed was among the top 14% of all big-league players. He can cover a lot of ground, and that will likely be more important in a non-shift world.
I’m confident Edman has the speed, the range and the proven track record to be a defensive asset. He doesn’t need the shift to excel in the field.
Or, to put it another way: Edman won’t be hurt nearly as much as middle infielders who relied on shifting to make a lot of plays. Because of his elite speed and above-average range, Edman’s defensive effectiveness will still be there despite the crackdown on shifts.
The 2023 season sure looks like a “Go Tommy Go” kind of year for Edman.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, and Baseball Savant.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.