With the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in town, second baseman Kolten Wong is receiving a lot of attention. In the Crew’s 2-0 win Tuesday, Wong peppered his former team with three hits and an RBI.
Two of the hits were doubles, including the third-inning bloop that produced Milwaukee’s second run.
Another Wong blooper stung the Cardinals.
The first blooper happened last offseason.
I’m referring to the Cardinals’ surprising decision to decline the $12.5 million option on Wong’s contract for 2021. The opportunistic Milwaukee front office was delighted to swoop in and sign Wong to a two-year deal worth $18 million plus an option for 2023.
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and his front-office staff wanted to go with the cheaper option, plugging in Tommy Edman at second base. Edman is making $596,000 this season and won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until 2023.
We can’t ignore another reason behind Mozeliak’s decision: Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals were committed to paying Carpenter a guaranteed $18.5 million this season in the final installment of a two-year contract extension.
Carpenter was going to be on this roster; the bosses gave no consideration to letting him go and eating the $18.5 million. That was never a question.
With Carpenter totally secure on the 26-man roster, the plan was to use him in a variety of roles: backup at first base and third base, and make starts at second base when Edman had a day off or played right field.
Part of the thinking was having the option of slotting Carpenter’s lefthanded swing in the lineup — at least on occasion — when the Cardinals were set to face a difficult righthanded starting pitcher. Edman struggles against RH pitching, so Carpenter gave manager Mike Shildt a potential platoon piece.
By and large, Shildt has virtually ignored Edman’s vulnerability against RH pitching. More on that later, but only two National League hitters have taken more plate appearances vs. RHP than Edman this season, and both are Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
Shildt factors defensive ability into his lineup decisions, and Carpenter is a liability at second base. According to Fielding Bible, Carpenter has cost the Cardinals seven runs this season in hos 214 innings at second base. Yikes.
Edman is substantially better than Carpenter at second base. And he’s a superior baserunner. There’s also this: Shildt overvalues Edman’s offense. Or perhaps the manager is in denial.
Among MLB second basemen that have at least 250 plate appearances this season, Edman ranks 18th among 21 in adjusted runs created. Basically, he’s 12 percent below average offensively. Wong is 16 percent above league average offensively.
The Cardinals likely have another long-term plan in mind — install top prospect Nolan Gorman at second base — but that had nothing to do with their decision to reject Wong’s 2021 option year. The key word there is “year.” Had the Cardinals gone the other way, and kept Wong in place, the team had no contractual commitment to him beyond ‘21. After a final season (presumably) in St. Louis, Wong wouldn’t have blocked Gorman or any other player.
Was this the right call by Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch? If you put a premium on playing time, then Edman is your guy. Wong has retreated to the Injured List three times this season, and Edman is among the most durable players in the majors. But Wong has done more with fewer opportunities, so what does that tell us?
If Edman’s multi-position versatility appeals to you, I get that, because Wong is used exclusively at second base. But this is also irrelevant; had the Cardinals stayed with Wong at 2B this season Edman would have shifted into a busy and helpful super-utility role.
To me it comes down to four things when comparing Edman and Wong: (1) their overall value this season; (2) onbase percentage at the leadoff spot; and (3) performance vs. RH pitching; (4) quality of defense.
Wong has the edge in all four areas.
Edman has one edge over Wong: baserunning. I’ll get to that in a bit.
If that’s all you wanted to know, you may stop reading now.
But I want to put the key components on display to give you a more informed view of why Wong is better than Edman in 2021 despite playing fewer games because of injuries.
I’ll include their performances vs. RH and LH pitching, assess their skills as a leadoff man, take a look at their defense, examine the baserunning, and post each player’s total value based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR.)
Remember: Wong strictly bats lefthanded; Edman is a switch hitter.
(Note: you’ll see the wRC+ stat in here. Don’t be scared. It’s a snapshot — runs created by a hitter after adjusting for ballpark and league effects. A wRC+ of 100 is the league average.)
When Batting Leadoff
- Leadoff OBP: Wong .345, Edman .308
- Leadoff OPS: Wong .805, Edman .687
- Leadoff wRC+: Wong 115, Edman 89
Conclusion: Wong is 15 percent above the league average. The Edman is 11 percent below average. Granted, Dylan Carlson is taking most of the plate appearances at No. 1 in Shildt’s lineup. But Edman has 379 plate appearances as the Cards leadoff man this season. And only 11 MLB players have more PA at the No. 1 lineup spot than Edman. So it’s fair to compare Wong and Edman’s onbase stats at a table-setting spot in the lineup.
Batting vs. RH Pitching
First, a reminder that roughly 80 percent of MLB plate appearances this season have been taken against right-handed pitchers.
- Average: Wong .267, Edman .247
- OBP: Wong .339, Edman .295
- Slugging: Wong .438, Edman .333
- OPS: Wong .777, Edman .628
- wRC+: Wong 108, Edman 74
Conclusion: Wong is eight percent above league average offensively vs. RH; Edman is 26% below average. Huge difference, obviously. Wong in a rout.
Batting vs. LH Pitching
- Average: Wong .326, Edman .281
- OBP: Wong .364, Edman .324
- Slugging: Wong .500, Edman .525
- OPS: Wong .864, Edman .849
- wRC+: Wong 130, Edman 121
Conclusion: I’m surprised to see Wong thriving against LHP; as a Cardinal he never had an OPS higher than .739 vs. lefties in a season. And in his last two seasons as a Cardinal Wong was six percent below league average vs. LHP. That’s not bad. But Edman is much, much stronger vs. LH pitchers than RHP. And this year Wong has put up better overall numbers vs. lefties than Edman has. That said, Edman is still well above average vs. LHP this season. And that .525 slugging percentage vs. lefties outstanding.
Wong ranks 7th among MLB second baseman with six defensive runs saved in 639 innings. Edman ranks 14th with two defensive runs saved in 673 innings. Edman has logged 276 innings in right field, with no defensive runs saved. And he’s saved one run in 26 innings at shortstop. Wong has saved more total runs than Edman by a 6-3 count.
Conclusion: Wong is a gold-glove defender. He’s won two Gold Gloves in his career and has a chance to collect a few more. Edman is a good second baseman, but there’s another consideration. By discarding Wong and going with the planned Edman (mostly) and Carpenter setup at second base, the Cardinals are actually in the negative at second base. Edman and Edmundo Sosa have saved runs at the position, but with Carpenter’s terrible defense the Cards are a minus two in defensive runs saved at 2B. Maybe the same thing would have happened here if Wong had stayed and gotten injured three times. Then again, Edman could have moved in at second base when Wong went on the IL.
Running The Bases
It’s no contest. Edman is vastly superior to Wong this season. According to Bill James Online, Edman is a plus 20 in net baserunning gain. Wong is a minus 10. According to Baseball Reference, Edman has a “bases taken” percentage of 55%. Wong’s bases taken percentage is 45%. Despite playing about three dozen games more than Wong this season, Edman has been thrown out on the bases (non-steals) only three times. Wong has been thrown out six times. Edman has swiped 19 bases in 24 attempts for an excellent 79% success rate. Wong is 8 of 13 for a stolen base success rate of 61.5%. That’s poor.
Conclusion: I assumed that Edman is running the bases at a more elite level than Wong in 2021 — but the gap here is massive. And that surprises me a little.
Wins Above Replacement
Wong has 2.3 WAR.
Edman has 0.9 WAR.
WAR covers offense, defense and baserunning. And the more that a guy plays, the more opportunities he has to accumulate WAR.
Conclusion: Wong’s advantage is pretty glaring. Wong is worth 1.4 wins more to the Brewers than Edman is to the Cardinals — and that’s despite Edman having the advantage of playing 37 more games this season than Wong.
Unlike Wong, Edman got off to a hot start this season. I thought the Cardinals had a chance to come out just fine with their decision on Wong. But Edman has faded offensively, and isn’t as effective as Wong on defense.
We can debate how much of a difference the Cards’ decision made for both teams. But it’s reasonable to say that the Cardinals weakened their team to some extent by moving on from Wong. That freed Wong to move onto Milwaukee to make the Brewers stronger. But we shouldn’t overlook the presence of Matt Carpenter in this equation; the commitment to his guaranteed $18.5 million salary certainly influenced the team’s decision. This wasn’t a straight-up Wong vs. Edman call. Carpenter was stuck in the middle of it.
Thanks for reading.
My Redbird Review will appear on “Scoops” in a couple of hours.
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.