Since the turn of the millennium, the St. Louis Cardinals have had only one losing season. In that span, the organization has developed countless major league contributors on both sides of the baseball. Chief among them is 27-year-old superstar infielder Tommy Edman, who has quietly become one of the game’s most valuable players.
Superstar? Tommy Edman? I know that might seem a little rich. After all, Edman shares a roster with franchise legends Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, as well as more conventional superstar-types such as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. But Edman, depending on which value metric you are looking at, ranks anywhere from 16th to the best player in baseball.
Edman is the shining star of the sixth round of the 2016 MLB amateur draft out of Stanford University. Coming up through the minors, it looked like Edman was headed in the direction of being a major league contributor, albeit of the glove-first, super-utility type, peaking only as the Cardinals’ No. 20 prospects before the 2019 season, by FanGraphs. Here is what resident prospect writers Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel had to say about Edman:
Edman is a switch-hitting Joey Wendle. … He has more power when hitting right-handed but doesn’t project to much damage in games. Edman’s flat-planed swing is most effective at catching pitches in the upper half of the zone, which makes him well-positioned to hit if the hitter vs pitcher metagame continues to trend toward letter-high fastballs. Bat-to-ball skills dictate powerless profiles like Edman’s. He either hits enough to be a 50, or he doesn’t and won’t be rosterable unless he starts playing more defensive positions.
Looking at Edman’s production in the minor leagues, that above outlook rang true. Prior to 2019, he never hit more than seven homers in a single season, and he never posted a slugging percentage higher than his .439 at any level (which was over 38 games in Single-A in 2017). But once 2019 hit, all of that changed: He matched his seven-homer career high in just 49 games with Triple-A Memphis, slashing a stellar .305 / .356 / .513. Edman’s production, combined with his defensive versatility, forced a promotion even though he was not yet on the 40-man roster.
Fortunately for Edman, and for the Cardinals, the offensive production continued. Similar to how Edman forced himself onto the big league club, he forced his way into the everyday lineup, receiving the lion’s share of playing time at third base down the stretch. All told, Edman’s numbers were eerily similar to those in Triple-A, hitting to the tune of a .304 / .350 / .500 slash – good for a 124 weighted runs created plus (wRC +). Combined with the slick defense he was already known for, his 3.9 wins above replacement was 11th in baseball from the time of his callup, and despite his abbreviated season, he was the team’s most valuable player.
The 2020 and 2021 seasons proved to be down years – if only offensively – for Edman. But he has come back to his impressive and more well-rounded rookie levels in 2022, posting a 123 wRC + to date. The keys to Edman’s success at the plate? A much better skill set with strikeouts and walks.
|Season||Strikeout rate||Walk rate||BB-K ratio|
For the first time in his career, Edman is working above league-average rates in both strikeouts and walks, ranking in the 74th and 59th percentiles, respectively. Naturally, this has led to better contact, as he is also hitting at career bests in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, expected weighted on base average and barrel rate.
|Season||Exit velocity||Hard-hit rate||Barrel rate||xwOBA|
While the bat has bounced back for Edman in 2022, two elite parts of his game that have not ebbed and flowed through the years have been his defense and baserunning. No matter which infield position he occupies, Edman has proved a premium defender. By Statcast outs above average, he is the third-best defender in the game – eight outs better than the average defender.
Edman’s 87th percentile sprint speed makes him a constant threat to steal bases, and he is very good at it. Since the start of the 2019 season, Edman’s 63 stolen bases are the eighth-most in baseball. This year, his 16 stolen bases are atop the National League, one ahead of teammate Harrison Bader, and by FanGraphs’ BsR metric (which is the baserunning component of their WAR calculation), Edman not only paces the entire league by a wide margin, but he’s been the best baserunner in baseball since 2019.
With all that Edman has done so far this season, he should be a shoo-in for his first All-Star Game appearance, though received only the fourth-most votes in the first phase of the voting to start at shortstop for the NL. Though he does not have the power numbers of a traditional candidate for the Most Valuable Player award, his total production should force him into the discussion if he maintains this pace.
Even among the household names already on the Cardinals roster, there is surely room to add Edman to the list.
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