Let’s get this out there right off the top. This article is going to feel like it presents a false premise.
I’m going to compare Tommy Edman to Kolten Wong.
I’m going to build my own Frankenstein’s Monster of defensive stats to argue that Edman can probably approximate the defensive and offensive production that Wong provided at 2b.
It will sound at times like I’m defending the Front Office’s decision to decline Wong’s $12.5 million option to install the younger, cheaper Edman at 2b.
That’s not what I’m doing.
Please read that sentence again before you go to the comments and Texas Chainsaw Massacre me.
There is no defense for what the Cardinals did. They let a Gold Glove-winning second baseman who has developed into a solid 2.5-3.5 fWAR player go over $11.5M. That’s right. Not $12.5M. $11.5M. They actually paid Wong $1M to go play for someone else.
Any comparison between Wong and Edman has to start by acknowledging the truth: the Cardinals could have played both of these players. Easily. They’re choosing not to.
This move makes them worse. And the financial reasons that caused this unfathomable move don’t leave any hope that the club will make the moves necessary to actually improve later in the winter.
This was a terrible baseball decision that should never have happened.
It did though.
So, that sticks me with the unenviable task of comparing Tommy Edman vs. Kolten Wong. Can Edman provide similar production to Wong as the projected starter at second base? Probably so.
There’s a big problem with comparing Edman’s defense to Wong’s. Wong has been a starter at second for the Cardinals for 7 full seasons. His defensive output is well established over 6000 career innings.
Even with all of that time, there is variance in the numbers. This is the way of defense. Wong’s DRS – Defensive Runs Saved – ranges from -4 in ’17 to +19 in ‘19. His UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating – isn’t much steadier. That variance even for a stable defensive player like Wong makes the comparison I am attempting here a Nightmare on Elm Street.
Edman just doesn’t have that many innings played defensively and the innings he does have are all over the field. So, take everything I’m about to say with a grain of … salted caramel.
Edman’s infield innings have been split unevenly between 2b, SS, and 3b. On the defensive spectrum, 2b and 3b are roughly the same. They don’t necessarily require an identical skill set, but WAR’s positional adjustment treats them as essentially equal in difficulty. Since Edman arrived at the majors as a middle infielder and not a third baseman, any defensive production that he provided at third should translate across the diamond. In truth, the Cardinals should expect him to be a better at 2b than he was at 3b.
Then there is shortstop. By rule, an infielder will almost always be better at 2b than SS. Whatever defensive stats that Edman provided in a limited sample at short can be applied with a high deal of confidence to second.
My point? Even though Edman’s stats cover a variety of positions, we can still use them as an aggregate “infield defense” metric that won’t severely overestimate Edman’s defensive ability at second alone.
I’ll use DRS, UZR, and UZR/150 at Fangraphs and supplement them with Baseball Savant’s OAA (Outs Above Average).
Edman 3b: 544 IP, 4 DRS, .1 UZR, -.4 UZR/150, 6 OAA
Edman 2b: 256.1 IP, 7 DRS, 2.3 UZR, 8.7 UZR/150, 2 OAA
Edman SS: 96 IP, 3 DRS, .5 UZR, 6.2 UZR/150, 0 OAA
Edman’s aggregate “Infield Defense”: 896, 14 DRS, 2.9 UZR, 4.83 UZR/150, 8 OAA
On to Wong. Wong has improved defensively as his career has progressed. There is no reason to believe that his defensive production would drop off in ’21 compared to the last 2-3 seasons. So, instead of using his career defensive averages, I want to take the best of Wong’s years: 2018-2020. I’ll then prorate those to match Edman’s 896 innings and average the three seasons to provide a second aggregate for comparison.
Wong 2018: 896 IP, 16 DRS, 13.4 UZR 17.6 UZR/150, 11 OAA
Wong 2019: 896 IP, 14 DRS, 3.9 UZR, 4.9 UZR/150, 6 OAA
Wong 2020: 896 IP, 13.6 DRS, 8.6 UZR, 7.5 UZR/150, 2 OAA
Wong 3-year Avg. 2B Defense: 896 IP, 14.5 DRS, 8.6 UZR, 10 UZR/150, 6 OAA
Wong’s defensive production is relatively stable across the three statistics. DRS, OAA, and UZR all like him, with a few variances. This is what a perennial Gold Glove-caliber defender looks like. Every defensive metric generally agrees that Wong is generally great!
Edman, on the other hand, looks like he has real defensive ability. In what would be a little less than a full season of innings, he has been well above average defensively by every metric. DRS and OAA believe that Edman has been an exceptional defender. UZR is not yet convinced. Only time will settle that out.
For one season, the gap between Edman and Wong defensively is probably not significant enough to be overly concerned with, especially if Edman can stay exclusively at 2b.
Offense requires much less work to neutralize their stats and projections. There is about 200 PAs difference between Edman and Wong over the last two seasons, but rate stats take care of that for us. We then have ZiPS projections for ’21, which are based on stats entering ’20. That’s a good thing. As I demonstrated in Quantifying the Impact of COVID on the Cardinals, 2020 stats should be used sparingly for future projections, as they include a near-universal decline from Cardinals hitters due to the extreme playing environment created by COVID.
Thankfully, Wong and Edman played on the same team, and neither contracted COVID. So, the actual stats and projections exist under the same playing conditions.
Wong ’19-’20: 757 PA, .279/.358/.396, .326 wOBA, 103 wRC+, 5.0 fWAR
Wong ’21 Projections: .268/.350/.413, .325 wOBA, 2.3 fWAR
Edman ’19-‘20: 576 PA, .283/.337/.449, .335, 110 wRC+, 4.1 fWAR
Edman ’21 Projections: .269/.318/.415, .311 wOBA, 2.4 fWAR
Edman’s ’21 projections do a nice job of mitigating the unreasonable bump that his absurd ’19 stats created. They also give him a little credit in BB rate – something that Edman improved upon this past season. Going forward, expect Edman to carry an OBP a little higher than what is listed here, but it’s close enough to be usable.
Wong is what he is at this point. The projections do include a slug% over .400. That’s higher than his career norms. If it were me, I would probably knock that down to .380-400, especially since his power dipped so radically in ’20.
The two players are again very similar. Wong has worked hard to develop on-base ability that Edman does not have. Despite his slight frame, Edman has displayed some power that Fangraphs believes was not entirely a fluke. Wong is probably the better bet to outproduce Edman but not enough that the club will feel the difference over 162 games.
If we fast forward a full season to post-2021, there would be a strong argument to allow Edman to replace Wong, who would be exiting as a free agent. Wong would then be into this early 30’s decline phase. Considering his limited offensive capability, he’s not a player that I would have wanted the Cardinals to extend at market rates past next season.
That said, it would have been nice to have both players on the club for one More season – Wong as the starter at 2b and Edman in a super-utility role. Both players could have thrived and served as relative values per production at their positions. We would be able to better establish Edman’s actual production, instead of essentially making an educated guess.
Instead, Mo started the Purge. Probably on orders from DeWitt. It looks like the rest of baseball will follow their lead.
It will be a dark, dark winter for the Cardinals.
So, you might as well enjoy the rest of your fall! Be generous with the candy tonight. Buy the good stuff. Those neighborhood kiddos have earned it this year. Enjoy your extra hour of sleep tonight. Happy Halloween!