It is difficult to judge a player’s talent when the 2020 season was just his second in the majors. However, 2020 brought the expected regression for Tommy Edman. His high BABIP (.346), low walk rate (4.6%), and unexpected power surge (.196 ISO) did not bode well for the 2020 season, and as it happened, his wRC+ dropped from 123 to 90. While the 2020 season was weird, it seems that it gave a better picture of his true talent. However, this does not mean that Tommy Edman is destined to be a career below average hitter. There were some signs of improvement amidst his decline last season, and he seems to also be figuring out the right approach at the plate.
To begin with, Edman’s increased walk rate (7.0% in 2020) is a good sign. However, while his walk rate rose, so did his strikeout rate. Additionally, Edman’s exit velocity and barrel rate all decreased. These things are all connected to his approach, however, so if Edman can find the optimal approach next season, then his exit velocity and barrel rate could rebound in 2021.
According to Baseball Savant, Edman’s worst zone in terms of run value in 2020 was the heart of the plate (-7 runs). This is the region where hitters are supposed to have their best results, not their worst, and it seems that Edman’s poor results were because he took too many pitches in that zone. Edman swung at just 60% of the pitches that landed in this region, which is well below the MLB average of 73%. Additionally, he swung at just 64.6% of pitches that were classified as “meatballs” by Baseball Savant. This is also well below the league average of 75.1%.
This lack of aggressiveness on pitches over the middle of the plate, is likely one of the reasons why Edman’s results on contact were worse in 2020 than they were in 2019. Batted ball luck also likely played a part, but it was not everything. This lack of aggressiveness seems to have been a part of Edman’s general plan at the plate, however, as decreased his swing rate by over 5% in 2020. This means that Edman did lay off more pitches that were outside the zone, but he also laid off more pitches that were inside the zone, and specifically, over the middle of the plate.
This helped the 25-year-old increase his walk rate, but he also took more strikeouts and let good pitches go by. This was likely a conscious effort made by Edman in order to increase his walk rate. However, it also sabotaged his results on-contact. Edman has strong contact skills, so if he can pick the right pitches to swing at, then he could do a decent amount of damage at the plate. However, this is something that he will need to continue to refine as he needs to capitalize on pitches that are thrown over the heart of the plate while also keeping his walk rate at a reasonable level. Obviously, this is difficult to do, but if Edman can be more aggressive on pitches over the heart of the plate while also keeping the improvements that he made on his chase rate (3.7% decrease in 2020), then he could maintain a decent walk rate while also improving his results on contact.
An increase in swing rate on pitches over the middle of the plate could bring an offensive improvement for Edman. This would be good news considering that he is the presumptive starter at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals following the non-tendering of Kolten Wong. Additionally, with offensive reinforcements looking increasingly unlikely for the Cardinals this offseason, any improvement that Edman could make would be a welcome development.