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Tommy Edman stopped striking out

Did you notice that Edman puts the ball in play a lot?

MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have played 15 games so far this year and not a single one of them has been a one-run game. I thought that was odd, so I checked past years. I ignored 2020, because way too weird, and looked at the five previous full seasons. And on average, the Cardinals have played in 49 one-run games per year, which feels really high. Another way of saying this though, is that on average, through any random 15 game sample, the Cardinals would have had between 4 and 5 one-run games so far. They have none.

Eight games have been blowouts, and just two of the 15 games have been within even two runs. There have been remarkably few close games. By my count, there have been four close games going into the 7th inning. And one of them stopped being a close game after the seventh inning, when the Brewers scored five runs to turn a 3-2 game into an 8-2 game (later ending at 9-5). And while technically true, I’m not sure I would categorize yesterday’s game as a “close game” given there was no hope as long as Aaron Nola was pitching.

Yesterday’s game will also sadly add to a very annoying narrative, that whenever the Cards score lots of runs, they will not score runs the next day. That usually happens when you get to face Matt Moore one game and then Aaron Nola the next. Whenever you face one of the best pitchers in the league, you just gotta hope they’re off their game, and the Cards have been kind of lucky in this regard: both Luis Castillo and Stephen Strasburg were off their game already this season.

Another remarkable thing happened yesterday. Tommy Edman didn’t strike out. The Cardinals came to the plate 30 times, and 10 times, they struck out. If you remove Edman from the equation, the Cardinals struck out in 38.5% of their plate appearances yesterday. I guess the remarkable thing isn’t that he didn’t strike out, it’s how little he’s striking out period.

Now, he didn’t exactly impress with the contact he did make. He hit a slow grounder to the 2nd base every single time. One of the times, Aaron Nola couldn’t catch a ball, so he got on base from the error. It’s not like Edman was overly eager in avoiding striking out. He fell into an 0-2 count twice. He looked at the first pitch each time. He did get a little lucky. Nola threw a nasty pitch on the inside corner that definitely fooled Edman and it just missed hitting the strike zone.

Edman hasn’t struck out in his last 23 plate appearances. It’s been literally over a week of games played and he hasn’t struck out. Now typically when a player has this extreme of a change, something else in their game will change, probably negatively. In Tommy’s case, that isn’t the case so far. Well, there is one thing. He’s hitting A LOT of groundballs. Pitchers turn into Dakota Hudson when they face him. He had a 55.6 GB% before yesterday’s game. He had a 51 GB% last season, so he is a guy who hits grounders a lot normally. So the extra percentage could be just noise.

How is Edman doing this? Well to keep this simple, he’s just not missing many pitches. His swinging strike percentage is a career 7.8%. So far this season, it’s just 5.5%. And it’s going to go down after yesterday, because he didn’t actually swing and miss once yesterday either. His swinging strike percentage is 16th best in the majors.

The key to his success appears to be that he simply swings at strikes more often. He swings at 68.9% of pitches inside the zone, although this number will go down after yesterday’s game because he looked at a few strikes. He’s not swinging at more pitches outside the zone. I’m a little confused because Fangraphs has two different numbers for what looks like the same stat. His 0-Swing percentage is either 31.1% or 26.7% - the number will change by the time you read this anyway. But the important information is that 31.1% is exactly his career so he’s not expanding his zone to not strike out.

And he’s not only doing that, he’s simply making contact more. His contact rate has jumped up to 88.5%. His first two seasons were 82.7% and 82%. He makes contact with 92.6% of pitches inside the strike zone and 77.8% of pitches outside the strike zone. The latter number is quite the jump from his 69.1% number for his career. He ranks in the top 20 in the majors in contact%, o-contact%, and z-contact% (inside strike zone).

I mention all this now, because strikeout rate is actually one of the first statistics to stabilize. Stabilize simply means a stat becomes more stable. What you see might be what you get which wouldn’t necessarily be the case if you had less information than the “stabilization” point. The more PAs you have even beyond that point though, the better. 200 PAs is better than 50 PAs always. Strikeout rate “stabilizes” at just 60 PAs, in comparison to walks which needs 120 PAs, and then you need beyond 200 for the rest of the stats.

Edman now has 69 plate appearances. He has just five strikeouts on the season. Now, will he finish the season with a 7.2 K%? Most certainly not. But he’s probably also not going to strike out 21% of the time either. Rest of season projections have already lopped off nearly a full percentage point off his K rate. And best of all, he’s actually walking more, not less. His power seems to be marginally affected, but striking out three times less than your last season seems to be a better improvement than the downsides of losing some power.

Now, it still remains to be seen if Edman hasn’t sacrificed some other part of his offensive game to strike out less. Maybe by the 120 PA mark, Edman will end up with a low walk rate. Maybe his power will be more affected than what we’ve seen so far. Maybe it’ll cost him in the form of BABIP, which is at .298 right now (though was at .321 before he faced Nola). That’s the thing I’ll be looking for, to see if Edman’s other aspects of his game are going to change.

Because the strikeout rate seems here to stay. Well, not this insane of a strikeout rate I’m sure, but maybe in the Yadier Molina zone of 10-15%. (Molina didn’t strike out yesterday either, which means the seven other spots in the lineup had a 43.5 K%.). And I’m all for it.

(I will note that Edman struck out 11 times in spring training for a rate of 24.4% which, I was really hoping spring training would help me out here. So I don’t know what to make of that, but maybe it supports the point that this is a fluke. But also, it’s spring training and we ignore those stats for a reason so.... who knows)