I heard something on the Cardinals television broadcast last week that confused me. I didn’t catch the exact quote (because honestly, I don’t really listen when I’m watching the games) but Horton/Edmonds/DannyMac/Thompson/whoever said something along the lines of “yada yada yada that’s another double for Tommy Edman, and he’s one double off the league lead.”
What was that? Say that again?
Tommy Edman is one off the league lead in … DOUBLES?
I know, I know, the whole “Tommy Two Bags” thing has been around for a while. And I know that his line drive stroke lends itself to gap hitting. And I know that he plays second base.
But… Tommy Tow Bags Edman is just one good day away from leading the league in doubles? Really?
It’s true. As of Tuesday morning, his 32 doubles were tied for second in the league with three other batters. He’s one behind a group of several hitters who are sitting at 33.
That realization was a real head-scratcher to me because, while I haven’t been tracking his doubles this season, I have tracked – religiously – his slugging percentage. And there was nothing in his slugging percentage that indicated that Tommy Edman was anywhere near the league lead in any statistic even related to the concept of “power”.
You see, I think of doubles as a power stat. Most power hitters also hit a lot of doubles because doubles are frequently very hard hit balls that don’t have the elevation to leave the ballpark. A hitter hits a fly ball hard and there’s a really good chance it will go over the wall. A hitter hits a line drive hard and, unless it’s right at a fielder, it’s going to the wall. The common factor in both those equations is hitting the ball hard.
We can see this connection between strong power hitters and high doubles totals by glancing through the Cardinals’ leaders in “two bags” per season since 2000. With a few exceptions that we will look at later, the batters who hit the ball the hardest and are the most likely to lead the team in homers are usually the most likely to also lead in doubles:
2013 Matt Carpenter – 55
2003 Albert Pujols – 51
2004 Albert Pujols – 51
2003 Scott Rolen – 49
2006 Scott Rolen – 48
2003 Edgar Renteria – 47
2001 Albert Pujols – 47
2009 Albert Pujols – 45
2010 Matt Holliday – 45
2008 Albert Pujols – 44
2013 Yadier Molina – 44
Continue down and you’ll find a bunch of the same names along with a few other players who had a handful of power-hitting seasons. Ryan Ludwick shows up in 2008 with 40. Edmonds twice hit 38. Even Jhonny Peralta makes an appearance. Edman, surprisingly, is on pace to finish around this range with just under 40.
Doubles, as you can see, are a power stat, usually closely tied to high slugging percentages and a lot of HRs.
This brings me back to Tommy Edman’s slugging percentage. I said above that I’ve followed Edman’s slug% religiously. Pre-season I had identified the .400 mark as sort of a make-or-break figure for Edman.
The 2020 season is a good example of why this matters. Last year, Edman didn’t walk very much. His good contact approach didn’t generate much batting average, despite having excellent speed. Why not? Because a batter not only needs speed to have a high batting average; he also must hit the ball hard.
Hard ground balls sneak through the infield for BABIP singles. Hard line drives find their way past fielders and into gaps. Hard fly balls – even though Edman doesn’t hit many of these – find their way over the fence.
Last year, Edman’s BABIP was .301 – exactly neutral. His batting average was just .250. His slugging% came in at .368. All of that was because of a hard hit% that was just over 33%, an average exit velocity that was below 87 mph, and a high ground ball rate.
Edman doesn’t miss the ball often. That means that he puts a lot of balls in play at a weak velocity.
If you don’t hit ground balls and line drives hard, they’re going to find their way to a fielder’s glove more often than someone who hits the same number balls much harder. Speed can make up a bit of the gap, but not as much as adding an extra 2-5 mph to every in-play contact.
The result, despite great defense at multiple positions, was just .8 fWAR in 227 PAs in 2020. That projects to around a 2 fWAR pace over 600-plate appearances.
Something had to change if Edman was going to move that closer to 3.0 fWAR, which is my line of demarcation between a productive starter and a not-so productive starter. The most likely place for that change to come was finding a bit more power.
In 2019, Edman broke out in the majors as a small-stature slugger. He had double-digit home runs. He slugged .500. He had 17 doubles and 7 triples. His barrel rate was 5.3%.
Harder contact, more squared contact, led to him defying the BABIP gods. His BABIP was .346. His batting average was .300. He produced 3.2 fWAR over 349 plate appearances.
It was asking a lot for him to replicate that non-sequitur breakout season. But it was reasonable to hope that he could recover a little of the difference between his 2019 surge and an exhausting 2020 COVID season.
I was hoping for a line like .275/.330/.410 with a .320 BABIP and good defense at 2b. That would be a fair imitation of prime Kolten Wong. That would probably land Edman at around 3 fWAR.
That’s just never materialized. Edman’s walk rate has fallen since last year. And while he’s raised his hard hit% and barrel rate a little, his BABIP hasn’t followed suit. Overall, his slash-style numbers are a hair higher than 2020 – but his cumulative production stats relative to the league are just a bit down from last year. His wRC+ was 90. It’s 88 this season.
His slugging percentage, despite sitting among the league leaders in doubles? It’s just .379 – about 20+ points off my hoped-for (but still pretty conservative .400’ish pace).
That leads Edman to a disappointing 1.3 fWAR on the season. He has a .4 fWAR rest-of-the-season projection from ZiPS. Unless something significant changes soon, Tommy Two Bags is going to finish as Tommy Less-Than-Two-Wins.
Kolten Wong – because we always have to mention him in any conversation about Edman – has 2.6 WAR in almost 200 fewer plate appearances. He also isn’t walking much – 6.4%. But he has a .467 slugging percentage. Wong’s no slugger but just a little bit of extra thump makes a huge difference in overall production.
Edman is sitting in that strange twilight zone where he has power stats but doesn’t have real power. He doesn’t strike out but somehow makes too much contact. He has great bat-to-ball instincts but swings at too many balls in and out of the zone. He can take balls to all fields but can’t consistently get balls past fielders. He has tremendous speed but isn’t on base enough to use it.
Edman’s sacks are full of baseball tricks. But the result is lacking in real production.
This is what makes his doubles ranking such an oddity.
I went back to the lists I mentioned earlier – both the current leaders and the Cardinals leaders over time in doubles – to see if I could find other players who were similar to Edman.
Among the 2021 list of doubles-hitters, most are legitimate power hitters who are slugging well over .500. The closest to Edman is the Tigers’ Jeimer Candelario, a 27-year-old switch-hitting infielder. Candelario has crossed the double-digit HR barrier with 10 and has a .428 slug% with a .342 BABIP. He K’s a lot more than Edman but walks a lot more, too. His glove is quite a bit worse. The result is 2.1 fWAR in fewer PAs than Edman and a pace that will carry Candelario close to 3.0.
That’s how close Tommy Edman is to being a good player. Just a few walks. Just a bit of BABIP. Just a few homers. Squint a little and Edman could be the Cardinals’ version of Candelario. Except he’s not.
The Cardinals’ leaders in doubles since 2000 are equally informative. Most of the players were true sluggers. A few weren’t. Matt Carpenter in 2003. Yadier Molina. Edgar Renteria is probably the most Edman-like.
From ’02 to ’06, Renteria averaged between 36-40 doubles per season. He walked a bit more than Edman during that span – with a BB% that averaged 8.2%. He hit .298 and K’ed just 11.5% of the time. He averaged just over 10 HRs per season. His slugging%? .428. His BABIP? .323. His average WAR per season – with some excellent defensive years at SS – was around 3.5.
Edman isn’t that far behind Renteria in any of those categories. He can’t quite walk that much. Can’t quite hit that much. Can’t quite defend that well. Can’t quite generate that much power.
A handful of “can’t quite’s” is the difference between a potential Cardinals Hall of Famer – Renteria would have my vote – and a player who might lead the league in doubles and should probably still lose his spot in the starting lineup next year.
Tommy’s two bags are just too empty.
(There you go, Jdogg. I am sure you can find the right gif for that one. And yes, I did, uh, neuter a whole paragraph full of puns out of this article. They just swung a bit too low for me. If you all want them, you can scratch that itch yourself in the comments section. The *cough* balls are in your court now.)
Leading the league in doubles would be a very impressive feat for Edman and a rare one for someone of his skillset. With a bit more luck on balls in play, he could do it. That wouldn’t change the fact that his offensive game is just not good enough to remain a starter on a team still struggling to find consistent offense.