With Tommy Edman winning NL Player of the Week, it seems appropriate to discuss his improvement in the second half of the season. The switch hitter’s turnaround has played a key role in the improvement of the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup as a whole. Edman has been the third most valuable player for the Cardinals in the second half of the season, behind only Adam Wainwright (1.9 fWAR) and Paul Goldschmidt (1.7 fWAR)
Due to these strong results, Edman has begun to respond to concerns about their respective games. One of the major concerns with Tommy Edman was that he does not hit well enough left-handed to be a good switch hitter. This was certainly true in the first half of the season as the second baseman tallied just a 68 wRC+ in 305 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter.
This has changed in the second half of the season, though, as Edman has compiled a 141 wRC+ in 112 plate appearances from the left side of the plate. This is much better than his 84 wRC+ from the right side and shows hope that he can be productive from both sides of the plate. One of the most encouraging signs for Edman is his increased power from the left side. The 26-year-old has posted a 104 wRC+ on fly balls as a left handed hitter in the second half of the season. This is largely due to a .533 slugging percentage and .267 ISO.
This is nearly unprecedented for Edman as he has never finished a season with an above average wRC+ on fly balls hit as a left-hander. He has always had great success hitting the ball in the air as a right-handed hitter, but his career best wRC+ on fly balls as a left-handed hitter is just 96. That was in 2019. In 2020, his wRC+ on the same batted balls dropped to 57 and in 2021 it has dropped even lower (40 wRC+) due to his dismal first half in that regard.
Edman has also increased his line drive rate to 27.1% at a left-handed hitter in the second half. This is a 6% improvement from the first half and this has allowed him to greatly increase his production as line drives make up a large amount of a hitter’s production. This improvement can be taken in two ways long-term. It is encouraging that Edman is squaring the ball up more and making better contact as a left-handed hitter, or it is a sign that this is an unsustainable hot streak as Edman’s career average line drive rate is around 23%.
Line drive rates can fluctuate wildly, especially over shorter periods of time, but it does show that Edman has been making better contact as a left-handed hitter in the second half of the season. It may be unlikely that Edman will maintain this amount of line drives, but that does not negate his better performance on fly balls as well. Since these are the batted balls that lead to power results, it is important for Edman to maintain some of his improvements.
Since most of Edman’s plate appearances come as a left-handed hitter, it is important for him to show power from the left side. This is not something he has struggled with as a right-handed hitter, but since over 75% of his plate appearances have come as a left-handed hitter this season, he needs to improve from that side of the plate, and he has in the second half.
Edman has been hot in the second half, and it is dangerous to expect overall improvement from a player due to a hot streak. However, it is encouraging that Edman’s hot streak has entirely been a result of left-handed hitting, as his wRC+ from the right side of the plate is just 84 in the second half of the season. It is also good to see him making better contact with the ball and having more success on balls hit in the air.
If Edman has improved from the left side of the plate, then he could continue to be a strong starting second baseman in the future.
If Edman can maintain his improvements at the plate, then his defense makes him an even more valuable player. Edman is in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average, according to Statcast. Interestingly, he has been equally good on balls hit in every direction, as he has three OAA on balls hit towards first, balls that bring him in, and balls that take him back. He also has four OAA on balls hit towards third. This kind of range allows him to make plays that many second basemen would not be able to make. As a result, he is third among second basemen in success rate added on balls hit to him (4%).
With his strong defense, Edman just needs to prove he can be a consistent hitter, especially from the left side of the plate, if he wants to maintain his role as a starter. He has improved in that department in the second half of the season, and although it is still a small sample size, it is definitely worth watching as the second half continues. If he can continue to have success on balls hit in the air as a left-hander, then he can be a much more productive hitter than he has shown in 2020 and the first half of 2021. If he cannot maintain these improvements, then he is probably better suited as a utility player that still gets plenty of plate appearances, but is not an everyday starter at a single position.