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Tommy Four Bags?

Edman has 3 homers on the season. Is his early season power binge sustainable, or just another April oddity?

MLB: APR 15 Cardinals at Brewers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Early-season baseball always produces some unusual statistics. The small sample sizes of April baseball amplify these oddities that would usually even out throughout 162 games. Because they stand out and because baseball is still new, filled with the hopes and dreams of potential, we fans, tend to make more of them than we should.

If you’re looking for April oddities then look no further than what has happened at the start of Tommy Edman’s 2022 season.

As of Monday’s Cardinals off day, when I wrote this article, Edman had a 1.104 OPS. His slugging percentage was over .700. His wOBA was .477.

Those are huge numbers for a lightweight middle infielder. And they all stem from a statistical anomaly: Edman has 3 homers in just 31 plate appearances. If he duplicated his plate appearances from last year while maintaining this home run rate, he would end the season with 67 long balls! Look out, Mark McGwire’s team record!

This sudden burst of power is out of character for Edman. In his 691 PAs last season, Edman sent just 11 balls beyond the fence. In the shortened 2020 season, he had 5.

Just to demonstrate the ridiculousness of his current pace consider this: over the last two seasons Edman has clubbed an average of just 10.5 homers per a standard 600 PA season. He’s beating that pace in this early April season by around 600%.

Is this at all sustainable? Has Tommy “Two Bags” suddenly become Tommy “Four Bags”?

This question led me to consider, philosophical-like, the nature of the double in modern baseball. The “Two Bags” nickname is one Edman earned because of the frequency at which he finds himself on second base after hitting a baseball.

Last season, Edman was among the league leaders in doubles with 41. In ’19, Edman produced 17 doubles in just 349 PAs. Hitting doubles is, without question, one of his skills. And a replicable one.

But it doesn’t really fit Edman’s vibe, does it?

When I think of the kinds of players who are likely to sit among the league leaders in doubles, I don’t normally think of players like Edman. I think of power hitters. Like Bryce Harper, who led the NL last season with 42 doubles – just one more than Edman. Or J.D. Martinez, who was right there with those two in the AL. Or maybe Ozzie Albies, Nick Castellano, and Marcus Simien. Each one of those players had a lot of doubles, yes, but they were also high on the homerun leaderboards.

Prototypical “power hitters”, then, aren’t just crushing balls over the wall. They are just as frequently crushing balls to the wall, either over the head of or out of the reach of outfielders.

But we don’t consider those “power hitters” to be “doubles hitters”, do we? No one has said of Bryce Harper: “he has doubles power.” He doesn’t have doubles power. He has home run power. But a lot of his home runs fall short of the stands and wind up as doubles.

So, if “power hitters” aren’t “doubles hitters”, even though they hit the majority of doubles in the game, what kind of players qualifies as a “doubles hitter”?

Right there with the Bryce Harpers and Ozzie Albies of the doubles leaderboard is a smaller group of players who don’t look anything like the prototypical “power hitter”. In 2022, this included Whit Merrifield of the Royals, J.P. Crawford in Seattle, and Adam Frazier, who we know from his days with the Pirates. These players all had 16 or fewer homers last season – well below my subjective standards for a “power hitter”, but they were still among the league leaders in doubles.

They also, as a group, fit the statistical profile that I see in Tommy Edman: speedy, higher-contact, line-drive hitters.

Considering his early-season home run barrage, I thought it might be worth looking at some spray charts. Throughout his career, does Tommy “Two Bags” hit doubles like a “power hitter”? That might somewhat legitimize his current absurd pace. Or does he hit doubles like a “doubles hitter”? That would indicate the homers are just as fluky as they seem.

For the first kind of hitter, let’s pick someone whose game seems as far from Tommy Edman’s as imaginable, but they were right next to each other in doubles production: J.D. Martinez.

This chart has all of Martinez’s doubles throughout his lengthy career. The slow-footed slugger earns most of his doubles around the edges of the field of play, near the wall. He has lots of hard-hit balls pulled into the left field corner. With significant power to all fields, he has also shown the ability to push balls off the opposite field wall routinely. He also has tons of doubles that were hammered over the heads of outfielders, most of them into gaps, but some are clearly wall shots.

J.D. Martinez has 267 homeruns. He has another 300 doubles, most of which were pretty close to leaving the park themselves. His doubles by and large come down the lines and off the wall.

Let’s shift to the second player type. For this, we’ll look at Whit Merrifield.

The sample size is smaller but the difference in ball cluster should be relatively apparent. Merrifield is also able to use the edges of the playing field – particularly down the right and left field lines. These doubles, though, are not driven hard into the outfield corners. He has a larger percentage of liners and grounders that have skipped past the corner infielders. Yes, Merrifield can pepper the wall occasionally, but not at the same clustered rate as Martinez. He earns just as many doubles by driving liners into gaps — balls outfielders could frequently get to — and then using his significant speed to force them to make a perfect throw to second.

If Martinez has equitably distributed his homers and doubles, Whitfield has nearly three times as many doubles as homers. He has “doubles power” because of his ability to turn nearly any ball in play into a potential double but we would never say he has the kind of “homerun power” that Martinez has.

If you’ve watched Edman last season, there’s probably no mystery as to whose spray chart he emulates:

Edman’s career is much shorter than Martinez’s or Merrifields. His cluster samples are quite a bit smaller. But based on what we’ve seen so far, his spray chart better emulates Merrifield. Edman has lots of hard-hit grounders through the first and third baseman. Because of his elite speed, he has a large percentage of take-second-on-the-outfielder doubles to gaps. Sure, he also has a few balls off the wall, but most of his doubles are coming from the grass.

Now, let’s do some critical analysis.

Power is one of the last things to develop in a young player. Players with “doubles power” when they are young can, with work, maturity, and experience turn themselves into true sluggers. Think Matt Carpenter here. Or, going back a bit, maybe someone like Ray Lankford.

What kind of spray chart would you expect those players to have when they are young before the homer power shows up?

I, for one, would expect a player to be pounding the wall early before their power fully develops and they add enough juice to turn some of those wall shots into bleacher shots.

Dylan Carlson might be a good example of this. We don’t yet know if Carlson will turn into a “power hitter” but we do know that he hits a lot of doubles. He has 40 doubles in his 776 career PAs. That’s a per PA pace that’s very similar to Tommy Edman’s.

His spray chart, however, looks different than Edman’s.

Yes, he can drive balls down the line and sneak a few doubles out of balls short of the wall, since he does have pretty good speed. But his trend is more toward Martinez than Merrifield. Most of his doubles not down the line are at the wall.

Would it surprise anyone if a few of Carlson’s age-21/22 doubles turned into homers at age 23/24? Nope.

That’s a long way of saying that Edman just hasn’t fit the profile of a power-hitting doubles-hitter at this point in his career.

So what’s happening with the early season HR barrage? Has something changed about his swing or batted ball results to indicate this is new and will last?

Let’s pull out a few of these things that matter for Edman’s ability to turn doubles into HRs:

Average Exit Velocity – Edman is sitting at 87.7 in average exit velocity on the season. That’s just slightly above his 87.5 last year. So, no notable difference. Edman isn’t hitting the ball harder this year than at other points in his career and he’s certainly not hitting the ball as hard as many sluggers.

Max Exit Velocity – His max exit velocity is 112.6 mph. That’s pretty good! But, last year he also managed a 112.9. It’s interesting that he’s already matched last year’s max early in the season, but all that shows is he can, occasionally, get into a ball. His average exit velocity so far does not indicate that he’s doing so more frequently.

Launch Angle – Here’s the kicker for me. Home runs come from fly balls. So, the power hitters who hit a lot of doubles also hit a lot of balls into the air. Edman hasn’t done this and he still isn’t. His average launch angle is down a tad from last season – 9.3 versus 9.5. It’s way down from his homer binge his rookie season when he had a 14.2 degree angle of contact.

So, Tommy “Four Bags” is not hitting balls harder on average. He’s not hitting balls higher on average. He’s not maxing out higher than average.

So, how does he have so many early home runs?

His early-season homers have happened because of two reasons. First, he has a 17.4% barrel rate on the season, with 4 barreled balls in just 23 events. That’s awesome! And completely unsustainable.

Edman may end up with a higher barrel rate this season than he’s shown so far in his career but that will require some adaptation in his game. His higher-than-expected max exit velocities have always indicated that there was a little more in his bat than his average contact shows. The problem is that he tanks his own average exit velocity by swinging at everything. If he can become more selective, the quality of his contact would go up on average as it would eliminate some weak contact on balls out of the zone.

That’s showing up a little this season. His walk rate is up and his chase rate is down a little. The HR rate isn’t sustainable, but it’s these small kinds of adjustments that I actually expect a smart player like Edman to try to make.

Edman also has a laughable HR/FB rate. His flyball rate is down on the season, but nearly half of the flyballs he has hit have left the ballpark: 42.9%. That will drop. Pun intended.

He probably should beat his 6.3% HR/FB rate last season. If it settles in around 12%, as it was in ’19 and ’20, he could add a few more HRs to his numbers, even if his FB rate doesn’t change and his PA totals drop from hitting lower in the lineup.

Add it up and Tommy “Two Bags” isn’t going to become Tommy “Four Bags” any time soon. It’s just a fun early-season statistical oddity that makes for an interesting deep dive into doubles and what constitutes a “doubles hitter”.

That doesn’t mean, though, that Tommy Edman’s game won’t look a little different this season. His walk and chase rate are worth watching. As is his HR/FB rate. A little improvement in those areas could mean quite a bit of extra production from him as 2022 progresses.