Tommy Edman has been a very divisive player since he had been on the Cardinals. Some people including Mike Shildt seemed to think he could do no wrong. Others thought he was a glorified utility player with a futile bat. I always saw him as Kolten Wong 2.0, but to be honest his play this year has changed my opinion. I believe he is more like Ben Zobrist 2.0. I know that seems like high praise given how great Ben Zobrist was, but I believe it is an apt comparison.
Lets start with the bat because it is by far the area where Tommy Edman has faltered the most in the past. Over the past 2 seasons he has managed exactly a 91 WRC+ over 845 PA. This would seem to indicate that he was a below average but not terrible hitter. There was however some indication that he was a better hitter than a 91 WRC+. Over the last 2 years he had BABIPs of .301 and .291 respectively. These seem to be pretty normal BABIPs as roughly .300 is usually league average give or take a few points. However a player like Edman that doesn't hit very many fly balls which generate the lowest expected batting average, along with his elite speed should generally have above average BABIPs. This was also evidenced by him under performing his xWOBA each of the last 2 seasons. WOBA is weighted on base average which effectively weights a hitters quality in the lense of on base percentage weighting XBH hits more than singles and walks. Over the last years Edman managed a .302 and .301 WOBA respectively which is pretty poor. However xWOBA which basically uses statcast data to determine his deserved WOBA was .315 and .316 respectively which were much closer to average. Based upon this data I believed coming into the year Edman was a league average hitter in all likelihood. Which was defensible as his career WRC+ was 100 and the projection systems also thought he would be at about 100 WRC+. Given his elite speed and defense at a valuable but not premium position I thought that would make him a 3 WAR player only slightly more valuable than his 2.7 WAR 2021.
Then something changed, as so often happens players get better at something. Edman started to drive the ball more from the left side of the plate this year. So much so that Edman is a hitter who has been theorized would be better only hitting from the right side, has\ been a much improved hitter from the left side than the right side this year. With a 139 WRC+ batting righty and a 126 batting lefty. Compared to his career WRC+ of 98 from the left side and 130 from the right this a huge improvement. The way he has done this is quite simple he is barreling the ball more and he is willing to take his walks this year. Edman last year managed only a .098 ISO from the left side, this year it is up to a .149. This indicates a significant change in his ability to hit extra base hits while batting lefty. It is also backed up by his statcast data as his barrel rate is up from 4.2% to 6.9%, exit velocity has gone up from 87.5 mph to 88.9 mph and his hard hit rate is up from 35.1% to 38.1%. All this indicates that he has improved his ability to hit the ball hard from his primary hitting side. The other thing Edman has improved this year is his walk rate from 5.5% to 9.4%. Digging into his chase rate and contact rate this seems like a mirage as the only two things drastically changing are his swing rate and his amount of pitches seen in the zone. However digging deeper you find something very encouraging Edman is swinging much less when in a hitters count. In 2021 he walked 20% of the time in after a 2-0, 46.4% in a 3-0, and 27.7% of the time in 3-1 counts. Compared to 2022 where he has walked 33.3%, 61.5%, and 62.5% of the time in those counts. This indicates that Edman is being less aggressive in hitters counts and hunting his pitches more than in the past and pitchers are respecting his hitting ability more. All of this to say Edman was already probably about an average hitter and this year he made some substantial changes that have made him a much better player than before.
Now lets get to the 2 biggest reasons Tommy Edman has been a big league regular in his career his defense and his base running. In reverse order I'll start with his defense. When Tommy Edman was first called up he was seen as a utility infielder who could probably play above defense in the infield. Therefore many people were upset when under Mike Shildt he saw significant playing time in the outfield despite not playing there since little league as why play an infielder who doesn't hit much in the outfield where he probably sucks at defense. To say people underestimated Edman would be an understatement. He isn't just a good infielder he is a great one. For his career his DRS and OAA at 2B are 19 OAA and 23 DRS in 1656 innings. For reference Kolten Wong has 53 DRS and 7 OAA in 7646 career innings. So you have a player who on a rate basis is probably the best defensive second baseman in baseball by far. Not only is he good at second base though he also 6 DRS and 2 OAA at SS in his limited 290 inning sample. He also had 3 DRS and 10 OAA at 3B in 544 innings. So he is an elite defensive 2nd baseman, good shortstop, and good third baseman. Surely playing him in the outfield isn't smart. It probably isn't given the value of his defense at more premium positions. However in the outfield Edman has performed admirably 4 DRS and 3 OAA in 500 innings. So we have a player who seems capable of at least good defense at both corner outfield spots, shortstop, third base, and elite second base defense. Couple that with an above average bat and you have a pretty valuable hitter. However that is not all he brings to the table he is also the best base runner in all of baseball, Since his debut in 2019 he leads all of baseball with 20.2 base running runs. He also currently leads the NL in steals with 15 and stole 30 bases last year while only being caught 7 times in the last two seasons.
When you factor in his improvement at the plate, his fantastic defense, and his elite base running and it is easy to see how Edman currently has 3.2 fWAR and 3.9 bWAR in only 63 games. Combine that with him being worth an average of 3.6 WAR/600 PA before this year and I think lots of Cardinal fans need to change their opinion of Tommy Edman. Not only is he everyday player, he is an all star caliber player and the best cardinals middle infielder since Ozzie Smith retired. Maybe he ends up in Zobrist role where he plays everyday at multiple positions or he ends up the starting shortstop or second baseman for the next half decade, but unless his talent level changes he should play an everyday role for the Cardinals.