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Looking at Tommy Edman against RHP as a RHB

I tried to see a pattern to how he picked when to bat right-handed against right-handed pitchers.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve long been a skeptic of the idea that Tommy Edman should bat right-handed full-time. His numbers against RHP aren’t actually bad, he’s barely done it over the years, and his current split is similar to players like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. I don’t know if you’ve noticed though but Edman has batted right-handed against right-handed pitchers a a little more often lately. Whether or not this is a long-term plan is unknown, but for now he’s picking his spots.

What is driving his decision? Well it stands to reason that he’s facing pitchers who he or the Cardinals have reason to believe will pitch worse against right-handed batters. Is it in the numbers? The bar would have to be fairly high to think a pitcher will have reverse splits, as it’s not all that common a thing. Is it by pitch mix or pitch type? That would give credence to reverse splits. If the pitcher’s out mix or most-used pitch is a pitch tougher on lefties, taking away that option may be worth the switch.

To begin, we have to go back to 2021. This is when Edman first experimented with batting right-handed against right-handed pitchers. It makes sense why that was the year he tried it. He was particularly brutal against RHP. He had an 84 wRC+ that season against RHP and 85 when he batted left-handed. Made a bit less sense last year when he had a 104 wRC+ against RHP, so he never attempted it even once.

That said, the experiment did not last long. He had just four total plate appearances against three different pitchers. He did not get a hit, so he scrapped it. Let’s start with the basics. Who did he face? He first attempted it against former Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle. Mahle is a... strange choice. Lefites have a .315 wOBA against him and righties have a .322 wOBA in his career. He actually arguably pitches better against righties. He has a 4.12 FIP and 3.76 xFIP against RHP compared to 4.43 FIP and 4.46 xFIP against LHP. At the very least, not my first thought if I’m trying to exploit a pitcher who is better against lefties.

But there’s a reason Mahle was the first pick. Since 2021, Mahle has actually been significantly better against LHP. Lefties had a .257 wOBA against in 2021, .268 in 2022, and .194 wOBA against this year. Also Edman has not done well against Mahle. While I can’t speak to what his specific stats were at the time, Edman has batted .130/200/.174 against him in 25 PAs. He faced the Cardinals three times after this game so the vast majority of that line was prior to this attempt.

Mahle used three pitches in 2021. He has a cutter that he has used in other seasons, though not 2021. Near as I can tell, this change is entirely prompted by Mahle being tougher on lefties in recent years and Edman’s specific struggles against Mahle, not by a pitch mix. Mahle had a fastball, slider, and splitter. In 2021 specifically, the slider and splitter were similar speeds, had a similar vertical distance, but went in opposite directions. You can see how Mahle get could get out either hand with this setup.

In the first plate appearance, he ends up getting him out on an 88 mph.... something? Doesn’t really seem to do much. Can’t tell if that’s a slider, splitter, fastball, or even a cutter maybe. It’s considerably faster than everything but his fastball (including his average cutter speed) and considerably slower than his fastball. In the second plate appearance, he relies on the high fastball and then gets the slow groundout from the slider.

Next up: Blake Parker. This one is pretty simple. Parker had better career stats against lefties, with a .285 wOBA against while righties hit for a .312 wOBA. But at the end of his career, they were really extreme. Lefties had a .255 wOBA against while righties mash him to a .371 wOBA. In fact, those numbers may influence his overall numbers to make this look like more a career thing. He was (very small sample) worse against LHB in 2020, about equal in 2019, worse against LHB in 2018, better in 2017 (though not extremely), equal in 2016, and you get the idea.

Parker is a heavy splitter user, though he does not throw it like a fastball. His splitter is about 10 mph slower than his fastball. He used in 34.1% of the time in 2021. Despite a career curveball percentage of 16%, he used it in just 8.6% of pitches that season. Curveball would seem to be an out pitch against RHB, so I assume it just really wasn’t a pitch he felt comfortable much using in 2021, thus that could explain the splits. Well he gets him out on a curve, a not particularly well located one, but he got a result he wanted.

Lastly, James Karinchak. There’s really not much to this one. Karinchak throws just two pitches: a fastball and a curveball. He has equal splits but was worse against RHB in 2021 specifically. I’m not sure a whole lot more decision-making went into the change other than “this pitcher has worse numbers against RBH this year specifically.”

So they scrapped it after he grounded out weakly four times. After initially struggling against RHP this season (though he’s now at a 92 wRC+), they attempted the change again this year. Let’s see if there’s some sort of pattern to this year.

He first attempted it against George Kirby. Well, I can safely say he hasn’t been in the majors long enough to use his splits, however if there’s a specific reason to think he’s better against LHB, it would be justified. But yes, he has also been better against LHB. He has a .255 wOBA against compared to a .331 wOBA against RHB.

After looking at his pitch mix, I don’t really know why he’s better against LHP. His 4-seamer is by far his best pitch, but in theory that shouldn’t create a split difference. He used a sinker 30% of the time against RHB and just 12% against LHB. He actually throws his curveball the second most against LHB but that could be a 2023 blip. He used it 14% of the time last year. Basically, against RHB, he’s a heavy fastball-sinker pitcher who still utilizes his curve and slider. He has used the sinker, change, and slider between 11.5 and 12.8% of the time against LHB this season (the change and curve were used over 10% last season, with a fastball half the time).

Anyway, just personal opinion, I don’t see why Kirby would specifically be worse against RHB based on his pitches. I realize he has produced worse results, but the sample size is not great here. I would expect his numbers to get a lot closer together in the future personally. I’m chalking this one up to “he has worse numbers against LHP.”

He later faced Brad Boxberger, who has a decent-size career to use at least. And there is a rather large split for Boxberger. He has a .275 wOBA against compared to .320 for right-handed batters. Boxberger throws a fastball, slider, and change. His slider, which you would think would be his out-pitch against RHB, isn’t very good. The slider has produced: .457 wOBA, .404 wOBA, .324, .387, .521 against RHBs. It’s weirdly a better pitch against lefties. He hasn’t really used his changeup against RHB much this year, so he pretty much takes that pitch off the table. This move makes complete sense.

Julian Merryweather makes some kind of sense. He has been better against LHB, with a .313 wOBA against compared to .340 for right-handed batters. Merryweather seems to be a guy who wants to throw his slider, which at least to date, has been more effective against lefties for whatever reason. His change has also been reasonably effective against LHB. Against RHB, he’s all fastball-slider for the most part. Part of the reason his slider is more effective against lefties, at least so far, is that he’s not throwing it 56% of the time. He’s a slider first pitcher against righties this year.

Lastly, I don’t really need to spend time on it, because it’s maybe the most obvious of all of them: Kenley Jansen. He’s a cutter pitcher, which is known as a pitch that is tougher against lefties...... he’s a weird twist though. Jansen has been worse against left-handed batters. In his career, he has a .258 wOBA against compared to .227 for right-handed batters.

Interestingly, Edman was 1-2 going into the plate appearance. Now that is very far from a good sample, but oddly enough the one that made the most sense to me is the one least supported by the numbers. He is worse against LHB, and there’s not a batter versus pitcher reason.

If you guys can find a trend other than “pitcher has worse numbers against LHB this season and maybe career,” you’re seeing something I’m not seeing. This is a basic look and maybe a deeper look helps see something more specific. But we’ve had splitter heavy pitchers, slider heavy, a cutter heavy. We’ve had pitchers who make sense why they’re worse and pitchers who I would probably call small sample size on.

I will say that Edman does look better and more comfortable right-handed against right-handed pitchers in 2023. Maybe he worked on it more, but you can sort of see why he scrapped the idea in 2021. Lot more hard hits this season. One thing to look for: I believe his high fastball weakness is more of an issue against RHP as a RHB. So he’ll have to work on not swinging at those pitches above the zone.