Kolten Wong is no longer a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. If he doesn’t return, the Cardinals will go with Tommy Edman at second base.
I don’t think there was a single St. Louis Cardinals fan that is excited for Kolten Wong to leave. In a surprising move last week, the team decided to decline the 30-year-old’s $12.5M option for the 2021 season, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
As the shock of the team’s decision wore off, similar decisions made by other teams around the league showed just how much the lack of revenues this year have changed the market.
During the presser where John Mozeliak announced the Wong news, Mo mentioned that the team would (for now) be going with Tommy Edman as the primary second baseman in 2021. We know that Wong has Gold Glove defense and has matured offensively, but how much different is Edman?
For this first time in his career, Wong was installed as the primary leadoff man in 2020. After what was his best offensive year in 2019, Wong took a small step back in 2020. Wong’s .265/.350/.326 slash line was fine as a leadoff man as that on-base percentage was a positive. Unfortunately, Wong lacked any real power, with his slugging percentage dropping nearly 100 points from 2019 to 2020.
The result was a 92 wRC+ in terms of total offensive value.
Edman also took a step back in 2020. During his rookie year, he slugged way higher than he ever had before in the minors in his stellar 2019 rookie year, finishing with an .850 OPS. This year, his OPS fell all the way down to .685, with his slugging percentage dropping over 130 points to 368. That is still better than Wong’s, but Edman trailed Wong in OBP with just a .317 mark this year. The key for Edman was a rise in strikeouts. Still, Edman’s power enabled him to still finish the year with a 90 wRC+.
Looking at their overall Baseball Savant homepages, you will see that the two charts are nearly identical. Wong (right) was much better at not striking out but sacrificed power to do so. Edman (left) struck out more and is faster.
At the plate, Wong and Edman are very similar and you get more speed and power with Edman.
Now, plenty of people are saying that the value of Gold Glove defense shouldn’t be undervalued. In Kolten Wong, that is exactly what you are getting. Wong won his first Gold Glove in 2019 and is a frontrunner for the award again in 2020.
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Wong is near the top of all second baseman in baseball with +2 OAA, 6 DRS (in only 60 games !!), and a 3.8 UZR. When you prorate these counting stats out over an entire season, there is a chance that this year was Wong’s best defensive year in his entire career.
Edman didn’t get much playing time at second base in 2020, but he did put up +3 OAA and 2 DRS at third base while having +1 OAA, a 1.2 UZR, and 1 DRS at second base in just 52.0 total innings. Because Edman regularly played third base, right field, left field, shortstop, and second base in 2020, his overall defense is difficult to quantify. However, if you add all of the DRS up, you do get 6 total.
I am not trying to argue that Edman is a Gold Glove candidate at second base, but he isn’t going to be a pushover. He will be able to provide above-average defense at the position even if he never wins a Gold Glove.
By total fWAR, Wong took the edge over Edman in 2020 with a 1.3 fWAR vs Edman’s 0.8. When you move over to bWAR, the gap shrinks as Edman stayed at a 0.8 WAR and Wong had a 1.1 WAR. These are just two systems of calculating overall value, but the point is clear. Wong has the edge in total value, but not by a ton.
When you look a the price of the two, that is where the decision makes a lot of sense.
In a winter where the Cardinals are going to have to cut salary, keeping Edman at league-minimum (less than $600k) makes a lot more sense than picking up Wong’s option at $12.5M.
The Cardinals need to find a way to increase their offense, and with Wong and Edman both in the same lineup, that might be hard to do. I love both players for their contact skills and baserunning prowess, but they were both below average overall offensively in 2020.
Letting Wong walk allows the team to save money and have a better chance of improving the offense elsewhere. There may be a dip in the ability of the Cardinals’ defense to help their pitchers overperform, but saving the money was important.
2021 will be a weird year for the Cardinals if Wong, Molina, and Wainwright are gone, but the team will be in safe hands with Edman at second base, even if there is a downgrade. Edman will be just 26 in 2021, so improvement is still very possible. It’ll just be weird to see Wong in another jersey.