Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman recently made a play where he started on the shortstop side of second base before ranging well to the left of the bag to make a spinning, off-balance fling to throw out Christian Yelich at first base. It was a difficult play that Edman made look rather routine.

Bally Sports Midwest summed it up in five words: "Tommy Edman: good at baseball."

That's perfect, isn't it? Edman doesn't hit the ball the hardest or for the highest average, he might not have the strongest throwing arm, and he's not the fastest guy in the league, although he's certainly plenty fast. But on any given night, he can beat opponents with his bat, or his glove, or his legs, and often enough this season, all three. He finds ways to win that go beyond just hitting home runs, and, frankly, we could all use a few more Tommy Edmans in our baseball lives.

As we reach the end of June, it's time to check in for another edition of Real or Not, this time looking at some of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season. Are these surprising performances, like Edman's 2022 breakout, real signs of full-season stardom, or are they first-half flukes destined to fade as the year plays out?

 

Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals (.271/.341/.401, 4.1 WAR)

The surprise isn't so much that Edman is putting up a solid season at the plate, something he did in his rookie season of 2019, but that value metrics like WAR say he's been one of the best players in the league -- indeed, right up there with his MVP candidate teammate, Paul Goldschmidt. As I dig into this on Tuesday morning, Edman is second behind Goldschmidt in WAR among National League position players and fourth in FanGraphs WAR.

Much of that value comes from outstanding defensive metrics:

  • Defensive runs saved: +14 (tied with Ke'Bryan Hayes for best in the majors)
  • Outs above average: +10 (tied for second in the majors)
  • FanGraphs defense: +9.3 runs (third in majors)

Edman has been superb at both second base -- where he won a Gold Glove last season -- and shortstop, where he has eventually moved on a full-time basis after the demotion of Paul DeJong. The weird thing here is, I don't think the Cardinals knew what they actually had. I get that maybe they were reluctant to move Edman off second base, but when DeJong was sent down and before Nolan Gorman was called up, the Cardinals initially platooned Brendan Donovan and Edmundo Sosa at shortstop -- even though Donovan had barely played there in the minors.

Edman, who did play plenty of shortstop at Stanford and in the minors, looks like a natural there: range, quickness and enough arm to make the long throw. He's kind of a more physically talented version of David Eckstein, another player whom many doubted could play shortstop in the majors but helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series.

Verdict: Real. I'm not sure he'll stay at an under-the-radar MVP level (his bat has fallen off after hitting .300 in April), but the defensive value is legit.