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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Five Tool Players | Articles | Bill James Online

A lot of the picks are debatable, as you’d expect.

Jim Furtado Posted: September 23, 2018 at 12:48 PM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: five tool players

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   1. cardsfanboy Posted: September 23, 2018 at 01:33 PM (#5749905)
I like the way he argues that there is a subjective component. I know we want to pretend it's all objective, but the truth is that "tools" is a scouting term and a scouting term is currently not objective in regards to the players of the past.

I think his standard 'hit for average' might be a bit high, as shown by the few players who meet that particular skill. I think maybe he should have expanded it a bit, to include pretty much every player who had at least one full season at over .300 and multiple other seasons at .290(or something like that)

Same with his standard for power... I get that on the defensive side of the equation he is making logical leaps and fully accept that... it makes perfect sense that in an endeavor like this to err on the side of inclusion.. it makes perfect sense to assume any long time defensive player at catcher or third, probably has a good arm(obviously Piazza is an exception to this rule, and probably Ted Simmons also, but they were going to fail in the speed component anyway)... I think instead of focusing on homeruns, it should focus more on extra base hits....doubles and triples are both evidence of power.


But at the same time, he at least decided to come up with a component... I think I would have altered the definition of both power and average, but am comfortable with the definition of defense, arm(maybe) and speed. Average, (going from memory) has been shown to be one of the more volatile rate stats, so it does make sense to argue that to have that ability, the player needs to have multiple seasons being good, but that their overall career numbers isn't probably the final say on their ability to hit for average.
   2. Rennie's Tenet Posted: September 23, 2018 at 06:44 PM (#5750106)
It's easy to spot a five-tool player: his pants fit like a glove.
   3. PreservedFish Posted: September 23, 2018 at 08:51 PM (#5750179)
I think this is kind of a train wreck of a thinkpiece, but, setting that aside, my parameters would be much more generous. This is almost strictly limited to Hall of Fame players, which pushes the standard way beyond "successful five tool." I'm pretty sure that there are some players left out that will feel like very bad misses. Carlos Beltran is the first to pop into my head - .279 AVG and 2,700 hits and he barely misses two different cutoffs.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2018 at 10:06 PM (#5750253)
Same with his standard for power

I agree with you on his "hit" standard, less agreement here ... or at least I don't think this negatively impacts the list much. That is, I agree his "one-dimension" distribution looks off. Or at least it says you pretty much have to be a good fielder, thrower and runner to make the majors without hit/power AND that this group is the vast majority of MLBers. (There's also an issue that his criteria make little adjustment for context ... some of which he corrects with his judgment).

But when I say it probably doesn't impact the list much, it's that speed and power are a fairly rare combination. Obviously if you broaden the power criteria you'll define a larger set of speed+power players but probably not hugely. He is probably on thinner ice on his speed inclusions/exclusions, etc.

The first two exclusions that sprang to my mind were naturally Cubs. I'm not sure how Sandberg doesn't make this list. Sure, he was just a 2B but he was noted for his strong and amazingly accurate arm as a 2B. He won a ton of GG, he led the league in HR once, hit 280 of them with a career 170 ISO, led the league in triples once (albeit something of a fluke season) but also stole over 340 bases with 5 seasons of 30+ including one of 50+ and he hit 285 with 2400 hits with 4 seasons over 300 and 3 more of 290+.

Biggio, Alomar and Larkin all made the list. Sandberg had 9282 PA, in roughly those same number of PAs, here are their BA/HR/SB numbers:

Sandberg car: 285/282/344
Biggio 24-37: 289/194/362
Alomar 20-33: 306/190/446
Larkin career: 295/198/379

There's no way to put Biggio on this list and not Sandberg. Alomar at least has a big edge on BA and SB while Sandberg has the big edge on power.

The other exclusion would seem to be Banks. This points to another problem with his criteria, poorly addressed by some of the criteria and the later discussion. A player is a 5-tool player when he's young. For nearly all of them, at least some of those tools will fade as they age. To define 5-tool players, you should probably restrict the criteria to their 20s or ages 23-28 or something. Or at least start there.

So Banks, as a career, hit just 275 and he spent half his career as a roughly average defensive 1B so, sure, he was not a 5-tool player for his career. But for ages 23-28, he played SS with one GG (so James should credit him with field and arm by his criteria) and hit 295 with 2 seasons over 300 with over 1000 hits in those 6 seasons (hit). Obviously lots of power (226 HR).

Speed is clearly the question with Banks. He was not a big base stealer -- but nobody on those 50s Cubs teams were. In 1954, only one Cub stole in double figures -- first baseman Dee Fondy with 20; in 1955 he tied for the team lead with 9 SB. In 1957 he led the team with 8, the team only stole 28. In 1958, he stole 4 ... which still tied for 2nd on the team although at least Tony Taylor snagged 21. In 1959, he again tied for second behind Taylor, this time with just 2. They were also bad at it, outside of Taylor and Fondy generally being only about 50/50. The 1950s Cubs simply did not steal bases so it's a poor indicator of Banks's speed.

But in those 6 seasons, he did hit 47 triples (and Wrigley's not a great triples park). He hit 7 triples as late as his age 35 season and finished with 90 for his career. By comparison, Aaron hit just 98 in 3000 more PA. Heck, Larkin hit just 76 in 2000 fewer. Tony Oliva makes the list ... for 6 of his prime seasons, he certainly had an elite hit tool, solid power (but much less than Banks) but stole just 75 bases (more than Banks but not an impressive total) with 36 triples and played RF without winning a GG vs. 47 triples and a SS with a GG. Both guys suffered knee issues later, Oliva's much more debilitating than Banks so we'd have to say Banks did a better job of retaining his tools.

Obviously lines have to be drawn somewhere so maybe Banks should be on the other side of it but probably so should Oliva and a few others here (Boyer is another one whose speed indicator is no more impressive than Banks).

Anyway, 5 "tools" are by definition more about potential than actualization. I agree there's no real point looking at non-successes** but the identification of 5-tool players should focus on their younger years/prime THEN you further discuss which ones managed to age well and which didn't. Career criteria like "2500+ hits with a 285 or better" just don't make a lot of sense even if they don't really do any harm (i.e. such a player was most likely a 295-300 hitter in his prime but the criterion should be something like "hit at least 290 in his prime" or "hit at least 290 over 3000+ consecutive PAs" which would capture these guys plus guys who got hurt/aged badly).

** at the front he dismissed Grady Sizemore not, by my reading, because of a lack of tools (although it's easy to argue he didn't really have much of a hit tool) but due to lack of success. But of course he was a quite promising/good young player who got hurt. Still 5 full seasons as a CF in which he averaged 25 HR and 25 SB shows at least 4 of the tools by James' criteria. Agee has a similar claim -- a CF with 2 GG who, in his prime, averaged about 20 HR and 30 SB per full season -- again the hit tool would disqualify him (though it was the late 60s early 70s when nobody had a hit tool) but that's not why James does. Even Samuel -- he should be disqualified not so much because he totally flopped after age 26 or so but because he never showed the ML ability to hit for average or field his position even competently. Possibly that's what James means by "failure" but it doesn't seem to be. I'm fine with the idea that the player has to demonstrate the tool at the ML level over some reasonable period of time but 4-5 years should be enough then I'd consider the questions of injury and aging separately.
   5. PASTE, Now with Extra Pitch and Extra Stamina Posted: September 23, 2018 at 10:21 PM (#5750264)
Personally I've never found the "five tool" concept interesting or useful, and I've always kind of wondered why Defense and Arm aren't the same tool and Plate Discipline isn't a tool.

Not at all relevant to the topic at hand, but I've been reading through Bill James' New Historical Baseball Abstract lately, and just today I encountered this excerpt, discussing the old Gold Glove voting process awarding a GG to a full-time DH, written in 2000, which almost made me spit-take:

A voting structure like this is an open invitation to an eccentric outcome. If the United States were to use a system like this to elect the President, the absolutely certain result is that, within a few elections, someone like David Duke or Donald Trump or Warren Beatty would be elected President.


Weeeeeeellllll.....
   6. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2018 at 10:41 PM (#5750281)
Sheesh, he did include Barry -- that is simply not taking the arm tool seriously.

Debuts by decade seems to suggest some issues with his criteria:

1890s 3
1900s 3
1910s 0
1920s 3
1930s 1
1940s 2 (the war explains this)
1950s 8 (hmmm)
1960s 2 (hmmm ... despite expansion)
1970s 6
1980s 9
1990s 4 (hmmm)
2000s 3 (hmmm)
2010s 5 (although Baez at least probably doesn't deserve inclusion due to hit tool ... all those Ks)

Another issue with not including context in the criteria arises with Ellis Burks. Certainly a solid BA hitter but also obviously helped a lot by those years in Colorado. He was probably no better than an average defensive CF, he was a big base stealer only in his first 3 seasons and one later season, solid but unspectacular triples numbers. A case can certainly be made for him (his BA in SF helps) but his inclusion would seem to open the door to a lot of folks.

Which now points me to the massive omission of Larry Walker which is probably even more ridiculous than Beltran (an excellent catch). Power, speed, defense, arm .... and a career 313 BA. The only way to disqualify him is to adjust his hit tool for Coors ... which might justify his exclusion but such adjustments don't seem to have been made for other players/contexts.

Joe Morgan is an interesting case. For most of his career, you'd disqualify him on BA and maybe arm. But from 28-33 in Cincy, he hit 301 with plenty of power and speed. I can't say anything about his arm but he did win 5 GG in those years. They're certainly among the finest 4-tool seasons we've ever seen (20 HRs, 60 SBs). He's a case where the hit tool arrived late so maybe we don't want to include him.
   7. BDC Posted: September 23, 2018 at 10:56 PM (#5750291)
Vladimir Guerrero must miss on fielding - I only saw him play when he was in his 30s & slowing down, and certainly by his Texas year (he was 35) he was not good in RF; but wouldn’t he also qualify as someone who simply didn’t age with all five tools intact? Or was he notoriously clumsy or something?
   8. Tom Nawrocki Posted: September 23, 2018 at 11:09 PM (#5750297)
Which now points me to the massive omission of Larry Walker which is probably even more ridiculous than Beltran (an excellent catch). Power, speed, defense, arm .... and a career 313 BA. The only way to disqualify him is to adjust his hit tool for Coors ... which might justify his exclusion but such adjustments don't seem to have been made for other players/contexts.


Walker is included.

   9. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2018 at 11:13 PM (#5750300)
someone like David Duke or Donald Trump or Warren Beatty would be elected President.

If these are the other options, I'm thinking Palmeiro would have been a pretty solid choice although we'd have to scratch out "Barack Hussein Obama" and write in "Rafael Palmeiro" on the fake birth certificate.

Personally I've never found the "five tool" concept interesting or useful

Agreed but it's what our forefathers have handed down to us. At a minimum for prospect/player evaluation, the tools obviously need to be weighted. If you can hit for average AND power, you are gonna have a long career no matter your rating on the other three tools.

As to separate "fielding" and "arm", I suppose that's useful in distinguishing future 2B/LF from future SS/3B/CF/RF but I agree it's not clear that requires separate ratings ... especially since "80 arm, 30 field" is not useful. The inclusion of Bonds (and surely others) makes it clear that when we talk about "great all-around player", nobody actually cares about arm strength ... nor should they.

I suppose Tim Raines justifiably misses on the power tool although he had some solid power seasons. Also not much of an arm as I recall.

EDIT: Might have to re-argue Raines under the "why aren't we adjusting for context" clause. Biggio had a career 152 ISO but played during sillyball; Raines at 131 but most of his career was pre-sillyball. Biggio probably still wins on "arm" (he was a C) but Raines did have a lot of assists ... and I can always cite Bonds as precedent. But maybe the easier conclusion is that Biggio shouldn't be here because the power wasn't much of a tool and didn't show up until age 27 which happened to be the start of sillyball.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2018 at 11:14 PM (#5750301)
Walker is included.

So he is, missed him when I double-checked.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: September 23, 2018 at 11:30 PM (#5750306)
Hmmmm ... Jackie Robinson. BA and speed for sure, good defender. Power was not outstanding but solid doubles/triples, 162 career ISO in a league that seemed to average about 120-140, slightly above-average HR/PA rate (does that include pitchers?) Again, if Biggio's "power" during sillyball counts ... That leaves arm and I have no idea ... he did play about 1.5 seasons at 3B (with massive TZ numbers) and had 14 assists in one season in LF so it was probably at least average.
   12. Morty Causa Posted: September 23, 2018 at 11:48 PM (#5750314)
Biggio play more than half his career home games in the Astrodome.
   13. vortex of dissipation Posted: September 24, 2018 at 02:11 AM (#5750369)
It's so hard to have all five. Eric Davis wouldn't qualify because he didn't hit .300 until he reached age 35 (although he then did so in three of his next four seasons), but as far as a combo of power, speed, fielding, and throwing goes, the young Eric Davis was as good as anyone.
   14. Cooper Nielson Posted: September 24, 2018 at 02:15 AM (#5750371)
It's easy to spot a five-tool player: his pants fit like a glove.

Chuckle. Took me a second.
   15. Cooper Nielson Posted: September 24, 2018 at 02:26 AM (#5750373)
especially since "80 arm, 30 field" is not useful.

Could be useful in the bullpen...
   16. Walt Davis Posted: September 24, 2018 at 04:06 AM (#5750377)
Biggio play more than half his career home games in the Astrodome.

But still just a career 146 ISO on the road so whatever the Dome took away (130 ISO, 64 HR in 827 starts), MM/sillyball gave back (181 ISO, 79 HR in 575 starts) such that his H/R career numbers look like pretty standard splits (a bit better at home as most players are). But sure, I'm fine with adjusting his numbers as I think we need to do for everybody in this assessment.

Just taking a few random years: Astros position player ISO, Biggio's

1992 113 92 (pre-silly Dome)
1996 135 127 (silly Dome)
1999 160 153 (last Dome)
2001 189 163 (2nd Enron, his last Biggio-esque year)
2005 158 204 (old man power)

The Astros were pretty good those years so below team average in ISO ain't bad but it's still probably no better than around league average, adjusted for context. He makes it well past James's 200 HR threshold but that's just too low for sillyball and Biggio gets past it because of that -- plus 81 of his career 291 HRs came in ages 38-41. His career HR/PA was 2.3% vs. league 2.6% -- again, with adjustment, maybe we can pull that up to league average. His HR/PA rate is a smidgen below Robinson's. I would add that, especially in his younger days, he didn't display much power suggesting this was not one of his "tools" but rather something that came later. (I'm not sure I'd apply that criterion but it seems more like what I think of for "5-tool.")

Given only 15% (405 players) of James's pool of players satisfy his "power" criteria yet that list includes a guy like Biggio who was maybe league average in power suggests his criteria here are kinda messed up. For example, PI seems to find over 1,000 players with at least 500 games and a HR/PA rate equal or better than Biggio's (give or take). It's 900 for G>500 and ISO>150. Note if James's criteria were more balanced, then Biggio potentially gets included. For arm, field and speed, his criteria find 1000-1400 careers and he'd find about the same number of careers if he set his power threshold somewhere around Biggio. 500 games and a BA of 275+ also finds about 900 players but I agree we'd definitely want some sort of sliding scale on BA (i.e. a HUGE difference between 275 in 800 games and 275 in 2000 games).

Basically, even though he had nearly 300 HRs, I don't really believe that Biggio qualifies as one of the 400 most "powerful" hitters (500+ games) since 1900. If Biggio ticks the power box, maybe Madlock should as well (just above-average HR/PA rate actually, 3 top-10 seasons in SLG although BA-driven ... Madlock also easily ticks BA, arguably ticks speed with 174 steals and positive Rbase, presumably ticks arm as a 3B ... definitely doesn't tick field). Of course I don't really want to argue for Madlock as a 4-tool player, I'd rather use more sensible criteria to (probably) remove Biggio from the power list.

Yount's another odd case. A career 145 ISO was probably powerful enough in context. Beyond that ... how do we want to handle a guy who debuted so young? He didn't show any power until age 24 when he already had way over 500 games and nearly 3500 PA. Certainly his 94 ISO and 34 HR to that point wouldn't have him on any such list ... but it's not fair comparing him to guys who may not have even started playing in the majors until 23-24. Anyway, he showed very good power at 24, 26, 27 but not again until 33. Add it all up and his career HR/PA came out at league average. I don't really object to Yount making the power list (what he did from 24-34 seems close enough) but he never hit 30 (came close) and passed 200 primarily because he had over 12,000 PA.

Puckett's another odd guy to see here. He definitely developed power eventually but not until age 26 when he (magically?) transformed from a guy with 4 HR in 1327 PA (and just 13 in about 1000 in the minors) to a 30-HR hitter. I'm happy to include him, my only concern is the age thing and I don't want to get hung up on that. Still, a career 2.6 HR/PA vs a league 2.2 in context looks a lot like Jackie's 2.4 in a 2.0 league.

   17. Rally Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:58 AM (#5750408)
It's a good start for the 5 tool list. A good read. I also think it needs work if a guy like Beltran misses the cut. He says he arbitrarily credited Dawson despite a .279 average, no reason not to do the same thing for Beltran as his career looks like what Andre Dawson would have been if he took a walk every now and then.

Bill's final criteria "Also, I credited everybody with being able to "hit" if he had 1000 career hits, a .280 average and an .800 career OPS; that gets a few guys like David Ortiz and Kent Hrbek and Adrian Gonzalez. " would have fit for Beltran had he retired without a ring after the 2016 season. He played one more year as a zero tool player (best tool was power, but 14 HR in 467 AB was a below average HR rate in 2017), got his ring, and saw his career average slip under .280.

I don't think playing after your tools have left you makes you any less toolsy than a guy who was your equal in his prime, but retired earlier. But that takes a lot more creating programming or output review to catch all the extra cases.

If I were to put time into this I'd also like to see some consideration for hitting environment (it's there for power and speed considering Cobb/DiMaggio, but doesn't seem to be for BA). Rusty Staub may deserve consideration for the .279 average that I definitely would not give to a player from the 20s/30s.
   18. Rally Posted: September 24, 2018 at 09:07 AM (#5750416)
Dawson vs. Beltran:

I don't think I realized exactly how close they were in so many career categories.

OPS+ 119, 119
BA .279, .279
SLG .486, .482
Hits 2774, 2725
HR 438, 435
RBI 1591, 1587
SB 314, 312

Both were excellent centerfielders when young, moved to corner, then DH. Beltran has a 27 point OBP advantage due to the walks, but playing in a lower run scoring time their OPS+ is the same. Beltran has a slight WAR advantage (70-65) due partly to the relative importance of OBP vs. SLG, and mostly having 60 fewer CS for the same SB total.
   19. PreservedFish Posted: September 24, 2018 at 09:21 AM (#5750424)
If I were to put time into this I'd also like to see some consideration for hitting environment


No duh. I also think that using career numbers is all wrong - I'd be happy with a 3-4 year peak probably. Particularly if the whole essay is predicated on the idea of guys like Ramirez and Lindor being definite 5-tool players.
   20. John DiFool2 Posted: September 24, 2018 at 09:27 AM (#5750427)
Joe Morgan is an interesting case. For most of his career, you'd disqualify him on BA and maybe arm. But from 28-33 in Cincy, he hit 301 with plenty of power and speed.


Ryno would likewise have a case: .296 for ten years, and 1st full season was at 3B. If anyone else recalls him going far to his right and throwing cross-body to 1st would likely concur that the arm wasn't an issue.
   21. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: September 24, 2018 at 09:30 AM (#5750429)
Man. Barry Larkin's going to have a lot of counting stats when he finally wraps up his career.
   22. RJ in TO Posted: September 24, 2018 at 09:39 AM (#5750436)
Vladimir Guerrero must miss on fielding - I only saw him play when he was in his 30s & slowing down, and certainly by his Texas year (he was 35) he was not good in RF; but wouldn’t he also qualify as someone who simply didn’t age with all five tools intact? Or was he notoriously clumsy or something?
Vlad Guerrero had 126 assists and 125 errors in his career - he committed 19 errors in 1999, which is a crazy number for an outfielder in the modern era. His arm was strong, but not always (or often) accurate. Like a lot of other players with similar arm strength, people tend to remember the great throws where he nailed a runner at third or home, and not all the times he heaved the ball into the stands instead. Also, while he did have multiple 30 steal seasons, he ended his career at 181 SB vs 94 CS, so the actual value of his speed skill was somewhat questionable.

He's a bit odd, in that despite having had a hall of fame career, a lot of his skills were still kind of raw.
   23. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: September 24, 2018 at 11:09 AM (#5750533)
Beltran has a slight WAR advantage (70-65) due partly to the relative importance of OBP vs. SLG, and mostly having 60 fewer CS for the same SB total.

It also helps that his best year wasn't interrupted by a strike. (Although, to be fair, Dawson also had negative WAR in the two strike-shortened seasons at the end of his career.)
   24. PreservedFish Posted: September 24, 2018 at 11:18 AM (#5750547)
Vlad ... committed 19 errors in 1999, which is a crazy number for an outfielder in the modern era.


That's really impressive!
   25. BDC Posted: September 24, 2018 at 11:39 AM (#5750564)
Thanks, RJ. That distinction between skills and tools (or whatever you want to name them, ability vs. refinement) is very useful.
   26. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 24, 2018 at 12:06 PM (#5750581)
Thanks, RJ. That distinction between skills and tools (or whatever you want to name them, ability vs. refinement) is very useful.

Yeah. Lots of scouting reports now distinguish "raw power" from "game power".
   27. Rally Posted: September 24, 2018 at 12:12 PM (#5750587)
It also helps that his best year wasn't interrupted by a strike. (Although, to be fair, Dawson also had negative WAR in the two strike-shortened seasons at the end of his career.)


Dawson also had negative WAR for his entire post-Cubs career. He peaked at 67 and dropped back to 65. Beltran was negative his final year, but only -0.6. Dawson probably lost 2 WAR to the 1981 strike (going by his typical production over 50 extra games, not pro-rating his best year). They are about as even as two HOF candidates can be outside of Whitaker/Trammell.

One thing Dawson is lacking is a postseason record. His postseason batting line is short and not very good. Beltran has a big advantage there. Looking at Dawson getting in on his 9th ballot tells me two things:

1. There's no reason to keep Beltran out.
2. No reason to get upset if Beltran takes a few years on the ballot to get there.

   28. Rally Posted: September 24, 2018 at 12:13 PM (#5750589)
Yeah. Lots of scouting reports now distinguish "raw power" from "game power".


One of the ways Ichiro! has changed the game.
   29. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:28 PM (#5750888)
The other exclusion would seem to be Banks. This points to another problem with his criteria, poorly addressed by some of the criteria and the later discussion. A player is a 5-tool player when he's young. For nearly all of them, at least some of those tools will fade as they age. To define 5-tool players, you should probably restrict the criteria to their 20s or ages 23-28 or something. Or at least start there.


I had a post where I was going to suggest that we should concentrate on players at their peak, because the skills change as they age and players generally become less dimensional.... but it was a post reaking of homerism so I deleted it before I posted it. But yes I agree, I think you really should look at the best stretches of a player's career where they exhibit the five tools. I think 3 years is too few years, but if a guy is showing signs of all five totals over a stretch of 6-8 years, he can safely be called a five tool player. We know that Willie Mays is the hof ultimate definition of a five tool player, but he isn't the guy we should be comparing others too.


I like the concept of just focusing on the best years of players with the right tools and if they manage to meet the criteria set forth(whatever that is) enough times, award them five tool status.....
   30. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:35 PM (#5750894)
2. No reason to get upset if Beltran takes a few years on the ballot to get there.


There is a reason to get upset of course, but I agree with the overall point, him not making it his first couple of years, doesn't mean he isn't likely to get in.

I do find it weird that Dawson and Beltran are so equal though. A decade(or more) ago it seemed like Dawson was considered just a tad better than Rice for the hof while many were thinking that Beltran is a sure thing by the new fangled numbers. I think War as a stat really helped up Dawson's standing in the stat based community, especially since many of the guys who were writing or ######## at the time, probably didn't really remember him as a good outfielder.
   31. Zach Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:41 PM (#5750896)
Carlos Beltran seems like an omission.

He barely slips through the cracks: his lifetime BA was .279, but he had 2725 hits and 435 HR. Famously good baserunner, 3 gold gloves, 143 outfield assists.
   32. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:47 PM (#5750901)
So what is the top ten list of players that Bill missed?

Ryno?

Eric Davis? (he was the first name I thought of on this article, but he does miss out on the average part...maybe)

Beltran? I just think his batting average is too erratic to really rate, but if we instead replace average with ability to get on base, he easily makes it as a five tool guy.

who else? (although if I want to imagine an elite set of skills for a player, I probably add two more categories...plate discipline and health)

Of course these are just fun thought exercises and used just to identify something that we as fans like.
   33. Zach Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:52 PM (#5750903)
I don't have a problem with a pretty good but not overwhelming candidate taking a few years to get elected.

The way it tends to work is that the first few ballots are basically nominations for candidates to get closer scrutiny by the voters at large. Once a player hits 40 - 50%, they get a lot more attention and tend to get elected pretty quickly.
   34. BDC Posted: September 24, 2018 at 05:57 PM (#5750905)
I guess Josh Hamilton fails on the throwing arm. His was adequate and sometimes impressive, but it wasn't exactly a registered weapon. He had the other four tools, and he had enough plate discipline to see strikes, but he certainly lacked health in several senses. Though as an overall ballplayer I can't think of many I've seen that were more talented.
   35. Moeball Posted: September 24, 2018 at 06:11 PM (#5750913)
I also don't necessarily go for the 5-tool idea, I basically see it as 3. Does the player help the team at the plate, on the bases and defensively in the field? That's my kind of player. Rickey! 1986 rookies named Barry (take your pick). And underrated guys like Willie Randolph.Oh, yeah, and Carlos Beltran. Give me a team full of these kinds of players, or in the case of my Padres, even one, please!
   36. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 07:26 PM (#5750974)
I guess Josh Hamilton fails on the throwing arm. His was adequate and sometimes impressive, but it wasn't exactly a registered weapon. He had the other four tools, and he had enough plate discipline to see strikes, but he certainly lacked health in several senses. Though as an overall ballplayer I can't think of many I've seen that were more talented.


He just didn't stay on the field enough to qualify as a proven commodity. Add in that he just never stole a base, and it's hard to really think of him as a five tool player, even if the ability was there. I get that speed is a tool that is somewhat subjective based upon era, but it's hard for me to give credit to a guy for "speed" who never steals... they at least need to have one season with 20 steals....heck Yadier had 12 steals in a season, better than the best season that Hamilton put up. Bill James in the article talked about Musial's arm and defense as limiting him for inclusion on the list, but the real issue was the lack of steals. I think he was wrong in his assessment of the quality of Musial's arm or his defense, but that is neither here nor there... Musials four tools was hit for average, power, plate discipline and health.
   37. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:17 PM (#5750993)
Bill James criticism of Aaron, just seems wrong on so many levels, but ultimately it's wrong. Aaron wasn't elite speed, but it's hard to imagine a 30/30 guy, a guy who averaged 22 sb a year for 9 seasons as a guy who doesn't have speed as a tool. He eventually gave it to Aaron but argues "he wasn't fast".... the evidence says different. (8 top ten finishes in stolen bases, 12 seasons in the top 10 in power/speed numbers- a James stat, including being first 3 times, and 8th in career.......to say he doesn't qualify on the speed tool is absurd)

And I'm a fan of Frank Robinson, but there is nothing in the data that indicates he was on the same speed level as Aaron. More likely to hit into a double play(per war data) , played right field, but not particularly well, fewer triples, fewer steals, more caught stealing. And I admit that none of those means Aaron was faster, but that is pretty much every piece of evidence we use to determine speed, and in every category, Aaron scores better than Frank.
   38. PreservedFish Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:36 PM (#5751002)
To me, "five tool" is at heart a scouting designation. Sometimes fast guys don't steal bases, and slow guys do. I still think the fast guy has a faster "tool."

It's kind of a silly designation when scouts use it, as several have explained above, but to divorce it from that context and apply it to MLB production makes it double silly.
   39. cardsfanboy Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:40 PM (#5751007)
It is a scouting designation, the point of the exercise is to see which players have turned those tools into useful attributes/results at the major league level.

Again, this is a fan enjoyment type of thing, and it's fun to look at players through a prism.
   40. BDC Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:47 PM (#5751010)
Add in that {Hamilton} just never stole a base, and it's hard to really think of him as a five tool player, even if the ability was there. I get that speed is a tool that is somewhat subjective based upon era, but it's hard for me to give credit to a guy for "speed" who never steals


As Fish says, though, you can have obvious athletic ability, and even deploy it in games, without it registering in certain stat columns. Hamilton could really move in the outfield, and was a superb, aggressive baserunner.

These were also drawbacks, as he tended to run into the ground, the wall, and the catcher. He was a very fast runner, and a good percentage base stealer on occasion (40 for 50 overall with Texas). But as with Joe DiMaggio and others mentioned above, he didn't play in a context that fostered a lot of base-stealing.
   41. vortex of dissipation Posted: September 24, 2018 at 08:53 PM (#5751013)
And I'm a fan of Frank Robinson, but there is nothing in the data that indicates he was on the same speed level as Aaron. More likely to hit into a double play(per war data) , played right field, but not particularly well, fewer triples, fewer steals, more caught stealing. And I admit that none of those means Aaron was faster, but that is pretty much every piece of evidence we use to determine speed, and in every category, Aaron scores better than Frank.


I'm a huge fan of Frank Robinson, but I agree with that completely. Robinson also did not have a great throwing arm. He hurt it while in the minors, and then again in the late 1950s - he played far more first base than outfield in 1959 and 1960, and that was because of the arm problem. He returned to the outfield in 1961, and his arm was good enough to play right field for the rest of the decade, but was never going to be classed with Clemente or Callison.
   42. Walt Davis Posted: September 25, 2018 at 07:42 PM (#5751922)
Trying to maintain some connection to its scouting usage is one reason that I think "we" might want to limit it to a young age range rather than a career or even a prime. It's an "interesting" (or thoroughly semantic) question as to whether a player who doesn't display power until (say) age 28 always had the power "tool" but it took a long time to develop that "tool" into a "skill" or did they somehow develop power without having had the "tool" when younger?

On Ryno, see my #4.

On Dawson vs Beltran, we can also add Beltre ... Beltre's career has lasted much longer (and fruitfully so) but if you look at a comparable number of PAs .... Daswon, Beltran, Beltre ages 20-37....

PA 10769 11031 11046
OPS+ 119, 119 117
BA .279, .279 .287
SLG .486, .482 .482
Hits 2774, 2725 2900
HR 438, 435 438
RBI 1591, 1587 1549
SB 314, 312 116

So Beltre better on hits, worse on speed (which is no insult). Adjust more for era and Beltre probably looks even better on BA but worse on power. Neither Dawson or Beltre walked much. Obviously this comp breaks down on positional comparisons. But just for kicks, if we look at ages 22-28 which were the ones when Dawson was a full-time CF, the dWARs were 9, 5 and 9.5.

On career value, etc. of course Beltre easily pulls ahead due to the longer productive career and amazingly retaining outstanding defensive value even at age 39. Beltre is of course an interesting case on the "hit" tool as, from 20-30, he averaged just a 272 BA ... from 31-39 he has hit an incredible 307 (while BAs were generally going down). I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like it.
   43. Rally Posted: September 25, 2018 at 09:24 PM (#5752002)
Good question - players who hit better for average after 30. Even if a player is good in his 30's he usually will not hit for the same average but compensate with walks or power.

My Lahman DB is through 2016. I set it up to look at BA when season < birthyear + 30, and over. So won't match up with the way BBref does seasonal age, but anyway Beltre is 4th on gaining the most BA after 30. Minimum of 3000 AB before and after. He's just behind Zach Wheat and Pete Runnels, and the #1 gainer is Ozzie Smith.

Another good comp is Roberto Clemente - 3000 hit club, legendary fielder, good power but not elite HR. Of 228 qualifiers, 76 had better BA after 30.
   44. Rally Posted: September 25, 2018 at 09:33 PM (#5752008)
Pete Runnels - a product of his ballpark. He was a .274 hitter in his 20s for Washington. Lefty, singles and doubles hitter, good eye at the plate. At 30 he went to Fenway Park. Over the next 5 years he hit at least .314 each year and won a pair of batting titles. Then he went to the Astrodome and hit .246, but less than 500 AB before his career was over.

Beltre can attribute some of his change to a better ballpark. Zack Wheat had the change from deadball to liveball happen in the middle of his career. Ozzie moved to a ballpark that was better for him at least.
   45. Jose Bautista Bobblehead Day Posted: September 25, 2018 at 10:34 PM (#5752056)
This gets back to the idea of a subjective component to it, but I'm inclined to define a five-tool player even more restrictively: as someone who could impose his will on the game with any of his tools. Just as a gut call, I'd go with Wagner, Cobb, Mays, Clemente, A-Rod, Betts (maybe Trout, Mantle, and Bonds, depending on what allowances you make for having an average throwing arm).
   46. Rally Posted: September 26, 2018 at 08:39 AM (#5752148)
Ohtani, except for fielding. Hard to say much about a strikeout pitcher with 1 career putout and 6 assists.

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