Billy’s Dad: Tell me, why Billy? What is it that makes him special?
Scout #1: It’s very rare that you come upon a young man like Billy — who can run, who can field, who can throw, who can hit and who can hit with power. Those five tools, you don’t see that very often.
Scout #2: Most of the youngsters in the league and have an interest in have one or two tools and we’re hoping to develop and extra one. Your son has five…

Tools are useful. They are skills that allow baseball players to excel in the variety of on-field events that arise each game. For scouts, they are often easy to measure, or at the very least, easy to approximate. Despite the deeper analytics that have penetrated amateur scouting in recent years, grading a player on 5 select tools remains relevant. In case you forgot, here are the tools I am referring to:

  1. Hitting for average
  2. Hitting for power
  3. Running
  4. Fielding
  5. Throwing

The more nuanced fans and/or writers will tell you that these five skills are overrated. Just like in the foregoing Moneyball extract, Billy Beane (also known as Billy Boy to Josh Donaldson), and many like him, had these tools which did not translate to the major league level. These things happen. These players are simply prospects.

Let me clarify something. I am less focused on amateur scouting. My direction is geared towards whether these tools translate to playing an elite level of baseball. In other words, if I can hit for average, hit for power, run well, play defense and throw well, am I an elite baseball player? Moreover, who are these players? And are they the best players in the world? Carson Cistulli did his own quantitative analysis of a similar topic back in 2011, if you need a refresher.

Here are my metrics, translated over the last 3 seasons of baseball (2013-15):

  1. Hitting for average

For this tool, I surprisingly used batting average to filter out the non-5 toolers! With offense in the pooper in the last half decade, a minimum of .270 average seemed appropriate (league average is roughly .255). We lost the Josh Reddicks, and the Yoenis Cespedeses, which hurts, but here is our first indication of them not really being elite after all.

  1. Hitting for power

Power should not necessarily be home runs, as we should value guys who can consistently hit balls to the gaps close to as much as those who can reach the seats. For that reason, I used ISO (Isolated Power) at a minimum of .170. Nevertheless, Matt Carpenter’s doubles power did not make the cut. Also leaving the 5-tool parade are Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock, among a few others. Michael Brantley had a marvellous season in 2014, but with the use of 3-year averages, it tells the story of his power really coming out of nowhere. He was likely a full 5-tooler in 2014, but we cannot confidently crown the annual Swinging Strike rate champion a complete 5 tool player.

  1. Running

I had to further utilize Fangraphs for this tool, and specifically a rather interesting Bill James stat – Spd. I accepted any player with over a 4.0 in this category, displaying a lot more than non-Jose Molina-like abilities. Don’t look now, as we just lost Nolan Arenado and Freddie Freeman – two great baseball players, but over the last 3 years, not elite, as you can see.

  1. Fielding

To not completely eliminate the 5-tool list, I allowed my UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) measure of fielding simply be better than average over the last 3 years. Nobody likes seeing Bryce Harper vacate, but his defense has not been above average in our sample.

  1. Throwing

I used the Fans Scouting Report for this metric, as the  Fangraphs ARM statistic only measures outfielders, and we know 5-tool players can fall into more than 1 subsegment. I implemented a cut-off of 60 (50 is average) for both arm strength and arm accuracy (and averaged them out). Unfortunately, whether you saw it coming or not, Mike Trout is gone. You may have known about his weak arm, you may have not. Sure, you can be elite without an arm, but for our purposes, Mike Trout, America’s posterchild, is not a 5-tool player.

With the foregoing, I present the 5-tool players dating back to 2013:

Name Team
Carlos Gomez Brewers
Hunter Pence Giants
Yasiel Puig Dodgers
Adam Jones Orioles
Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays

 

The numbers do not lie, as these are some of the best players in baseball. Adam Jones, if his defensive output last year is not a mirage, is surely one of the best. Paul Goldschmidt is probably the most underrated player in baseball (somehow). Pence, through all his wacky mechanics, has been one of baseball’s best in the last few years. Presumably, Josh Donaldson’s speed was sufficient by the numbers, as he is the best at his position right now and a sad memory in the back of Billy Boy’s mind.

There are some drawbacks to my little exercise, as I did not take into account park factors or league factors, something I said I would never do with current data. I just wanted to give an estimate, anyway, and some insight into how well these skills benefit you at the major league level. Tools matter, and if you can maintain them as competition gets better, your elite status should be simply a formality.

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