Five Tool Players

September 23, 2018
                                                             Five Tool Players

 

              My goal is to identify all players in baseball history who can reasonably be described as "successful five-tool players".    "Successful" is necessary because any number of players have been hyped as five-tool players at the age of 22 (Juan Samuel, Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore, Von Hayes, Tommie Agee, Corey Patterson), only to find themselves fighting for a job in a few years; don’t want them on the list. 

              This continues a discussion that started on Twitter. . ..or maybe it was television; I don’t know.   Who knows where any conversation starts.   I’ll start by accepting Alex Speier’s list of five-tool players in the game today:   Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Javy Baez.   Then we’ll do an organized search for who else ought to be on the list. 

              Data Base.   First, I’ll eliminate 19th century players, because that’s not real major league baseball, and second, I’ll eliminate anybody who hasn’t played 500 games in the majors.  All five of Alex’s guys, young as they are, have played 500+ games in the majors.  There are 2,771 players left in the data base.   At the end of this process, I will have decided that:

              1,424 of them could throw (51%)

              1,100 could field (40%)

              1,056 could run (38%)

              490 could hit for power (18%), but only

              405 could hit for average (15%).

 

              But how did I decide this?

              It’s a mixture of judgment and sabermetrics.   To make judgments about 2,771 players one at a time would take weeks and result in many errors, so most of it is done by creating "rules" that I will explain below.   But if I looked at the output from the rules and knew that it wasn’t right, then I changed it.   If I looked at a result and just didn’t like it, I left it alone; if I looked at a result and knew that it was wrong, then I changed it.  Working it category-by-category:

 

ARM:

              If a player has a good long career as a catcher, a shortstop, a third baseman or a right fielder, you can assume that he has an arm.  Some center fielders have good arms, some don’t.   A few left fielders have had good arms, and a few first basemen.  Most second basemen are second basemen because they don’t throw well enough to be shortstops, but there are 20-25 second basemen who are well known for having had good throwing arms.   About half of the players are credited with having good throwing arms; not claiming my ratings are always right.

 

FIELDING:

Tough one.   Here’s what I did.   I credited a player with being a good fielder if

1)      He won a Gold Glove at any point in his career,

2)      He had a long career at catcher, second base, shortstop or center field, or

3)      I knew that he was, in fact, a good fielder. 

It’s actually more complicated than that; I assigned a "position value" to each defensive position, and then multiplied that by the number of career games played.  If a player played 1,000 career games at catcher or shortstop, that’s a good defensive player unless we know that he isn’t.  Two players in five are identified as good fielders. 

 

RUNNING:

Speed is actually easy for me, because I have fought that battle many times before.   You can very accurately infer speed from things in the player’s record like stolen bases, triples, grounding into double plays, defensive position and runs scored as a percentage of times on base.   I have in my personal data file, my I-don’t-care-whether-you-like-it-or-not file, a "Speed Score" for every player every season, based on these factors and sometimes my personal judgment.   It’s a 1-to-10 scale, but even Kendrys Morales isn’t a flat 1.00 and even Byron Buxton isn’t a perfect 10. 

We will credit a player with having speed if:

1)      He has a career Speed Score of 7 or higher,

2)      He has a season with a Speed Score of 9 or higher, or

3)      He has a Speed Score of 6 or higher in a career of 2000 games or more. 

Again, it is more nuanced than that, but I don’t want to get into it.   It’s judgment.  There’s a lot of guys who can run.   Juan Beniquez could run.   There have been a lot of guys who were in the majors BECAUSE they could run.   Almost 40% of the players in my data are identified as being able to run. 

 

 

HITTING FOR POWER:

              I’ll mark anyone as having "power" if they

1)      Ever led the league in home runs,

2)      Ever hit 30 homers in a season, unless the 30-homer season was a stone fluke, or

3)      Hit 200 homers in their careers.

Also, I credited Cesar Cedeno with having power, which makes him a five-tool player; he hit 199 homers in his career, so I decided 199 was really the standard only it looks stupid to write it that way.   I drew the line between Rondell White and Cesar Cedeno; you have to draw it somewhere.   Also, I credited Woodie Held and Glenallen Hill as having power, because obviously they did, and I credited a few catchers with having power who don’t meet any of these standards (Cliff Johnson, Elston Howard, Del Crandall, Andy Seminick, Russell Martin), but that doesn’t make any big difference because none of them are five-tool players anyway.  And I credited Honus Wagner with having power.   Honus was enormously strong, a weight-lifter in a period when baseball players didn’t lift anything heavier than a case of Jack Daniels, and it just seems to me he has to be credited with power although he was a line-drive hitter and never quite led the league in homers. 

490 players in my data are credited with have good power, or just less than one in five.  That leaves "Hitting":

 

HITTING

              We say that the five-tool player can do five things:  Run, Throw, Hit, Field, and Hit for Power.   What is generally meant by "Hit" in that expression is hitting for a good batting average, although we can stretch it a little by including OPS; this is the 21st century. 

I will credit a player with hitting for a good average if:

1)      He has won a batting title and is not named "Norm Cash",

2)      He has 3000 career hits,

3)      He has 2500 career hits and a batting average of .285 or more,

4)      He has 1500 career hits and a .290 batting average, or

5)      He has a career average of .300. 

 

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.  Also, I arbitrarily credited Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub with the "hit" skill although their career averages were .279. 

So 405 players in history are credited with being able to "hit"—meaning they can hit at a pretty exceptional level.

 

Here are the five toughest questions in regard to these issues, although there are thousands of others just like them:

1)      Should we say that Ty Cobb hit for power?

2)      Should we say that Rogers Hornsby could field?

3)      Should we say that Mickey Mantle could throw?

4)      Should we say that Stan Musial could throw? And

5)      Should we say that Hank Aaron could run?

Ty Cobb never hit more than 12 homers in a season, hit only 117 home runs in a long career, and reached double figures in home runs only twice, so it is not that obvious that we should say that he was a power hitter.   But Cobb did lead the league in home runs once, with 9, which qualifies him in the "power" category by the standard that I gave, and, besides that, he hit 20+ triples four times, led the league in triples four times.   It seems ultimately clear to me that the issue of Ty Cobb’s power is like the issue of Joe DiMaggio’s speed.   DiMaggio stole only 30 bases in his career, never more than six in a season, but that doesn’t mean that he lacked speed; it just means that players didn’t do that much base stealing in his era, on his teams.  The same with Cobb’s power; it is there; he just didn’t really display it in the same form that other players did. 

Rogers’ Hornsby as a fielder. . . .our presumption is that a player having a long career at a premium defensive position, like second base, should be regarded as a good fielder.   Hornsby was famously not a great second baseman, but what I suspect many of you don’t know is that Hornsby played 356 games at shortstop and 192 at third base early in his career.  Hornsby wasn’t a BAD second baseman, honestly; he is, rather, a unique player, in that he is the only player in major league history who had a long career at second base although he was not really a good second baseman.  He was such an exceptional hitter that people made allowances for him. 

What it came down to for me—again, you don’t have to agree—is this.   Second base in 1920 was not really a premium defensive position, and Hornsby was moved to second base because it was not a premium defensive position.   In 1920 and before, third base was more of a premium defensive position than second base.   This shifted gradually between 1920 and 1940—Hornsby’s years.   But I decided that Hornsby should not be given credit for being a five-tool player, because his defense was not strong enough.

Mickey Mantle’s arm. . . well, Mickey did not have a great arm.  He did not have a bad arm.   I think Mickey Mantle is, as much as anyone except Mays, what we MEAN by the term, "Five Tool Player".   Trout doesn’t have a great arm, either; it’s not a huge deal.   Cobb didn’t have a great arm.   I think it was good enough.

Musial’s arm is.  . .well, more problematic than Mantle’s.  Musial, as I suppose you all know, began his career as a pitcher, moved to the outfield after an injury to his shoulder, and did not have a great arm after the injury.  

Musial as an outfielder had more outfield assists in his career than Mantle, and in fewer innings.  I’m not writing that off, and I never saw Musial play live, although I saw him on TV at the end of his career.   My judgment is that his arm is too problematic to describe him a five-tool player.  If you say he could throw then you have to say that he could field.   He wasn’t that valuable in the field; he did play 300 games in center field in his career, and almost 800 in right field.  That’s evidence on behalf of his arm—but he was basically, most of his career, a left fielder and a first baseman.   I just think it is a bridge too far to give him credit for all five tools.   I sort of think he can choose to be credited with an arm or choose to be credited with being able to field, but I’m not going to give him both.

And then there is Aaron’s speed.   Modern sportswriters tend to accept at face value that Aaron was fast because he stole 31 bases in 1963—he was a 30/30 man—and stole 240 bases in his career.   But Aaron in his first four seasons in the majors was 8 for 16 stealing bases, and twice grounded into 20 or more double plays.  Sportswriters would say, and not uncommonly, that he was slow.  

Aaron ran back on his heels.   He learned to steal bases to stop people from saying that he was slow.  Aaron had—has—tremendous pride.   People said he was slow; it hit his I’ll-show-you button, which is one of the greatest things an athlete can have, a good I’ll-show-you button.   He was NOT slow, but was he really fast?

I wouldn’t say that he was fast, but I did; I wouldn’t but I did.   I credited him with speed for purposes of this system, but he wasn’t REALLY fast.   Frank Robinson was a lot faster than Aaron until he (Robby) got hurt.  

Lot of tough calls. . .does Vada Pinson have power?   Does Barry B. have a strong enough arm?   Is Norm Cash’s batting title a fluke?  OK, that’s one’s not tough.

 

Using these lists, I have:

493 players who were not outstanding in any of these areas,

1,150 players who had one notable skill,

641 players who excelled in two areas,

329 players who had three of these skills,

114 players who had four of these skills, and

44 five-tool players. 

 

Not all of those 44 five-tool players were GREAT players.  Some of them were very good players who got hurt before they reached greatness.   Some of them had five tools at the start of their careers, but didn’t keep them.   Some of them had all five tools, I guess, but it’s a marginal classification. 

 I will run the list below, but then we have another wrinkle.  David Wright was a five-tool player.   Look at him; count the tools.   One, two, three, four, five.   He was a five-tool player, and he is "active" in 2018, or is going to be on the last day of the season or something.   Andrew McCutchen was a five-tool player, and he’s still quite active, although he is missing a tool or two.  Matt Kemp as a young man was a five-tool player.

Somehow, we have to count not only how many ACTIVE five-tool players there are, but how many of them still have all five tools.  I’ll repeat that sentence in a minute; first I’d better list the 44 players that I decided should be counted as five-tool players.   Chronologically, they are:

Nap Lajoie (1896-1916)

Honus Wagner (1897-1917)

Sam Crawford (1899-1917)

Ty Cobb (1905-1928)

Hal Chase (1905-1919)

 

Tris Speaker (1907-1928)

Bob Meusel (1920-1930)

Al Simmons (1924-1944)

Earl Averill (1929-1941)

Joe DiMaggio (1936-1951)

 

Larry Doby (1947-1959)

Duke Snider (1947-1964)

Mickey Mantle (1951-1968)

Willie Mays (1951-1973)

Al Kaline (1953-1974)

 

Hank Aaron (1954-1976)

Ken Boyer (1955-1969)

Roberto Clemente (1955-1972)

Frank Robinson (1956-1976)

Vada Pinson (1958-1975)

 

Tony Oliva (1962-1976)

Reggie Smith (1966-1982)

Cesar Cedeno (1970-1986)

Dave Parker (1973-1991)

George Brett (1973-1993)

 

Dave Winfield (1973-1995)

Robin Yount (1974-1993)

Andre Dawson (1976-1996)

Kirby Puckett (1984-1995)

Barry Larkin (1986-2994(

 

Barry Bonds (1986-2007)

Ellis Burks (1987-2004)

Roberto Alomar (1988-2004)

Craig Biggio (1988-2007)

Larry Walker (1989-2005)

 

Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-2010)

Shawn Green (1989-2003)

Alex Rodriguez (1994-2016)

Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2009)

Scott Rolen (1996-2012)

 

Bobby Abreu (1996-2014)

David Wright (2004-present)

Matt Kemp (2006-present)

Andrew McCutchen (2009-present)

 

Plus Mookie, Baez, Ramirez, Trout and Lindor, but that’s not my list; that’s Alex’s list. 

Of course, you are entirely free to accept my list of five-tool players or not.   I’m a huge fan of Craig Biggio, but I don’t know that I would accept him as a five-tool player myself.   Take if for what it is worth. 

But as I was saying, somehow we have to count not only how many ACTIVE five-tool players there are in a season, but how many of them still have all five tools. 

Win Shares seems like the easiest way to deal with that.   A successful five-tool player should have. . . well, 25, 27 Win Shares in a season.   Pretty sure that David Wright isn’t going to make it this year.  

Let us say that if a five-tool player has 18 or more Win Shares in a season, then we will credit him as retaining the bulk of his skills.  All five of the players Speier started with—Mookie, Trout, Baez, Lindor and Ramirez—will easily clear that standard this year, and Matt Kemp might as well, with his comeback season, although Kemp’s speed is LONG gone.  

 

They key question:  Is this an unusually large convocation of five-tool players?

In my judgment it is not, at least stated in that way.   It is an unusual number of five-tool players who are having MVP-type seasons.  It is not a terribly unusual number of five-tool players having pretty good seasons.  

By my count, there were six such players in 1909-1910:  Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Sam Crawford, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and Hal Chase.   Chase was not a great player, but he was a greatly talented player. 

That was the record until 1956, but in 1956 there were eight five-tool players have very good or great seasons:  Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Boyer and Larry Doby.   Roberto Clemente was also active at that time, but not yet playing well enough to be counted. 

In 1959 there were eight again, with Vada Pinson replacing Ken Boyer on the list.   Vada Pinson was the Mookie Betts of 1959. 

In 1960 there were eight again, with Clemente replacing Duke Snider.   For several years after that there were 7 or 8 every year.   In 1964 the count went to nine:  Mays, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ken Boyer, Roberto Clemente, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline and Tony Oliva.  

It stayed around that number for a few years, dropped off to four in 1976: Brett, Cedeno, Dave Parker and Dave Winfield.    In 1988 I have nine five-tool players;  Kirby Puckett, Robin Yount, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Ellis Burks, Andre Dawson, Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds and Roberto Alomar.  In 1992 I have ten five-tool players—players who had five tools when they were young—and who were still very good players in 1992:  Barry Bonds, Kirby Puckett, Robero Alomar, Ken Griffey Jr., Larry Walker, Barry Larkin, Dave Winfield, Craig Biggio and Robin Yount.  

Some of those players were older in 1992—Winfield and Yount, certainly—but they were still productive players, so the number of players of that description in the majors at that time was larger than it is now. 

If you raise the standard to 25 Win Shares, you have fewer years with an equal concentration of stars, but you still have six in 1956—Mantle, Snider, Kaline, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.   In 1959 you have 6, in 1962 you have 6, and in 1964 there are 7.  

In order to make it TRULY unique, then, what you have to do is this:  You have to say that this is an unusual number of YOUNG five-tool players having MVP-type seasons. 

Yes.

Yes it is. 

But every moment is unique, so everything is unprecedented if you add enough qualifiers to it.   You can accept my list, or you can make your own.   But if you accept mine, then the number of five-tool stars in the game today is not tremendously high by historic standards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (34 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
Some nominees (besides Mays):

I think Joe DiMaggio arguably makes it, although it's iffy on 3 of the things.

Funnily, Mike Schmidt, who doesn't make the 'basic' list, might qualify om this tougher one, which I guess means it isn't strictly tougher, just different, although indeed more limited.

It's hard to know about speed of third basemen but I think he might have it on that, and as to batting average, there was a stretch of 3-4 years in the mid-'80's, like '84-'87, where the guys we might think had higher B.A.'s (like Madlock) didn't.

i think Jackie Robinson is a great candidate, not for sure because it's hard to know about fielding and arm, but in view of what Bill found via fielding Win Shares, he couldn't have fielded and thrown too badly.
Red Schoendienst gives him a run for his money on batting average but Jackie wins that.

Catchers have a better chance to make this list than the basic one, because they're only competing with one another on speed, but it's very hard to know who was faster than whom.
I suppose the possible candidates to make it on all 5 tools include Bench and the two Pudges.

P.S. Hope I didn't misread something else this time.....
10:33 PM Sep 30th
 
MarisFan61
......Dam, I misread 337's question! (even though I copied and pasted it)

Wasn't thinking "at his position," was thinking jut "in the league"!

Never mind, back to work on it......​
8:50 PM Sep 30th
 
MarisFan61
I like 337's question.
As to the answer, unless I misunderstand the criterion, which actually seems simple enough (each tool to have been "possibly the best in the league at his position at one point in time"), I think it's right to doubt there have been 10.

I think Mays is the onliest possible candidate at all.
8:48 PM Sep 30th
 
337
I wonder who the greatest 5-tool players would be, ranked in order, specifically in order of their least great tool. if we applied a more stringent definition of a "tool" we might stipulate that to qualify, one would need each tool to have been "possibly the best in the league at his position at one point in time." By this standard, I dont think Mantle's arm would qualify, for example, though his other skills might, with the possible exception of "fielding." What is Mays' weakest tool, by this standard? His arm was fabulous, his speed was blinding, his hitting was great, his power was legendary, and his fielding was among the greatest of all time. Clemente, like Kaline, however had good power but I don't know if he ever ranked as the best power-hitting RFer in his league--too much competition. Musial doesn't cut it, either as a thrower or a runner, possibly not as a fielder. I doubt there were 10 5-tool players, ever, by this standard, but I'd be curious to know who they were.
10:03 AM Sep 29th
 
OldBackstop
Just add add on here....not to use Soriano again, but since the metrics mentioned are all counting stats except for batting average, Soriano would have met the criteria as a hitter at Age 32...over 1000 hits, over .800 OPS, and a .282 batting average, but slid out of the batting average by the end of his career.

Which means if he wanted the BJOL hitting epaulet he should have retired at 32.
8:53 PM Sep 27th
 
OldBackstop
HeyBill, I'd like to see where Alfonso Soriano sorted out in the 5 tool ratings?

Obviously, he is number 11 all time power/speed in only 16 years, and one of only four guys in the 40-40 club. so I assume that puts paid to power and speed.

In hitting, you had some rolling numbers like 1000 hits (2039), OPS over .800 (.819) and batting average of .280 (although you let a few .279ers slide.) Soriano wound up at .270, but was batting .282 at Age 32 before he was pushed then to become more of a power hitter. Out of the leadoff slot, where he had almost half his career at bats, he batted .288. No batting title, but he led the AL in hits one year (209 in 2006) and had nine seasons with 145+ hits. He had one .300 BA year and two .290s. I realize the knife has to fall somewhere, but...well, I think Alfonso Soriano could hit.

As far as arm, it seems like it is tough to get any love at 2B as you mention. Soriano, however, was known for having a gun as a minor league shortstop (cough, Jeter), and piled up league leading assists and putouts when teams tried to challenge him as a 30 year-old first time outfielder. John Walsh of Hardball Times had Soriano rated as the best leftfield arm in 2006, 2007, 2008 (maybe later, 2008 is the last article I could find).

I assume most people would mark Soriano down on fielding. You don't specify a formula, but you do say 1000 games at an up-the-middle position would qualify. Soriano totaled 801, another 1000 in left. The problem with Soriano's bubble gum card, of course, was errors. My impression was, he went for the fantastic play too much and I'm sure a defensive highlight reel would be amazing, and certainly demonstrate the "tool." The place the eye goes is the black inks leading the league in errors. But when you look at those years, along with errors he almost always led the same position in games, chances, putouts and assists and double plays started. Beyond counting metrics, in left he led the league one season in fielding percentage and was regularly in the top ten in range factor per game, finishing second at Age 37.

So, elevator speech:

Power: 7 seasons, 32+ home runs
Speed: 3 seasons, 40+ stolen bases
Arm: rated best left field arm by Hardball Times three times
Fielding: 800 games at up-the-middle positions, led league in putouts, double plays turned and assists at both an IF and OF position
Hitting: 2095 hits, led league in hits in 2006, batted .288 in 3650 leadoff at bats.
1:06 PM Sep 26th
 
337
My point being, is "plus-power" something or nothing?

Is a tool defined as "greater than average" or "great"? That's what I mean by "hazy."
7:25 AM Sep 26th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Looking at Bill's specific criteria, I see that Jackie was way short on power.
I'd say that's a miscue of the system, because, looking at his record, it sure looks like a player that I'd say fulfills the "power" requirement as tools go.
When a player of that era had these seasonal HR numbers:
12
12
16
14
19
19
12
15

.....and with his numbers of doubles and triples, that's a guy with plus-power.
11:45 PM Sep 25th
 
MarisFan61
Jackie was a 5-tool player.
At least that's what I'm saying. :-)

About his arm: As Bill wrote so tellingly (IMHHHHO) in the last Historical Abstract, Jackie shows as a standout not just at 2B, but also at 3B and in LF. That's enough for me to figure he probably had a good enough arm to be considered an everything-tool player.
4:21 PM Sep 25th
 
danjeffers
Jackie Robinson only had 137 home runs, but would likely have had 200 if he had started younger in the National League -- would that be enough to consider him a five-tool player or was his arm an issue, too?

3:03 PM Sep 25th
 
MarisFan61
I mostly agree with 337's point about "arm" and second base, but only mostly -- because some second basemen, not saying many, but some, become second basemen in the majors not because of anything about their arms but because that happens to be the infield position that's open when they come up and are needed.

There's a prime example right in front of us: Gleyber Torres on the Yanks.
I think he has a shortstop arm -- not necessarily a great SS arm but a SS arm. Sure, if he were another Ozzie Smith I guess they would have moved Gregorius, but they wouldn't do that for just any new player, and they didn't.

That said, can't help but be reminded of a thing I said some months ago about the effect that SHIFTS will probably have on determination of player positions and on player development, provided that the shift thing stays with us for some years. I said that it will make teams want their 2B's and 3B's to have a wider breadth of ability (I wanted to say "range" of ability but that would cause confusion because of what "range" also means for an infielder, although that's part of what I mean -- kind of interesting, 'range of ability including range') .....it will make teams want their 2B's and 3B's to have a wider breadth of ability than has traditionally been needed; it will be wished for 2B's and 3B's to be more like shortstops than they've had to be. Bill replied that he didn't think this would be any big thing, because, for example, all major league 2B's can make the throw from short right field -- which to me doesn't begin to cover it because it's not a 'binary' thing, i.e. "can" or "can't" make the throw. There are degrees.
10:33 AM Sep 25th
 
337
Seems to me an argument fated to be cloaked in haziness. A second baseman, almost by definition, has a weak arm--that's why he's a second baseman. I'm sure there are a few MLB second basemen who have the arm to play ss or 3b adequately, but if they had the arm to play shortstop very well, they'd be shortstops. Absent strong data showing that a particular 2b-man has an exceptionally powerful throwing arm, I'd lean towards saying that no 2b-man can be a five-tool player. Or are we saying that if someone has a strong throwing arm FOR A 2B-MAN, he qualifies? This is the hazy part.

The other hazy part, for me, rests on our definition of a "tool." If someone has above-average speed, does he qualify as "fast"? In other words do the top 49% of MLB players, rated by speed-score (which only makes sense to me as a metric), all have "speed" as one of their tools? Or are we looking for the top 10%? Or 1%? More haziness.

I think of Willie Mays as a pure 5-tool player--I can't think which of his tools he wasn't superb in. Comparing Mays' power, say to Vada Pinson's (another favorite of mine) is a non-starter. I doubt Pinson's HR peak was half of Mays'. I make 5-tool players a little rarer than Bill does, I guess.
9:31 AM Sep 25th
 
MarisFan61
(sorry, typo as usual, can't help it despite best efforts;
should be age 33 SEASON, not seasons)​
12:42 PM Sep 24th
 
MarisFan61
I also was struck about the characterization of Aaron's speed. I'm glad that he was included in the list despite the impression that he was 'sort of' slow.

I don't pretend to know; I just always assumed he was what we'd call "pretty fast," not like Mays or Mantle, maybe not even like guys like Tony Kubek :-) or Pedro Ramos, who were said to be very fast, but well above average. I assumed, but never really thought about it, and don't know.

And I still don't know, but, for what it's worth, the main quick things that I look at for something like this seem to suggest that through his age 33 seasons, which was 1967, which means 14 years worth, he was faster than average.

Those things that I'm talking about are easily and quickly found.
(For the most part that's all I ever look at -- things that are easily and quickly found.) :-)
They're on baseball-ref's "Advanced Batting" page, under "Baserunning & Misc. Stats."
They are:

RS%
(% of the time that the guy scored when he reached base, not counting HR's; btw it seems not to count reaching base on a force-out or fielder's choice, which I doubt is any artifactual thing that helps Aaron)

OOB
(outs on base, while baserunning; doesn't include being forced, doesn't include caught-stealing or pick-offs)

XBT%
(extra-bases-taken % as a baserunner)

I didn't check everything for each and every year (i.e. I looked at all of Aaron's numbers but didn't check league average for every year, just a sampling), but it appears Aaron was almost always above average for league on all three of these things every year for his first 14 years. Some "ties," a couple of items where he was tinily below average, but almost always above, throughout the period.

(BTW, how Mays compares:
Mays was distinctly even better on RS% and XBT%, but typically got thrown out on the bases much more, usually well more than average.)

So as not to be misunderstood: I don't mean that this proves the characterization in this article wrong. I never think that anything analytic (or, as in the case of what I did here, very partially and incompletely analytic) undoes a common perception, which Bill notes that it was, i.e. Aaron being "slow" or at least not fast.
Just, I was interested to look at these things because of what's said in the article, and this is what they show.
12:41 PM Sep 24th
 
OldBackstop
What??? Did Alfonso Soriano show someone his weiner in a college drinking game????
11:44 AM Sep 24th
 
FrankD
I was a little surprised Ruth didn't make the 5-tool list. I assume this was due to running or maybe fielding. But Ruth was fast in his youth. Late in his career Ruth was slower and his fielding was going down hill - but in 1919 - 1924 I would have thought Ruth was 5-tool player .......
11:06 AM Sep 24th
 
JohnPontoon
This article would have been funnier if you started out,
"The first of our five tool players is Dick Allen. Here's why he was a tool..."

I've resolved, though, to accept our differing priorities.
9:51 AM Sep 24th
 
evanecurb
Ken Boyer was faster than Hank Aaron? Who’d a thunk it?
7:54 AM Sep 24th
 
shthar
Mike Schmidt didn't make it?

Tough crowd


1:37 AM Sep 24th
 
MattGoodrich
I lose my respect for early 20th century players if they were drinking Jack Daniels by the case. As an amateur mixologist, why calculate everything based on whisky content? There are so many better options. Have a Hemingway Daquiri, an Aviation, or a Kamikazi. So many possibilities... I'm sorry, it this a baseball website? I guess I'm out of line here...................


12:31 AM Sep 24th
 
BlueRulez
Just as "similar to Babe Ruth" is a good definition of a Hall of Famer, "similar to Willie Mays" is a good definition of a Five Tool player.
11:35 PM Sep 23rd
 
DJ_Man
No catchers meet the criteria. I guess the "running" disqualifies all or most. Which catcher came the closest to qualifying?
10:02 PM Sep 23rd
 
MarisFan61
Rolen was one of the names that jumped out at me too.
My guess: Rolen just made it on speed, Beltre just missed it.

Clearly neither was a "burner," and, looking at their records, I don't see any obvious gap between them on speed.
BUT, Rolen shows better on runs scored, triples, and GIDP's, plus, as seen on baseball-ref.com, he shows better on runs-scored-per-time-on-base and extra bases taken. While I wouldn't have expected him to be on such a list, we can see how it's possible that he was just over the bar, and Beltre below it.
9:45 PM Sep 23rd
 
W.T.Mons10
Seems odd to me that Scott Rolen made the list, but Adrian Beltre didn't. Did he fall short on the speed score? His base stealing numbers are pretty good.
8:34 PM Sep 23rd
 
MarisFan61
Bo Jackson, Oddibe McDowell, Drew Henson.....and, who remembers Dean Look?
7:56 PM Sep 23rd
 
jollydodger
I think the scout's obsession with 5-tool players is stupid. These great athletes get drafted high, but they're athletes, not necessarily baseball players. And what's the one tool that seems to lag for all these guys? The hit tool. Doesn't matter how fast you are if you can't get on base! Doesn't matter how far you can hit it if you can't hit it!
6:56 PM Sep 23rd
 
MarisFan61
Closest Kansas City A's player: Ed Charles!

BTW, not that I think anyone was waiting with bated breath on this, but I take back my doubt about assuming any good-long-career third baseman or right fielder to have a good arm.
I tried to think of any exception and couldn't easily, nor pretty hardly.
5:22 PM Sep 23rd
 
bjames
You ever see anyone like this in KC?

Beltran and Amos were similar players to Mookie. Mookie is better than Amos, and maybe Beltran should have been on the list.
2:25 PM Sep 23rd
 
MarisFan61
P.S. Hadn't seen Wovenstrap's comment.
What he said about the "tools" is basically what I mean too.
1:36 PM Sep 23rd
 
MarisFan61
Love the reasoning about excluding Hornsby. The trajectory of his position placement over his career and the fact of 2B being the kind of position it was at the time ....considering all that, I think it would be giving extreme benefit of the doubt about his fielding to include him.

And actually, if I were doing such a list, I think I would have eliminated him more easily, some others too, because I think I'd want to have a higher bar on each tool than seems maybe to be followed here, because my impression about what people generally mean when they talk about "5 tool player" is that they do have a higher bar on the tools than what's described here. I think they mean the guy is distinctly above average on each -- not necessarily a lot above, but distinctly above. So, for example, I don't think it necessarily fits the bill on "arm" merely that the guy was a third baseman or right fielder for a long time, nor that he fits it on fielding automatically if he had a long career as a catcher. Two examples of the latter (players who aren't on the list, just using their 'tools' as examples): Ted Simmons and Jorge Posada. Simmons is commonly thought of as a mediocre defensive catcher; although sabermetrics sees him better, I think few people would feel that he met the bar sufficiently on "fielding" for that to be considered one of his "tools." Posada maybe is even more complicated -- I watched him for 100 years and I don't know what to think about his defense except to say that he was at least 'OK,' but, he was felt by most Yankee watchers to be a subpar defensive catcher, and supposedly some pitchers disliked working with him. Be that as it may, it seems safe to say that most people wouldn't feel that a player like him met the bar on defense for him to have fulfilled that "tool" toward being an anything-tool player. Obviously we're just guessing when we talk about what most people think. I'd be interested to know how you all see it.

---------------

I'm thinking of making an adapted version of this into a T-shirt: (meaning I love it and wish more people in the field were inclined to follow it)

It’s a mixture of judgment and sabermetrics. To make judgments about 2,771 players one at a time would take weeks and result in many errors, so most of it is done by creating "rules" that I will explain below. But if I looked at the output from the rules and knew that it wasn’t right, then I changed it. If I looked at a result and just didn’t like it, I left it alone; if I looked at a result and knew that it was wrong, then I changed it.

----------------

I would have eliminated Hal Chase by the above.

Biggest surprise to me on the list: Bob Meusel
1:34 PM Sep 23rd
 
wovenstrap
I don't find the Hornsby issue so vexing, at least for this question. His defense wasn't a plus, and we're talking about 5-tool players, the 'tools' should wow you just a little.

An an Indians fan, I'm a little concerned that Ramirez has batted .181 since August 1 and his batting average for 2018 is down to .275. He's played his way out of the MVP race, for sure. However, there's no disputing that the guy has some tools.


11:17 AM Sep 23rd
 
Fireball Wenz
How close was Yaz? I assume it was running that left him off, but although he was an extroardinarily risk-taking runner on the basepaths, he definitely could run pretty well, although he was never "fast." And I suppose Jimmy Wynn fails on hitting - don't remember much about his arm.
10:10 AM Sep 23rd
 
3for3
A different approach...almost all major leaguers were 5 tool players at some level, be it AAA, college, high school or even little league. Obviously harder to track, but interested to see when a player drops off the 5 tool list. Many if not most of those players Bill identified were no longer 5 tool players at 35, or even 30.
9:51 AM Sep 23rd
 
Manushfan
Oh it's interesting to see Shawn Green there-I had half forgotten about him. Yes he was impressive for a time. Vada Pinson....Vada strikes me as being rather forgotten by everyone else, he was great in his 20's certainly. For some reason I was surprised to see Al Simmons in there, didn't realize his running speed was all that. My namesake-well-his arm wasn't that good, he wasn't a power hitter at all, and he wasn't really fast-those triples and steals come off as being from an aggressive, opportunistic style of play vs anything else.

And a last thing...Mookie Betts is pretty special, isn't he? You ever see anyone like this in KC?
8:20 AM Sep 23rd
 
 
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