Hot Stove standouts: 5 tools, 5 free agents

November 29th, 2022

No matter what type of player your team wants, it can find one on the free-agent market.

Sluggers? They're out there. Speedsters? Those too. Elite defenders? Yep.

Let's try to find the free agents with the best individual skills, using baseball's classic five tools. In other words, we're looking for the players with the best power, the best contact hitting, the best speed, the best arm and the best glove. One top free agent in each category.

One rule: Each free agent can only be used once. So players like Aaron Judge and Trea Turner, who have a case for the best tool in more than one category, are only the choice for their most standout tool.

Here are the 2022-23 free-agent hitters with the best tools.

Power: Aaron Judge

All you really need to see is "62 home runs" to know that Judge has the best power bat on the market. But here are the "tool" metrics behind all those homers:

• He set a single-season record for the Statcast era with 106 barrels -- balls hit with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle to be home runs or extra-base hits.

• He led the Majors by barreling 26.5 percent of the balls he put in play.

• His expected slugging percentage, based on his quality of contact, was an MLB-best .706 -- even higher than his actual slugging percentage (.686).

• His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives was 100.3 mph, the highest in the Majors.

• Thirty-seven of the 64 home runs he hit between the regular season and playoffs were no-doubt home runs, meaning they'd be gone in all 30 MLB ballparks. That was 12 more no-doubters than anyone else (Kyle Schwarber was second with 25).

Honorable mention: Joey Gallo, Luke Voit, Nelson Cruz, Trey Mancini

Contact: Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts is one of the most consistent hitters out there. Since his breakout season for the Red Sox in 2015, Bogaerts is a .299 hitter over 1,102 games, which includes his .307 average in '22 and his .304 average since the start of '19. He's one of only three hitters, along with fellow free agent Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman, to bat over .290 in each of the last four seasons, and one of only five to hit over .300 in three of those four seasons. Bogaerts' steady production is driven by his performance against fastballs -- he's hit .333 against them over the last four seasons, one of the best marks of any hitter, with an average over .320 vs. fastballs in each of those years.

Honorable mention: J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley, Brandon Nimmo

Speed: Trea Turner

Turner has been one of the fastest players in baseball since he stepped foot in the big leagues. His average sprint speed has been over 30 feet per second every season going back to 2015.

Turner's sprint speed by season
2015: 30.7 ft/sec (second fastest in MLB)
2016: 30.2 ft/sec (tied for third)
2017: 30.4 ft/sec (fifth)
2018: 30.1 ft/sec (tied for seventh)
2019: 30.4 ft/sec (tied for second)
2020: 30.1 ft/sec (fourth)
2021: 30.7 ft/sec (tied for first)
2022: 30.3 ft/sec (fifth)

No one reached the elite 30-plus ft/sec threshold on more individual plays in 2022 than Turner, who did so 131 times. Thirty-four of those runs were on base hits (the most elite-speed hits of any player); eight more were on stolen bases (the most elite-speed steals of any player). The two-time stolen-base champion has true game-breaking speed.

Honorable mention: Tim Locastro, Roman Quinn, Garrett Hampson

Arm: Willson Contreras

Contreras is one of the few all-around stars at the catcher position, and his No. 1 tool is his arm. Year in and year out, the longtime Cubs backstop sits in the top tier of catchers in terms of his "max-effort" arm strength, which compares catchers using their hardest group of throws.

Contreras' average "max-effort" arm strength by season
Ranks among regular catcher in mph (comparable number of throws)
2016: 85.7 mph (fifth)
2017: 86.7 mph (fourth)
2018: 86.3 mph (fourth)
2019: 84.7 mph (sixth)
2020: 84.6 mph (fifth)
2021: 84.3 mph (fourth)
2022: 86.0 mph (sixth)

Contreras' arm produces consistently excellent pop times to second base. In 2022, his average was 1.93 seconds, tied for fourth best among catchers with 20 or more attempts to second. That tool will be even more important in '23, with limits on the number of pickoff throws and larger bases likely to encourage more stolen-base attempts.

Honorable mention: Carlos Correa, Joey Gallo, Cody Bellinger

Defense: Kevin Kiermaier

There's an interesting case here for Dansby Swanson, who had a career year at shortstop in 2022 and was the second-best fielder in all of baseball by outs above average. But when Kiermaier is healthy in center field, there's no one like him. Since Statcast introduced outs above average in '16, Kiermaier has been the No. 1 outfielder in MLB, at +71 OAA. That translates to 64 runs prevented with his glove alone. Kiermaier has made 54 catches with a catch probability of 50 percent or lower and 17 catches with a catch probability of 25 percent or lower.

Honorable mention: Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson