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How to build a 5-tool Superman? Next up: Speed

@_dadler and @mattkellyMLB and @AndrewSimonMLB and @SlangsOnSports and @HarriganMLB
April 28, 2020

Scouts have long graded position players on five tools that are central to success in the game: hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. The so-called “five-tool player” is a special breed, as those who truly rate above average in each category are extremely rare. This week, MLB.com is

Scouts have long graded position players on five tools that are central to success in the game: hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. The so-called “five-tool player” is a special breed, as those who truly rate above average in each category are extremely rare.

This week, MLB.com is tasking five reporters with building the ultimate five-tool Superman, by picking the best examples of each tool from the talented pool of current big leaguers. One important stipulation: Each player could only be selected for one of the five tools.

Part I: Hit tool
Part II: Power tool

Up next: Run tool

A baseball player certainly does not have to be fast to succeed. But it sure helps.

Speed turns ground-ball outs into infield singles. It stretches singles into doubles and doubles into triples. It takes baserunners from first to third on singles and first to home on doubles. It leads to stolen bases, distracted pitchers and fielders who rush their throws.

It can be a huge asset defensively as well, particularly for outfielders, but the focus here is on baserunning.

With Statcast’s sprint speed, we can now measure this tool more precisely than ever. But a good baserunner has more than pure speed. Sharp instincts, situational awareness and hustle matter, too.

These five picks cause problems for defenses every time they’re aboard:

Ronald Acuña Jr., RF, Braves
Key stat: 53 steals, 95 Bolts since MLB debut

If he hadn't gotten hurt at the end of the year, Acuña probably would've been the fifth 40-40 club member in MLB history. And that's not even enough for him. He wants to go 50-50. No one's ever done that … but it's not a joke to think that Acuña could. You can't get to 40-40 or 50-50 without elite power and elite speed. But this is about the run tool, so forget about the homers for a second. Acuña led the league in steals last year with 37. He loves to run. Why wouldn't he? He's one of the most explosive runners out there.

Acuña has reached an elite sprint speed -- 30+ ft/sec -- on 95 baserunning plays since his MLB debut; only 10 players have more of those runs, called Bolts. Acuña's average sprint speed in the big leagues, 29.5 ft/sec, is also top-tier. Acuña is one of only 20 Major Leaguers with such a high overall sprint speed, out of the 662 with at least 100 competitive runs under Statcast tracking. That's the top 3% of runners. Acuña's speed is much more than stolen bases. He's reached 30+ ft/sec to beat out infield singles, stretch his hits into doubles and triples and take the extra base for his teammates.

-- David Adler

Previous picks: DJ LeMahieu (hit), Aaron Judge (power)

Trea Turner, SS, Nationals
Key stat: 122 Bolts in 2019

Since his rookie season in 2016, Turner has wreaked havoc on the bases, tallying 157 steals in 455 games while getting caught only 28 times (85% success rate). The fleet-footed shortstop led the National League with 43 steals in '18, and if not for a fractured right index finger that kept him out for more than a month, Turner likely would have repeated in '19.

A sprint speed of 30 feet per second is considered elite. Turner has posted an average at least that high in each of his four full seasons, and he finished second among all players last year at 30.4 ft/sec. Turner recorded a sprint speed of at least 30 ft/sec on roughly half of his competitive runs in 2019, registering 122 Bolts in a year when no other player even topped 70.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Previous picks: Michael Brantley (hit), Nelson Cruz (power)

Christian Yelich, LF, Brewers
Key stat: 89.5% stolen-base success rate since 2017

It would be a crime if Yelich weren’t picked for any tool in this exercise, and this is an opportunity to highlight his most underrated trait. Yelich is fast, if not the fastest; his average sprint speed of 28.7 ft/sec landed in the 88th percentile of big league players last year. But he makes up the gap with top-end baserunning intelligence. The 2020 Bill James Handbook listed Yelich in a tie with Jonathan Villar for MLB’s top runner in terms of net bases gained, marking just one more way he ruled the world last year. FanGraphs’ baserunning metric -- which converts steals, caught-stealings, extra bases taken and other plays into runs above or below average -- had Yelich tied for second (and he’s fourth in that metric since the start of ‘17).

Want an old-school metric? Yelich went 30-for-32 in stolen base attempts in 2019 while also serving as the Brewers’ horse at the plate, and he’s 68-for-76 over the past three seasons. Only Byron Buxton has been a more successful burglar in that span. Yelich picks his spots masterfully, giving my superplayer fast feet and brains in the running department.

-- Matt Kelly

Previous picks: Mookie Betts (hit), Joey Gallo (power)

Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
Key stat: 30+ ft/sec sprint speed each year from 2015-19

Obviously, all the speed in the world does no good if you’re not on the field, and that has been a huge problem throughout Buxton’s promising but frustrating career. Between his struggles at the plate and injury issues (most recently with his left shoulder), he has played fewer than 400 MLB games since debuting in June 2015.

But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re assuming the 26-year-old is healthy. And when he is, there’s nobody who is more thrilling to watch on the bases or covering ground in the outfield. Buxton’s speed is so effortless at times, he appears to be gliding. In each of the five seasons of Statcast tracking, Buxton has cracked the elite 30 ft/sec threshold in average sprint speed, and he has ranked in the top three in the Majors. It’s not just about pure speed, though: Buxton is 60-for-68 (88.2%) in career steal attempts, having swiped 33 in a row without being caught at one point. Despite the limited playing time, he ranks in the top 10 in FanGraphs’ baserunning value metric over the past four seasons.

-- Andrew Simon

Previous picks: Anthony Rendon (hit), Mike Trout (power)

Tim Locastro, OF, D-backs
Key stat: 30.8 ft/sec sprint speed in 2019

Simply put, Locastro is the fastest player in the Majors -- or he was in 2019. His 30.8 ft/sec sprint speed was the best in the Majors and well into the elite territory beyond 30 ft/sec. Meanwhile, 62% of his competitive runs last season were Bolts. No player with as many runs as him had a percentage that high.

Locastro got down the line quickly, too. His average home-to-first time was 3.94 seconds, good for fastest in the Majors among players with at least 30 competitive runs last season. It should come as little surprise, then, that Locastro was a perfect 17-for-17 on stolen-base attempts last season. He only had 250 plate appearances, so he didn’t have too many chances, but if it involved speed, he excelled. MLB The Show agreed, giving him a 99 speed rating -- much to his excitement.

-- Sarah Langs

Previous picks: Jeff McNeil (hit), Gary Sánchez (power)

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.

Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.