Statcast identifies the rare 'five-tool player'
MVPs Trout, McCutchen part of inaugural group of eight
From the first day you started watching baseball, you were probably aware of the phrase "five-tool player," which purports to describe a player with above-average skills at hitting, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and running. It's the idea of the "complete ballplayer," someone who contributes in all facets of the game, rather than being a slow-footed slugger (sorry, David Ortiz), or pop-hitting fielding wizard (next time, Andrelton Simmons).
Traditionally, those players were identified by using the 20-to-80 scouting scale, where "50" is considered average. Since that's a relatively subjective scale, and now we can measure just about everything, well, you had to know we were going to apply Statcast™ to this at some point. So that's exactly what we've done.
Let's lay out the rules. We identified the following five Statcast™ thresholds as stand-ins for the five traditional tools, and sorted by only the players who have had at least three qualified recorded data points in each of the five areas. That's not the same as being above average for an entire season, but that's not the point; we want to see the players who are blessed with the capability to do these things at all, and three times over six months didn't seem too much to ask.
Hitting: Batting exit velocity of ≥ 110 mph
Hitting for power: Home run distance of ≥ 425 feet
Fielding: Route efficiency of ≥ 98 percent
Throwing: Throws of ≥ 85 mph
Running: Top baserunning speed of ≥ 21 mph
As it turns out, only eight players made our somewhat arbitrarily defined cut, which sounds just about right for a phrase that's intended to apply only to a select few. The results? A pair of baseball's biggest young stars, two free-agents-to-be hoping to strike it big this winter and a surprising entry who actually got sent to the Minors for a month this year:
The Statcast™ "Five Tool Players"
Right away, you notice the names of McCutchen and Trout, both recent MVP Award recipients, and so that feels like a good start -- particularly with McCutchen, who has reached double-digit totals in steals and home runs in each of his seven big league seasons. Trout doesn't need Statcast™ to explain his greatness with the bat and glove, but he's still something of a fascinating inclusion, because his throwing arm hasn't generally been considered to be quite as outstanding as the rest of his game, though he's worked hard to improve it.
Gomez, owner of nine straight seasons of double-digit steals and four consecutive of double-digit homers (in addition to endless highlight-reel defensive plays) makes sense too, as does Cain, who originally made his name on defense but has added a dangerous bat this season. He's tied with Kris Bryant for ninth overall in Wins Above Replacement, believe it or not. One of the names above him on that list is Cespedes, and we hardly need to remind you about the kind of season he's having.
But it's probably the final three names on the list that are the most surprising, and that's not necessarily a bad thing -- after all, it wouldn't be interesting if it were entirely names you could have guessed yourselves. Desmond, enduring what is for him a subpar season, is still having his fourth straight season of double-digit steals and homers, and among infielders, only Brandon Crawford has more throws of 85 mph or more. Pence has played in only 52 games this year due to multiple injuries, but he made the most of that time and ever so barely snuck onto the list.
Then there's Ozuna, easily the most unlikely entrant, if only because he was optioned back to Triple-A by the Marlins on July 5, staying in the Minors until he was brought back to replace the injured Christian Yelich on Aug. 15. At 23, Ozuna had put up a very good 4 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, but slumped badly until he was in an 1-for-36 hole at the time of his demotion.
Is this proof that Ozuna should have remained in the big leagues? It may seem that way, given the impressive names he's paired with and the fact that he's increased his OPS by 150 points, up to an above-average second-half .788, since his return. Of course, it's impossible to uncouple that from the time spent away from the big leagues. But Ozuna is still not even 25 until November, and despite the subpar results it's clear that he's got the tools to succeed.
That's really the point, of course. You can define the thresholds of being a "five-tool player" however you like, and maybe by fiddling with the inputs the names would change slightly. A list that includes some superstars and potentially underrated young talent seems a good start, though. No matter how you define it, now it can be measured. If nothing else, that changes the conversation.