Five-Tool Players By The Nerdiest Possible Numbers

From SABR member Carson Cistulli at on August 18:

If there’s still such a thing as newstands anymore, the issue of Baseball America at your local one (i.e. your local newstand) is that publication’s annual “Tools” edition. No, it’s not (as you might suspect from the title) an issue dedicated entirely to relief pitchers with questionable taste in facial hair. Rather, it’s in this edition of the magazine that the editors of Baseball America attempt to isolate the players — major- and minor-leaguers — with the best baseballing tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, etc.).


For every player in the FanGraphs Era (2002-10), I’ve attempted to build on Eddy’s methodology using some numbers that might be more amenable to a FanGraphs reader’s tastes. Defense, as Eddy notes, is tougher to quantify, but I’ve submitted a way to deal with it that’s at least somewhat satisfying.


Here are the criteria for each of the five tools in this particular exercise:

  • Tool: Hit for Average
  • Stat: Contact Rate (Contact%)
  • Notes: I also considered strikeout rate (K%) for this, but felt that, if the goal is really to isolate a hitter’s contact ability, then contact rate is (n’doy) the best way to do that. While contact rate is a different thing than hitting for average, it also (i.e. contact rate) becomes reliable in a much smaller sample. In fact, batting average doesn’t even become a reliable marker of skill within 750 plate appearances, making a single season’s worth of data something less than entirely meaningful.


  • Tool: Hit for Power
  • Stat: Home Runs per Batted Ball (HR/(PA-K-BB-HBP))
  • Notes: For power, I considered at least two other metrics — namely, isolated power (ISO) and home runs per fly ball (HR/FB). The problem with ISO is that it gives credit to speed, because faster players are more likely to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. That’s fine, but if we’re trying to isolate speed separately, we don’t want to credit it here, as well. HR/FB, as I say, was another possibility, but the thing that it ignores is a player’s proclivity for hitting fly balls in the first place. Part of the mechanics of hitting a home run is the ability to create loft. Home runs per batted-ball rewards this ability.


  • Tool: Speed
  • Stat: Speed Score (Spd)
  • Notes: There’s no totally great way to do adjudge speed. I considered finding runs added via stolen bases (using linear weights) and general baserunning runs together, but there are plenty of players who are smart baserunners but who aren’t necessarily fast. If the goal is to isolate the speed tool, Speed score is the best (if not ideal-est) way to do that.


  • Tool: Fielding (and Arm)
  • Stat: UZR + Positional Adjustment
  • Notes: If I’ve had one intelligent thought in the past week (or, granted, maybe longer), it was to include not only UZR in the fielding criteria but also to add in each player’s respective positional adjustment. One of the draws of the five-tool player is that he’s theoretically able to play a position somewhere on the right side of the defensive spectrum. In other words, a player with a +5.0 true-talent UZR at shortstop is very different than one with a +5.0 true-talent UZR at first base — about 20 runs different, in fact. Adding in the positional adjustment is also akin to adding a sort of regression to the defensive numbers, thus giving less overall weight to UZR, which needs some three seasons to become reliable, alone. The addition of positional adjustment also goes some way to crediting both fielding ability and arm together. Like the above categories, it’s not necessarily ideal, but it works well for the purposes of the exercise, I think. (Note: so’s not to credit players who appeared in more games, I divided the sum of UZR and positional adjustment by games played).

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Originally published: August 25, 2011. Last Updated: August 25, 2011.