Holiday Mailbag: The Five Tools

New Year's Open Thread
Holiday Mailbag: DSL Prospects
(J. Meric/Getty)

Dan asks: Could you write a piece on how many of the classic five tools each player on the roster really has? Sure to generate conversation.

The five traditional tools are the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, throw, and field. I’m no scout and won’t dare slap 20-80 grades on players, so I’m going to stick to three “scoring” categories: average, above-average, and below-average. Those are simple enough and I think most fans can dish those out. I am going to stick to 40-man roster players who have appeared in the big leagues, giving us 13 players…

Average Power Run Throw Field
Robinson Cano above above below above above
Frankie Cervelli below below average below below
Chris Dickerson below average above average above
Brett Gardner average below above average above
Curtis Granderson below above above below below
Derek Jeter above below above average below
Eduardo Nunez average below above above below
Alex Rodriguez average average below above average
Austin Romine below below below average average
Chris Stewart below below below average above
Ichiro Suzuki above below above above above
Mark Teixeira below above below above above
Kevin Youkilis below above below average average

I consider only two players to be above-average at four of the five tools: Cano (lacking run) and Ichiro (lacking power). I think you can make an argument that Ichiro’s arm only plays as average because he takes forever to actually throw the damn thing, but he does have a reputation and that alone prevents runners from taking the extra base. Teixeira is probably the next closest to four above-average tools, but he’ll need to remember how to hit for average first. Gardner doesn’t get enough credit for being able to do a little of everything other than hit for power.

The catchers were the toughest to grade given their sporadic playing time over the last few years, and I think all three of those guys could be considered below-average across the board. Cervelli runs well for a catcher and both Stewart and Romine have strong defensive reputations, so I’ll give them a little love in those departments. My biggest problem with the five tools is that plate discipline gets ignored, and it’s an area where several Yankees (Gardner, Granderson, A-Rod, Tex, Youkilis) would rate as above-average. Durability is another one, the ability to stay on the field counts.

I suspect there will be a lot of disagreement about these, so let me have it in the comments.

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New Year's Open Thread
Holiday Mailbag: DSL Prospects
  • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

    My only disagreement, or confusion is that you graded C-Dick as average power and Nunez below. Is this just relative to the entire league? (In which case I think giving Dickerson an average is a little optimistic from a fan stand point) Or is it relative to the players position? (In which case I think giving Nunez a below is a little rough on him as not many shortstops hit for power at all.)

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      It is relative to the entire league, not position. Dickerson’s at a .141 ISO in 600 MLB PA and over that in a ton of AAA time. Maybe I’m being too generous.

      • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

        Really? Wow, I stand corrected. I mean .141 isn’t Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

        • The Doctor (formerly known as G formerly known as Matt Smith formerly known as David Tennant formerly known as…etc)

          On the other hand, A-Rod had an ISO over .150 last year and he’s stuck at average. Have to think that’s a bit harsh if Dickerson can be called above with a .141.

          • The Doctor (formerly known as G formerly known as Matt Smith formerly known as David Tennant formerly known as…etc)

            Just kidding for some reason I thought Dickerson’s power was rated as above-average for a second… Disregard

      • Mister D

        And you don’t hit that HR Dickerson hit in Tampa (pretty sure it was in Tampa) unless you have atleast average power. Gardner would need to hit the ball twice for that kind of distance.

        • Mister D

          (Not even close according to the HR Tracker. Either it was the one against Felix or spring training or I’m thinking of a different event altogether. This is why you don’t rely on memory.)

          • Robinson Tilapia

            It was Eric Dickerson. Rams/49ers. 1986.

  • ClusterDuck

    I don’t think Granderson has plate discipline.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      His walk rate says otherwise.

      I love the strikeouts = no plate discipline assumption. The exact opposite is true more often than not.

      • jjyank

        It is pretty logical that taking more pitches leads to more strikeouts (in addition to walks). Some don’t seem to grasp that, though.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          All those complaints as to called third strikes seem like they were made a year ago.

        • ClusterDuck

          Grasp this.

          Taking more pitches leading to more strikeouts still doesn’t account for 195 strikeouts.

          • jjyank

            Jeez dude, Mike never said Granderson grades out as an 80 for plate discipline. Just that he’s above average.

            • ClusterDuck

              Dude. I never said that Granderson grades out as an “80”, whatever that means. I simply disagreed that Granderson is above average when it comes to plate discipline.

              • YanksFanInBeantown

                And they simply pointed out that you were incorrect…

        • OldYanksFan

          I would have to see how many STRIKE THREE’s were swinging vs. called.

      • ClusterDuck

        I love the 75 walks = plate discipline assumption.

        In my book, 195 strikeouts with 75 walks doesn’t equal above average plate discipline.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          The 195 strikeouts were a lot more of a reflection of his very low contact % than his plate discipline. His out of zone swing % was better than average.

          • ClusterDuck

            Clearly, contact % is a factor too.

            It’s true that a homerun (non contact) hitter can be disciplined enough to swing at the right pitch and miss and strikeout.

            It’s also true that a homerun hitter can also lack discipline and swing at the wrong pitch, and miss and strikeout.

            I look at the number of walks and the number of strikeouts and to me Granderson is not an above average disciplined hitter.

            • Mister D

              By your SO/BB logic, Placido Polanco is an extreme discipline hitter.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              Plate discipline has to do with swinging at pitches in the zone, as opposed to those out of the zone, not strikeouts and walks. See Need Pitching & Hitting’s comment above yours. He can swing at pitches in the zone and miss them and still have good plate discipline (swinging at pitches he should swing at and laying off pitches he shouldn’t swing at).

              • Kevin Schappert

                Excellent explanation–Grandy and Swish are zone hitters to extreme–not good hitters overall but zone pitches for power–have holes in swing and behind on count are in trouble

              • ClusterDuck

                Good discipline isn’t just a matter of swinging at a pitch in the zone and taking a pitch outside the zone. A player who isn’t patient enough to recognize the speed and movement on a pitch in the zone and who misses pitches often and who produces less runs then they are cable of is not a discipline hitter.

                Plate discipline should also be about handling the type of pitches in the strike zone, producing runs as best as one can, given the quality of pitches that one faces and given the physical ability that one possess.

                Knowing the strike zone is one aspect of good discipline. Knowing how to handle pitches in a the strike zone is another aspect.

                • YanksFanInBeantown

                  And those players also don’t lead the league in pitches per plate appearance.

                • Cris Pengiucci

                  Knowing the strike zone is one aspect of good discipline. Knowing how to handle pitches in a the strike zone is another aspect.

                  Knowing what pitches to swing at and what pitches not to swing at (i.e. knowing the strike zone) is plate discipline. How you handle a particular pitch is something else entirely. It could be defined as batting ability.

                  • Rick

                    +1. I 100% agree that Cluster Duck is intertwining two totally different aspects of hitting. Plate discipline is simply the ability to recognize what pitches to swing at, and what pitches not to. Your analysis has been spot on.

        • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

          Granderson was 5th in all of baseball in pitches per at bat last season. That’s pretty damn disciplined if you ask me.

      • Kevin Schappert

        Correct–and similarly good plate discipline does not mean a player hits well

  • Mike Myers

    Did you grade Youk as a 1b? His is graded as an ok 1b but below 3b I thought.

    • Jersey Joe

      Youk is ~above average at 1st, below average at 3rd. He’s a good 1B.

  • bill

    Where was a-rod in his prime? Truly 5 tool? With plate discipline and durability he was probably 7-tool no? How rare is that?

    • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

      Probably once or twice in a generation. The only person from his era was probably Griffey Jr. but Junior wasn’t at all durable.

      • Mister D

        Eric Davis (sad face).

        • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

          I know you post here regularly, but I just laughed out loud at your handle, because in another tab I’m arguing with my friend about if a friend of hers and a friend of mine should have banged last night and I said “The way they kissed at midnight, she absolutely wanted the D.” Then to come here and See “Mister D” say sad face about anything…I am in tears of laughter right now.

      • Bob Buttons

        Bonds early in his career was a 7-tool guy too, and that was before all the steroid allegation.

  • your mom

    The five tools:

    Curt Schilling
    Dustin Pedroia
    Bobby Valentine
    Jonathan Papelbon
    Jose Valverde

    • Austin Aunelowitzky

      IETC

    • trr

      ROFLMAO

    • Robinson Tilapia

      End of thread.

    • Jersey Joe

      HaHa

    • Hans Moleman

      Funny how our starting 3rd baseman would have been on top of that list a few months ago.

    • Carmine

      Vicente Padilla

    • Jacob

      I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!

  • Jersey Joe

    What role exactly will C-Dick have this year anyway? Trade bait? I wonder if we could send him to the Twins for Darin Mastroianni to fill that righty OF hole. Twins gave away tons of speed with Span/Revere, and Darin kills lefties (.288/.377). With Doumit and Willingham, the Twins aren’t a lefty-leaning lineup anymore, so giving up a righty bat wouldn’t be a big deal, right?

    Maybe we would have to toss in a D prospect because of Dickerson’s age, but both players should come cheap. In 2014, we would need Mastroianni in the OF with budget limits.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I had to look Darin up, as the name did not ring a bell at all, but it seems like he’s in the mix for an actual spot on the team. If he lost out, and if Dickerson seemed to fit a need for the Twins better than he did, then I guess I could see a deal with one fringy guy for another.

      I guess it’d be smart to hold on to “a” Dickerson this season. I also wouldn’t lose much sleep if he winds up as DFA fodder.

  • David in Cal

    I’d rate Gardner’s throwing as “above average”, because of accuracy and quick release. It isn’t just luck that he has thrown out so many base-runners.

    • Jersey Joe

      I agree. He’s not ranked as one of the best OF in the league because of his range only.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        He’s had one year where he was really above average with the arm. UZR says he’s barely above average for the rest.

  • Jersey Joe

    Just my opinion, but I think Nix should be on this list. He’s still in the organization, played a ton last year, and will probably be needed again this year.

    • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

      off the top of my head I’m pretty sure it would be
      Average: Below
      Power: Below
      Running: Average
      Fielding: Average
      Arm: Average

  • Joel

    I’m no A-Rod apologist, but saying his power is average on a list where Youkilis’s is above seems incorrect.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Youk had a .174 ISO just this year, and it was his worst in five years.

      • turd surfer

        I disagree with that line of thinking based on his career arc and his iso in away games throughout his career but it’s just nitpicking. Nothing wrong with your rating on his power.

        • Ted Nelson

          Career arc is not necessarily a straight-line thing. Over a sample of enough players it is a smooth curve. Each individual sample (player) will vary. He could continue to fall off, he could stabilize, or he could bounce back. Looking at an aggregate career arc of all MLB players will not tell you which.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Yet every day we read about how some player is finished because of their 2012 stats.

            • turd surfer

              I never said he was finished by the way. I believe that to be far from the truth. Just some confusion as to what I’m saying I suppose.

          • turd surfer

            I’m basing my opinion on Youk’s power over the years not anyone else’s. If your stance is that anything can happen, I can’t disagree.

            I’m just sharing my opinion based on the facts I’ve mentioned. Feel free to disagree or agree. I can’t really argue with anything can happen because it has before though.

      • Joel

        I see what you’re saying, but I doubt too many would agree that a healthy A-Rod (big if on that, of course) has closer to average power than Youkilis (also a big if on health). If it’s true, it’s not by much.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/compa.....;type=full

        http://www.fangraphs.com/compa.....8;players=

  • Jacob

    CANO,AROD,AND GRANDERSON ARE BELOW AVERAGE EVERYTHING BECAUSE DEY SUCK SO BAD! DEY CANNOT HIT IN TEH PLAYOFF SO DEREFORE DEY SUCK.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Nick Swisher would have broken the spreadsheet.

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      Finally, someone gets it.

  • Will (the other one)

    Seeing the words “Rodriguez,” “power,” and “average” in the same line is a serious (but valid) shock to the system indeed.

    • Jersey Joe

      It’s funny that we want to move him to DH, but throwing is his only worthy skill.

      Now, I’m going to go cry about this contract. Again.

      • jjyank

        I wouldn’t go that far. Clearly he’s not, and will never be, the player he once was. But I’m not willing to write him off as not having any other worthy skills. I still think A-Rod can be better than league average. Contract sucks, but he can still be useful, in my opinion.

        That said, I don’t want to move him to DH full time yet either.

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, he was at a .360+ wOBA in 2010-11 (125 wRC+ for both years) and was in that neighborhood, I believe, before getting injured in 2012. Vastly overpaid, but still productive.

        • Laz

          Would like to see him get a lot of DH time this year though. They only have Youk under control for 1 year, so do what ever with arod that is going to help him stay durable for the length of his contract. With 2 surgical hips I think it might be best to keep him off of defense for a lot of the year.

          • Dalek Jeter (formerly: Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM))

            I agree. It’s not that I don’t think A-Rod is good defensively, in fact I think he is quite good. However, I think with his hips and knee, and even his wrist(which still concerns me a bit) that he should DH just to keep him healthy.

          • jjyank

            Oh, sure. I didn’t mean to imply that he shouldn’t get a healthy dose of DH reps. A-Rod is a huge reason why the Yankees have been reluctant to find a permanent, DH-only type. I’m sure he and Jeter will get a lot of DH starts, as they should. But there’s a balance there. Youk is not rock of durability himself, so running him out there too often could come back to haunt them, too. I’m thinking A-Rod plays somewhere between 50%-75% of the games at third once he comes back. Something like that.

  • Mickey Scheister

    If we were judging LY’s roster and included Swish and Martin, how would they rank out?

    Average. Power. Run. Throw. Field.
    Swisher. Average. Above. Below. Below. Below
    Martin. Below. Above. Average. Above. Above

    With Martins running possibly being above (for a catcher) and Swishers fielding being potentially Average. Thoughts?

  • Get Phelps Up

    What would you rank the tools in order of importance?
    For me they’d be Power, Average, Fielding, Running, Throwing.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Me?

      Average, fielding, throwing, power, running.

      You can tell what kind of players I like by that, eh?

      • YanksFanInBeantown

        Gritty, gutty ones that leave everything out on the field.

        See also, “white dudes”

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Yeah, Tilapia’s racist. :-)

          • YanksFanInBeantown

            I mean, Tilapia is a white fish…

      • Jacob

        Deh-rek Jee-tuh?

    • forensic

      I think I would have average and power reversed. I would also consider switching fielding and running, but it’s close.

  • YES BOSSES

    We dont agree with these biased ratings. ALL of the Yankees are above average, and Nancy Newman is the hottest sports reader on TV.

    As soon as we return from our villas in the Bahamas, we need to speak to Axisa about “company guidelines”

    • JobaWockeeZ

      The article is fine. It’s just some others take offense if someone is underrated.

  • forensic

    It’s close, but it’s tough putting Jeter and Granderson above average running at this point. Maybe it’s just different ways of considering the running tool, but neither of them do much successful running anymore. I’m not sure exactly what the numbers necessarily say about taking extra bases, but I think they’re closer to average and only seem above average because of what they’re compared to on this team.

    • The Doctor (formerly known as G formerly known as Matt Smith formerly known as David Tennant formerly known as…etc)

      I know at least Granderson is well above average in taking the extra base, and anecdotally Jeter does it well too. They didn’t steal a ton last year, 9 for Jeter and 10 for Grandy, but I’d say that’s still slightl above average. I also think Granderson’s legs were a bit shot from playing 157 games in center field after Gardner went down. Moving him into a corner spot or even just having Gardner in left to ease his workload would likely improve his stolen base totals. Jeter played 135 games at shortstop, certainly not easy for a 38 year old. Still, he managed to run at least a bit better than average.

      I understand the skepticism, but I’d put them both as above average.

      • RetroRob

        Right. Granderson’s has stopped stealing bases, but his overall baserunning skills remain top. Rating a player’s baserunning skills by number of SBs would be similar to rating a catcher’s overall defensive skills based on SB%.

  • CG

    Mike, I’d put cervelli’s ability to hit for average at “average”, not below… in the bigs, he’s averaging around .270, which for a catcher is pretty average if not slightly above.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    What’s the threshold for average that someone like Gardner would be average and someone like Youkilis below?