Radar Mapping The Five Tools

Greg Fiume

Let's use some graphs to visualize how various Twins players rate with the five tools!

When discussing prospects, the five tools often are mentioned in rating these players: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, fielding, and throwing arm. These tools are then measured on the 20-80 scale or sometimes even the 2-8 scale (why it starts with 20 and ends with 80, I have no clue... Roger? Any ideas?) where being above-average in as few as two tools means you'd be expected to become a decent major league regular.

That seems a bit low, but what I'm about to show you will demonstrate that even the stars on the Twins aren't above-average in most of these tools. If they were, they'd be equivalent to Mike Trout and Byron Buxton, but instead the best player on the roster is Joe Mauer, and you don't even need two guesses to figure out which tool he lacks.

Basically this is an exercise that I did once or twice at my old blog, where I identified five statistics that I felt best embodied the five tools, and then I assigned a percentile rank for each of those tools to that player. I then put these numbers into Excel and made them into a radar map, which is a graph that generates a polygon with the player's rating in each tool being shown as a distance from the center. It sounds confusing, but I think they look really cool, especially when you make them for an all-power, no speed or fielding Jim Thome.

The following will explain what stats I chose and why they were picked. Just so you are all aware, I'm sure you can find some arguments against the stats that I chose. This is not supposed to be groundbreaking, I'm just doing this for fun.

Hitting for Average - Contact Percentage

I was originally going to use batting average for this tool, and it made sense at first when I found Joe Mauer was in the 98th percentile (only behind Miguel Cabrera) and Aaron Hicks was at the opposite end of the spectrum. However, it was saying that Josh Willingham and Brian Dozier were significantly below average, when truthfully their batting averages were more telling of slightly below average hitters. Therefore, I switched over to contact percentage, which is pretty much what it sounds like, a measure for how often the batter makes contact with a pitch. Now this unfairly rates some other players, such as the power hitters as they're trading hitting for average for extra bases, but as I already said above, none of these are necessarily perfect stats. And besides, if you're looking for some life changing, hard-hitting analysis here, you're reading the wrong article today.

Hitting for Power - Isolated Power

I remember years ago arguing with another guy online about Joe Mauer's inability to hit for power. I tried to argue that in the prior year, Mauer was among the Twins' leaders with a ~.450 slugging percentage, which meant that he was a decent power hitter. However, the other guy pulled out isolated power and showed that Mauer was actually slightly below average for the Twins that year in hitting for power. Isolated power is simply a player's slugging percentage with his batting average subtracted, yielding a number that theoretically measures a player's ability to hit for power. Now, a problem with this stat is that players with above-average speed can run themselves into a few extra base hits, which is more a function of speed than power, but isolated power cannot identify the difference. However, I'm not concerned if Pedro Florimon's ISO is a little higher than it should be simply because he earned himself a couple extra doubles.

Speed - Baserunning Runs

Measuring speed as a statistic is pretty tough. This tool is supposed to be judging how fast the player is when running, but I don't have home-to-first times for any major league player. Instead, I'm choosing to use FanGraphs' baserunning runs, which combines a player's contributions on the basepaths into one statistic. It takes a little away from speed, but it also rewards those players that make good decisions on the bases. Besides, if you sort players by this statistic, those at the top are usually your speedsters anyway, with plodding sluggers at the bottom. Again, not perfect but it will do.

Fielding - UZR/150 by position (non-catchers), Defensive Runs Saved (catchers)

If measuring speed was hard, then doing a player's defense and throwing arm is difficult. First, there's no statistic that's even fully trustworthy on its own for measuring defense. Second, while judging non-catching defense is difficult, identifying a catcher's quality of defense is damn near impossible. Is it how well they control the running game? What about allowing passed balls and wild pitches? Game calling? Lately pitch framing has even been added to the equation, so to make it easier for me I simply used The Fielding Bible's defensive runs saved for catchers. As for the positional players, I used UZR/150, though I suppose for consistency's sake one could argue that I should have used DRS as well.

Throwing Arm - Double play runs (infielders), Outfield arm runs (outfielders), Stolen base runs saved (catchers)

Yeah, this one's just a huge mess. Double play runs is what FanGraphs has usually used to measure an infielder's arm. Outfield arm runs entails not only throwing out runners on the basepaths, but also limiting their advancement (you'll see that Chris Parmelee rated above-average here). Finally, with nothing else available for catchers, there's stolen base runs saved.

*****

This next part explains how I created each player's contemporaries. First, I looked at only Twins players (including newly signed players like Kurt Suzuki, Jason Bartlett, and Jason Kubel) that had at least 300 plate appearances in their career, and used their respective career numbers. Next, I only compared him to players that had played during the same time frame. Finally, to eliminate any dubious .350 .425-hitting (!), 43-plate appearance Glenn Williams types, I included a minimum plate appearance limit such that the given Twins player was just above that threshold. As for defense, I did the same thing except for the minimum plate appearance limit, which was replaced by a minimum number of innings at that defensive position. Also, for the defense and throwing arm tools, I only compared the Twins to players at the same position, because it seems pointless for the sluggish Trevor Plouffe to be compared against outfielders Brett Gardner and Peter Bourjos.

*****

The following is a list of 12 Twins that all have had at least 300 plate appearances in their careers and have a non-zero chance of being on the roster during the 2014 season. The numbers that follow each player's name is their percentile rank for hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, fielding, and throwing arm, respectively.

Brian Dozier (73, 30, 60, 40, 43)

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Dozier is one of those players I alluded to earlier that is unfairly rated when I use contact percentage. His career batting average is a below-average .240, but he benefits from having an above-average contact rate. Part of that can be explained by having an infield fly percentage around 14% for his career, which puts him at 14th-worst among players in 2012-2013 with 900 plate appearances.

Dozier is also above-average with his speed, but for as much praise as he received for his defense last year, it was simply kind of "meh." The lack of power for him isn't really a big deal since he's a middle infielder, but also because it seems like he made some strides last year with his bat.

Joe Mauer (89, 20, 65, 92, 19)

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First off, I want to offer a disclaimer that I used Mauer's defensive numbers at first base, where he's only played 471 defensive innings, so while it seems like he's an excellent defensive first baseman with no arm, we simply haven't seen him there long enough to accurately judge his ability. However, as Glen Perkins said at the Twins part-time holiday party, everything comes naturally to Mauer and he wouldn't be surprised if Mauer becomes a good defensive first baseman.

As for his batting ability, Mauer's exactly what you'd expect. He makes great contact but has little power. The percentile rank for his ISO looks absolutely dreadful, but honestly, he's being compared with other players that have been regular starters for an entire decade, meaning that he's being judged against other stars as well, and it just so happens that most of them were solid power hitters. Sorry Joe, you can't be good at everything.

Trevor Plouffe (40, 62, 24, 15, 78)

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We're aware that Plouffe has a little pop in his bat and that he's a mess with the glove, but I found it interesting that despite his throwing problems, his arm has rated well at 3rd base according to double play runs. Now, of course that means we're only looking at him when he turns the double play rather than all throws, but nevertheless I found it intriguing.

Josh Willingham (18, 79, 31, 16, 39)

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Willingham was one of those players that I mentioned earlier where his contact rate is much lower because he's trying to hit the ball over the fence so often. However, if I had used batting average instead, he still would have rated poorly with the hitting for average tool because so many other players have bested his .256 career average over the same time frame. Additionally, his poor defense according to these metrics suggest that he should be a designated hitter next season, but that may not happen if the Twins choose to go with Jason Kubel instead.

Pedro Florimon (31, 17, 80, 50, 36)

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Florimon supposedly is a good defender so we probably can't accurately judge him on his fielding yet, but we do already know that he's pretty weak with the bat. His baserunning has been superb, though, and if it weren't for the last player on this list, he would have ranked as the best baserunner in this article.

Oswaldo Arcia (4, 71, 44, 5, 41)

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Neither of those are typos. That indeed says Arcia was the 4th percentile for contact rate and 5th percentile for defense among outfielders last season. The contact rate is easy to explain again as Arcia was following in Willingham's footsteps where he wanted to mash everything over the fence, and at least we can take solace in that he was fairly successful. His defense is supposedly better than we saw last year, so keep your fingers crossed or else the Twins will have yet another DH on this roster.

Chris Parmelee (47, 47, 36, 32, 73)

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Parmelee actually rated a little better than I expected, though he still wasn't really great except for his throwing arm. If you recall all the runners he threw out on attempted doubles, or the caroms off the right field fence he played so perfectly that the runner(s) was unable to advance, it's easy to understand how he scored so highly in this tool.

Aaron Hicks (36, 46, 75, 12, 80)

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Even though Hicks was mainly a disaster last year, he did show off his legs on the basepaths and his arm in the field (I almost wrote a joke that his 80th percentile in throwing arm was based entirely on his throw-out of Vernon Wells in New York). It's actually not too surprising considering teams were thinking of drafting him as a pitcher, but the Twins ultimately chose to have him play as an outfielder.

One thing I'd like to point out was that Hicks was merely mediocre (as if that's a consolation) with his contact skills, even though he batted under .200 for most of the year. Part of that was due to an 11% infield fly ball rate, but also because Hicks is known for being very passive at the plate, having a 40% swing percentage when the MLB average was 46%.

Alex Presley (73, 41, 59, 39, 25)

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Presley has actually shown good contact skills in his short career, but he's been hurt because he drives the ball into the ground. His defense hasn't rated very well thus far, so it will be interesting to see if he can truly cut it in center field in 2014 or if the Twins choose to go with Aaron Hicks instead.

Kurt Suzuki (78, 12, 38, 60, 40)

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Suzuki is similar to Presley in that he actually makes a good amount of contact but it hasn't translated into hits, as he has a career batting average of .253, which isn't too far off from Josh Willingham's .256. A BABIP of .268 for his career tells the story, suggesting that either Suzuki just keeps hitting the ball at defenders, or perhaps his lack of speed is so apparent that he simply cannot beat out grounders that would normally be hits for average runners.

I would like to point out that as if catching numbers for defense weren't already in question, that we should really take Suzuki's defensive numbers with the entire Dead Sea. He is one of only five catchers in MLB that has played from 2007 to 2013 and has caught at least 6500 innings (A.J. Pierzynski, Yadier Molina, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann are the others), meaning that he has been one of the most durable - or perhaps abused - catchers in the past seven years. His playing time has dwindled significantly in the past two years, though part of that was due to Wilson Ramos in Washington, and I wonder how much time he has left before he just simply breaks down.

Jason Kubel (26, 63, 20, 7, 36)

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By now, I think you get the idea for this type of player. Shows power, so he has a reduced contact skill, and he can't play defense or run. At least Kubel has the excuse that his knee was shredded in the Arizona Fall League back in 2004. I think this radar map accurately shows why Kubel has been worth just 2.7 WAR in his entire career.

Jason Bartlett (61, 8, 89, 59, 6)

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I figured I had to make this list an even dozen, so that's why I included Bartlett even though he doesn't have a great chance of making the roster with the presence of Eduardo Escobar as a backup middle infielder. I wasn't too surprised with his rankings except for the double play runs for his arm, which as you can see was terrible.

*****

What should be the takeaway from all of this? Absolutely nothing. I just wrote 2400 words and if you got this far, you've apparently read all of them as well. Now go spend some time with your loved ones. Merry Bryz-mas!

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