This is always one of my favorite posts to do during the offseason. We are all aware of the five tools, the five main facets of the game that are used to judge the ability of a prospect: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, fielding, and arm strength. Typically measured on a 20-80 (or 2-8) scale where 50 is average, ranking below-average in any skill is not a death sentence for a player. In fact, if you have even two decent tools to speak of, you have a chance of cutting it in the major leagues. Prospects typically excel in three to five of these tools, such as Twins #1 prospect Byron Buxton*, according to FanGraphs. If you click on the link, Buxton's five tools are rated along with "game power." For example, Wily Mo Pena could put on laser shows during batting practice, but he only displayed above-average power in games.
* The first number is where Buxton currently rates in each tool, while the second number is his projecting rating. In other words, his hitting for average tool is currently a 20 because a Single-A hitter will not succeed in the major leagues, but as he matures it should round out to an above-average 60.
Talking about these tools typically disappears as a player becomes established in the major leagues, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore them. Every year, I look at the Twins' position players to see how they all rate in each category compared to the rest of the league by using a handy Excel chart called the radar map. The methodology is imperfect and some conclusions we'll make will be completely wrong (I'll demonstrate as we move ahead), but I still find it interesting.
For each tool, I use a particular statistic to measure it. It's a blend of old and new school stats here, and if you have any quibbles with what I used, well I'll refund Jesse my $0 paycheck that I receive every month.
Hitting For Average
Batting Average (AVG)
Why: Using BABIP (batting average on balls in play) relies too much on a player's speed and ignores home runs. Batting average, while simple, does include a player's ability to make contact, so a swing-and-miss player like Oswaldo Arcia is penalized accordingly.
Hitting For Power
Isolated Power (ISO)
Why: Slugging percentage can be influenced by batting average, so Danny Santana's SLG looks better than Trevor Plouffe's even though no one would argue that Santana has more power. ISO is simply SLG - AVG, and although it's influenced a bit by speed, a player having a few extra doubles won't matter as much as the guy that legitimately blasted a few more home runs.
Why: FanGraphs has this little thing called Speed Score that is calculated from a player's stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, percentage of triples, and runs scored percentage. I could have used their Ultimate Base Running, but reading a description of the stat made it sound like it rewards runners for their baserunning ability more than Speed Score, which I'm attempting to use as a simple measure of speed without knowing that player's actual top speed. Also, because I didn't realize that FanGraphs now describes Speed Score as "a bit of an outdated statistic at this point." Oops.
Non-Catchers: UZR/150 by current position
Catchers: Defensive runs above average
Why: Now we're getting into the tougher tools to quantify. I'm a fan of UZR per 150 games so I chose to use it, though it could be argued that I should have just gone straight defensive runs above average like I did for catchers as that already factors in the positional adjustment. Catching defense is so difficult to figure out that I just took the easy route.
Infielders: Double Play Runs above average
Outfielders: Outfield Arm Runs above average
Catchers: Stolen Base Runs Saved above average
Why: This is just a mess. Infielder arms are judged on their double plays turned. Outfielders are judged on their assists and preventing baserunning advancement. Catchers are judged on how much they prevent stolen bases. Accept it for what it is.
As a reminder, I measure each tool for that player against his peers over the same time frame and number of plate appearances for offensive tools and innings played for defensive tools. This accounts for Torii Hunter playing in a slightly different offensive era earlier in his career, and it also prevents judging a player's poor 2014 season as if it's his true talent level.
I always like starting with some players from around the league just to demonstrate the variability of the radar maps.
Ben Revere, a player that loves to be extreme.
And the past couple MVP awards were debatable because.... why?
Note: These are not scientific and should not be used to support your MVP argument. But still...
Now to the Twins players.
Come on, Kurt, pull it together! Seriously though, there's a reason to explain Suzuki's god-awful showing and it's good ol' survivor bias. It's not necessarily that he's actually a terrible player, it's just that there are very few players that have lasted 8 years in the major leagues with at least 3500 plate appearances. Of all those players, even fewer are catchers. In order to last in the majors for 8 years as a regular, you must be good. Suzuki, being a catcher, isn't held to such a high standard and thus all his numbers come in lower than everyone else. However, his defense is being rated against other catchers so that still is a little concerning.
Pinto's here for his bat, that's basically all you need to know.
Joe Mauer's got some nice Eiffel Tower action going on there. Trevor Plouffe is a boat. I'll admit that I actually mixed Danny Santana's time as a shortstop and center fielder together, but regardless, he was bad at both positions, athleticism be damned.
Jordan Schafer is literally good at only one thing. Torii Hunter, like Kurt Suzuki earlier, is also a victim of survivor bias when it comes to his batting average. He's actually maintained a .279 average for his career, but when you compare it to all other players that have been around since 1997, that's actually not that good. Also, that outfield defense does not look good.