What is a Five-Tool Player?
"Five-tool player" is a term used by baseball scouts to describe a player who has a well-rounded offensive and defensive game. The term does not apply to pitchers or designated hitters, only positional players. This type of player is a particularly difficult thing to find in baseball, because it requires such a wide range of skills. Moreover, they are skills that often don't go together, like speed and power, but the player is able to encompass them all.
The five tools are:
Hitting for power - A five-tool player must be able to hit for power. This means he has the ability to hit home runs and hit for a high slugging percentage, a statistic that measures the frequency of extra-base hits.
Hitting for average - While it's important for a five-tool player to hit the ball out of the park, he must also hit for a high batting average. This means he must be able to hit to the opposite field, hit for contact with two strikes, and just generally adapt his hitting approach to the situation in the game.
Speed - This refers specifically to speed on the basepaths. A five-tool player must have speed in order to maximize extra base hits, which dramatically improve a team's chances of scoring runs. He must also be a threat to steal bases, which puts more pressure on the opposing pitcher, catcher and defense.
Fielding - A five-tool player must be as skilled in the field as he is at the plate. Saving runs defensively can be as important as creating them offensively, so it's important that the player be a good fielder. Speed helps here, too, especially if the player is an outfielder and needs to cover wide open spaces of the field.
Throwing - An extension of a player's fielding ability, throwing can be a key element to a five-tool player's arsenal, especially if he is a third baseman or shortstop, which must be able to throw quickly and accurately across the diamond to first base. A strong throwing arm is also important for an outfielder, because it can be used to throw out runners or merely to make them think twice about going for an extra base.
Honestly, the only tool a player really needs to be good is hitting for power/getting on base. Doing those two things can make up for a lot of other deficiencies (AKA Youkalis) and contribute directly to the amount of runs a person/team will score.
Albert may not be fast, but he did lead the Cardinals in stolen bases last year. He's actually had 16 and 14 the past two years -- not bad.
Also, if you look at the last few years, there is a stat for advancing from first to third base on base hits. Who is no. 1 or near the top every year? Albert Pujols. He's a really smart base runner (except I will admit he's sometimes overly aggressive running through the third base coach's stop signs), and that is sometimes more important than speed. Especially for a first baseman.
Alex Rodriguez is the only current pro baseball player I can think of who truly possesses all five tools. Now that it has been revealed that he took steroids, you have to wonder how many of these tools were natural and how many of them he got through a chemical boost. It just goes to show how remarkable these rare players really are.
@summing - Your post got me wondering if maybe there should be a sixth tool which would be baseball intelligence. No one can deny the importance of physical ability, but a professional player can make up for a lot of physical deficiencies by playing smart.
Baseball is a game of numbers in which a lot of outcomes can be predicted. A true student of the game can do themselves a lot of favors simply by predicting what will happen next. There have been lots of great players who were not perfect athletes but simply knew the game well enough to dominate players who were stronger or faster than themselves.
I am from St. Louis where we have one of the best players to ever play the game, Albert Pujols. Almost every baseball analyst agrees that this guy is a living legend. But when I am honest with myself I can't say that even Albert Pujols is a five tool player. He has 4 or the five tools for sure, but no one would make the mistake of thinking that he has speed. Sometimes he looks like an oxcart rounding the bases. However, he has an incredible mind for the game and is a fantastic base runner. He makes up for his lack of speed by running the bases intelligently.
@tiger88 - You are right about how rare these kinds of players are. In fact, when I try to think of true 5 tool players, the only one that comes to mind is Ken Griffey Jr in his prime. Unfortunately, injuries reduced a lot of his abilities and by the end of his career he had only one or two tools at best.
A true five tool player is a real rarity in baseball. Even some of the greats, men inducted into the Hall of Fame, cannot honestly be called five tool players. That is because true command of all the five tools takes an incredible combination of mental and physical abilities. Some can be taught, some can be practiced, but to truly possess all five a player must have a special natural gift.
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