How the Best Tools Translate to the Majors: A Partial Study

As perhaps indicated by the piece I published here in the fall concerning the relationship between scouting grades and wins, one of my particular interests — and, I would argue, one of the more compelling frontiers of baseball research currently — is the examination of how a prospect’s scouting profile relates, in a concrete and objective way, to the production that might be expected of him at the major-league level. My assumption is that many, if not all, professional organizations have a means by which to assess such a thing — perhaps some in a less, others in a more, formal way. The bonuses they extend to amateur players indicate that some manner of valuation exists. For the public, however, the process by which such valuations are established is rather opaque.

The intention of this post is to add very, very slightly to the extant body of research on this topic. It (i.e. this post) has its genesis in a pastime that probably won’t be unfamiliar to the reader — namely, flipping through the pages of a Baseball America Prospect Handbook (a text with regard to which I’ve documented my emotional emotions elsewhere). As the reader will probably know, for each organization, the editors of Baseball America identify which prospects within that organization feature the best of this or that tool: Best Hitter for Average, Best Power Hitter, Best Strike-Zone Discipline, etc.

“How,” I said aloud to myself, because my life is full predominantly of sadness, “how might the prospects with the greatest ability to hit for average compare to the ones with most power compare to the ones with best plate discipline once all of these players have eventually graduated to the majors (or, alternatively, have not graduated to the majors, from lack of opportunity/talent)?” Phrased differently: how have the best tools translated to major-league production?

Obviously, for the players who appear in the 2014 edition of the Handbook, such a question is unanswerable. Were one to examine players who’ve had sufficient time to produce a major-league resume, however, such an endeavor would be possible. Fortunately, BA has been assembling such lists for a while — and lists of each organizations best tools are available online going back to 2005, it appears.

Accordingly, 2005 is where I decided to begin this very small thing. What I did, simply, was to record which players were distinguished for the following traits within their respective organizations:

  • Best Hitter for Average
  • Best Power Hitter
  • Best Strike-Zone Discipline
  • Fastest Baserunner
  • Best Athlete

After assembling a list of all Best Tool players from each of the 30 organizations, I produced five separate custom leaderboards with the metrics that might be most relevant to assessing the quality of a major leaguer. That information appears below, in a number of forms and accompanied by mediocre commentary.

Before we consider that data, it’s important to note that there are probably about a thousand caveats that ought to be made regarding this exercise. For one: these Best Tool lists represent a distillation of opinions from scouts and other industry contacts. Educated opinions, of course, but opinions nonetheless. Naturally, there’s a lack of absolute precision. For two: just as in 2014, talent wasn’t distributed evenly in 2005 among all 30 organizations. Toronto’s top power-hitting prospect in 2005 (Guillermo Quiroz) was never regarded as having the same sort of home-run potential as Milwaukee’s top power prospect from then (i.e. Prince Fielder). For three: owing to how the data here represents only a single year’s worth of prospects, the present work is hardly exhaustive.

Below are five leaderboards, each containing the players who (a) were distinguished by Baseball America for possessing one of the five relevant tools named above and (b) also recorded at least a single plate appearance in the majors. Players are sorted by career WAR to date. Also included are the number of players demonstrating the relevant tool to have graduated to the majors and the numbers of those players to have recorded at least 5.0 WAR over the course of their respective career. HRC% denotes home runs on contact (that is, home runs per ball batted into fair play); WAR550, meanwhile, denotes WAR for every 550 plate appearances of a player’s career.

Best Hitters for Average
Graduated to Majors: 27
Number Above 5.0 WAR: 15

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Joe Mauer 5060 12.2% 11.1% 2.7% .349 134 11.1 222.4 42.0 44.0 4.8
Curtis Granderson 5044 10.2% 23.1% 6.4% .305 118 27.6 136.4 22.3 33.2 3.6
Joey Votto 3790 14.9% 18.5% 6.2% .359 156 -11.4 240.1 -44.1 33.0 4.8
Ian Kinsler 4791 9.6% 11.9% 4.1% .281 111 39.8 104.9 18.2 29.1 3.3
Michael Bourn 3941 8.5% 20.6% 1.0% .342 92 53.4 14.9 66.5 21.7 3.0
Aaron Hill 4814 6.9% 13.1% 3.5% .291 101 6.8 14.5 27.8 20.6 2.4
Nick Markakis 5256 9.3% 13.1% 3.1% .317 113 5.9 89.3 -65.8 20.0 2.1
Rickie Weeks 4414 10.6% 23.3% 4.8% .302 107 21.3 61.1 -35.0 17.2 2.1
Carlos Quentin 3092 9.1% 15.6% 6.4% .258 124 -5.6 81.0 -78.3 10.8 1.9
Nate McLouth 3575 9.8% 16.9% 3.8% .279 101 33.8 37.3 -52.2 10.4 1.6
Billy Butler 4208 9.2% 14.3% 3.7% .327 120 -37.0 62.2 -108.8 9.8 1.3
Melky Cabrera 4236 7.2% 12.1% 2.1% .310 99 1.2 -7.8 -46.8 8.9 1.2
Ryan Sweeney 2112 8.0% 14.6% 1.2% .320 96 0.8 -10.4 19.2 8.0 2.1
Jeff Francoeur 4959 5.0% 18.3% 3.7% .297 88 -11.2 -81.2 -19.2 6.2 0.7
Matt Murton 1058 8.8% 14.1% 3.6% .312 101 1.7 3.4 16.3 5.4 2.8
Brandon Moss 1550 8.8% 25.7% 6.5% .304 113 -9.5 12.7 -23.5 4.3 1.5
Casey Kotchman 3412 7.8% 9.9% 2.5% .271 93 -25.1 -54.9 -31.9 2.7 0.4
Ian Stewart 1620 10.3% 27.3% 5.8% .290 83 -2.1 -33.9 5.9 2.5 0.8
Jeremy Reed 1376 7.3% 14.2% 1.1% .289 78 0.1 -36.8 10.4 2.0 0.8
Jeremy Hermida 2261 9.6% 22.9% 4.3% .314 96 -9.4 -18.6 -38.6 1.8 0.4
Blake DeWitt 1247 8.6% 15.6% 2.2% .292 87 0.1 -18.9 -3.0 1.8 0.8
Brendan Harris 1876 7.0% 18.3% 2.4% .301 85 2.8 -30.7 -17.4 1.5 0.4
Josh Barfield 1075 4.1% 17.5% 1.9% .307 75 9.4 -24.6 -0.9 1.1 0.6
Chris Burke 1443 7.8% 16.8% 2.1% .277 76 5.9 -38.1 -2.5 0.8 0.3
Michael Aubrey 145 6.9% 10.3% 5.0% .254 96 -1.0 -1.8 -2.5 0.1 0.4
Delmon Young 3936 4.2% 17.9% 3.3% .322 96 -10.2 -27.7 -114.8 -1.2 -0.2
Omar Quintanilla 1131 8.3% 20.6% 1.0% .278 52 0.8 -64.7 11.7 -1.7 -0.8
Average 3016 8.5% 16.9% 3.5% .302 100 3.7 23.3 -16.5 10.9 2.0

Best Power Hitters
Graduated to Majors: 23
Number Above 5.0 WAR: 6

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Joey Votto 3790 14.9% 18.5% 6.2% .359 156 -11.4 240.1 -44.1 33.0 4.8
Prince Fielder 5612 12.9% 17.5% 7.3% .303 140 -44.2 229.0 -142.2 27.7 2.7
Ryan Howard 5018 11.7% 27.9% 10.3% .324 130 -38.9 152.3 -110.0 20.4 2.2
Carlos Quentin 3092 9.1% 15.6% 6.4% .258 124 -5.6 81.0 -78.3 10.8 1.9
Billy Butler 4208 9.2% 14.3% 3.7% .327 120 -37.0 62.2 -108.8 9.8 1.3
Nate Schierholtz 1892 6.0% 17.1% 3.1% .299 98 4.6 0.3 -3.4 5.9 1.7
Chris Duncan 1317 12.1% 24.0% 6.5% .307 111 1.3 21.1 -32.0 3.2 1.3
Ian Stewart 1620 10.3% 27.3% 5.8% .290 83 -2.1 -33.9 5.9 2.5 0.8
Dan Johnson 1556 13.2% 14.8% 5.0% .243 101 -4.4 -1.9 -28.7 2.2 0.8
Dallas McPherson 414 6.5% 32.1% 7.1% .319 92 -2.0 -6.2 4.0 1.2 1.6
Jason Botts 326 11.7% 33.1% 2.8% .349 76 -0.7 -10.6 4.8 0.5 0.8
Jon Knott 37 13.5% 24.3% 4.3% .227 75 -0.5 -1.8 0.6 0.0 0.0
Walter Young 37 10.8% 18.9% 3.8% .360 113 -0.6 0.0 -1.2 0.0 0.0
Josh Fields 796 8.7% 29.5% 6.9% .298 86 -3.6 -17.4 -10.9 -0.1 -0.1
Joel Guzman 62 8.1% 19.4% 0.0% .295 68 0.1 -2.5 -1.0 -0.1 -0.9
Wladimir Balentien 559 7.9% 26.7% 4.1% .279 72 1.5 -18.0 -2.8 -0.2 -0.2
Scott Moore 430 6.5% 24.4% 5.4% .285 88 -0.8 -7.3 -9.2 -0.2 -0.3
Brad Snyder 37 2.7% 48.6% 0.0% .333 -5 0.0 -4.6 1.5 -0.2 -3.0
Mike Restovich 297 9.4% 22.9% 3.0% .299 82 -0.3 -7.4 -7.5 -0.5 -0.9
Delmon Young 3936 4.2% 17.9% 3.3% .322 96 -10.2 -27.7 -114.8 -1.2 -0.2
Brad Eldred 299 5.7% 36.5% 8.7% .266 71 -1.0 -12.1 -11.3 -1.4 -2.6
Guillermo Quiroz 377 5.8% 22.5% 1.1% .257 43 -3.5 -29.9 2.5 -1.5 -2.2
Andy Marte 924 7.3% 19.2% 2.9% .252 67 -3.5 -41.5 -10.3 -2.1 -1.3
Average 1593 9.1% 24.0% 4.7% .298 91 -7.1 24.5 -30.3 4.8 1.6

Best Strike-Zone Discipline-ers
Graduated to Majors: 25
Number Above 5.0 WAR: 13

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Dustin Pedroia 4548 9.3% 8.9% 2.7% .314 119 3.8 105.7 75.6 34.4 4.2
Curtis Granderson 5044 10.2% 23.1% 6.4% .305 118 27.6 136.4 22.3 33.2 3.6
Joey Votto 3790 14.9% 18.5% 6.2% .359 156 -11.4 240.1 -44.1 33.0 4.8
Prince Fielder 5612 12.9% 17.5% 7.3% .303 140 -44.2 229.0 -142.2 27.7 2.7
Nick Swisher 5647 13.2% 21.4% 6.3% .291 119 -5.3 126.5 -44.5 27.7 2.7
Michael Bourn 3941 8.5% 20.6% 1.0% .342 92 53.4 14.9 66.5 21.7 3.0
Josh Willingham 4252 11.8% 22.0% 6.4% .294 123 -7.3 111.2 -85.9 16.8 2.2
Billy Butler 4208 9.2% 14.3% 3.7% .327 120 -37.0 62.2 -108.8 9.8 1.3
Ryan Church 2128 8.8% 21.6% 3.8% .319 102 -0.3 7.2 9.6 8.6 2.2
Garrett Atkins 3273 8.9% 13.7% 3.9% .305 99 -6.5 -6.5 -31.5 6.9 1.2
Rajai Davis 2640 5.7% 17.1% 1.3% .317 87 41.6 1.5 -22.1 6.8 1.4
Matt Murton 1058 8.8% 14.1% 3.6% .312 101 1.7 3.4 16.3 5.4 2.8
Jeff Keppinger 3156 6.3% 6.8% 1.6% .290 92 -7.6 -36.9 -12.6 5.4 0.9
Fred Lewis 1763 9.6% 22.1% 2.2% .337 100 8.8 9.9 -22.5 4.5 1.4
Conor Jackson 2485 10.1% 11.7% 2.7% .290 98 2.6 -3.7 -45.8 3.3 0.7
Jason Kubel 3707 9.1% 20.9% 5.4% .302 107 -14.5 17.6 -113.7 2.7 0.4
Casey Kotchman 3412 7.8% 9.9% 2.5% .271 93 -25.1 -54.9 -31.9 2.7 0.4
Jeremy Reed 1376 7.3% 14.2% 1.1% .289 78 0.1 -36.8 10.4 2.0 0.8
Elliot Johnson 806 6.7% 26.2% 2.2% .288 65 2.5 -30.5 8.2 0.4 0.3
Michael Aubrey 145 6.9% 10.3% 5.0% .254 96 -1.0 -1.8 -2.5 0.1 0.4
Val Majewski 13 0.0% 7.7% 0.0% .167 -11 0.3 -1.5 0.6 0.0 0.0
John Gall 56 1.8% 25.0% 4.9% .289 74 -0.6 -2.5 -0.7 -0.1 -1.0
Paul McAnulty 275 13.1% 26.5% 3.6% .263 77 1.5 -6.5 -3.6 -0.1 -0.2
Todd Self 49 6.1% 18.4% 2.7% .229 45 -0.6 -4.0 -0.2 -0.3 -3.4
Russ Adams 993 8.6% 11.9% 2.2% .264 78 0.2 -27.2 -17.7 -1.0 -0.6
Average 2575 8.6% 17.0% 3.5% .293 95 -0.7 34.1 -20.8 10.1 2.1

Fastest Baserunners
Graduated to Majors: 17
Number Above 5.0 WAR: 7

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Hanley Ramirez 4760 9.5% 16.6% 5.1% .334 132 28.1 217.4 -6.5 37.1 4.3
Michael Bourn 3941 8.5% 20.6% 1.0% .342 92 53.4 14.9 66.5 21.7 3.0
Denard Span 3333 8.9% 11.9% 1.0% .318 103 18.0 32.2 37.5 18.5 3.1
Chris Young 3963 10.0% 22.9% 5.4% .274 94 17.3 -14.2 29.8 15.0 2.1
Gregor Blanco 1800 11.7% 19.8% 0.8% .325 93 9.4 -6.2 16.0 7.1 2.2
Rajai Davis 2640 5.7% 17.1% 1.3% .317 87 41.6 1.5 -22.1 6.8 1.4
Willy Taveras 2644 5.1% 14.8% 0.4% .323 68 39.1 -66.4 37.7 5.8 1.2
Joey Gathright 1329 7.3% 16.0% 0.1% .318 71 9.9 -39.4 24.7 3.0 1.2
Jason Repko 779 6.7% 25.0% 3.0% .288 72 8.4 -18.4 15.6 2.3 1.6
Jerry Owens 430 7.0% 16.7% 0.3% .319 65 7.6 -11.1 6.7 1.0 1.3
Jamal Strong 26 7.7% 23.1% 0.0% .294 72 0.5 -0.4 0.6 0.1 2.1
Freddy Guzman 102 3.9% 16.7% 1.2% .244 41 1.2 -6.5 4.3 0.1 0.5
Dave Krynzel 54 5.6% 33.3% 0.0% .300 36 0.3 -4.2 2.2 0.0 0.0
Mel Stocker 3 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% .000 -100 0.6 -0.3 0.1 0.0 0.0
Freddie Bynum 377 4.2% 28.6% 2.4% .321 64 -0.1 -16.9 -1.5 -0.5 -0.7
Eric Reed 68 4.4% 23.5% 0.0% .133 -36 0.9 -11.1 3.6 -0.5 -4.0
Ramon Nivar 133 3.0% 14.3% 0.0% .262 30 -0.2 -11.8 -5.2 -1.2 -5.0
Average 1552 6.4% 18.9% 1.3% .277 58 13.9 3.5 12.4 6.8 2.4

Best Athlete
Graduated to Majors: 20
Number Above 5.0 WAR: 6

Name PA BB% K% HRC% BABIP wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR WAR550
Hanley Ramirez 4760 9.5% 16.6% 5.1% .334 132 28.1 217.4 -6.5 37.1 4.3
Matt Kemp 3897 8.0% 23.6% 5.9% .352 126 18.3 138.1 -63.8 20.6 2.9
Denard Span 3333 8.9% 11.9% 1.0% .318 103 18.0 32.2 37.5 18.5 3.1
Chris Young 3963 10.0% 22.9% 5.4% .274 94 17.3 -14.2 29.8 15.0 2.1
Brendan Ryan 2645 7.1% 16.0% 0.9% .279 71 15.2 -75.4 80.5 9.3 1.9
Jeff Francoeur 4959 5.0% 18.3% 3.7% .297 88 -11.2 -81.2 -19.2 6.2 0.7
Fred Lewis 1763 9.6% 22.1% 2.2% .337 100 8.8 9.9 -22.5 4.5 1.4
Elijah Dukes 970 13.3% 20.3% 4.8% .279 105 -3.1 3.5 -13.0 2.3 1.3
Joaquin Arias 855 3.4% 13.5% 0.8% .309 81 3.4 -15.6 -2.1 1.0 0.6
Jerry Owens 430 7.0% 16.7% 0.3% .319 65 7.6 -11.1 6.7 1.0 1.3
Ben Johnson 253 10.7% 27.7% 4.5% .299 92 -0.9 -3.5 2.5 0.8 1.7
Charlton Jimerson 9 0.0% 33.3% 33.3% .500 305 0.6 3.0 0.0 0.3 18.3
Lastings Milledge 1659 6.3% 17.3% 2.6% .312 92 -4.7 -22.0 -31.3 0.2 0.1
Jai Miller 73 5.5% 39.7% 5.0% .378 79 0.2 -1.7 -0.1 0.1 0.8
Dave Krynzel 54 5.6% 33.3% 0.0% .300 36 0.3 -4.2 2.2 0.0 0.0
Matt Tuiasosopo 401 9.5% 31.7% 5.1% .283 79 -2.0 -12.1 -4.4 -0.3 -0.4
Greg Golson 42 2.4% 23.8% 0.0% .258 20 -0.1 -4.3 -0.3 -0.3 -3.9
Reggie Abercrombie 421 5.0% 29.2% 3.2% .301 61 1.6 -19.9 -0.2 -0.5 -0.7
Felix Pie 1082 6.5% 21.0% 2.2% .300 72 3.6 -32.7 -13.4 -1.1 -0.6
Chris Nelson 820 5.9% 23.0% 2.7% .335 81 -0.5 -18.2 -27.8 -2.1 -1.4
Average 1619 7.0% 23.1% 4.4% .318 94 5.0 4.4 -2.3 5.6 1.9

The various sizes of these leaderboards probably help to offer at least an initial idea of the degree to which certain tools have portended major-league success. Among the 30 prospects regarded as best at hitting for average in their respective organizations in 2005, 27 have graduated to the majors — and 26 of them (i.e. all but Michael Aubrey) have recorded at least 1000 major-league plate appearances. Of the prospects designated as their respective organization’s fastest runner, on the other hand, only 17 have ever recorded a major-league plate appearance — of those, only nine have tallied 1000 plate appearances to date, suggesting that the prospects from that group have been less valuable to their respective clubs.

While I’ve included the averages for each group at the bottom of all the leaderboards above, those numbers have limited utility for our concerns here, as they pertain only to those prospects who eventually graduated to the majors. They’re not entirely without use, those figures; however, if our aim is to assess the future production of all the Best Tool prospects, it’s better to find the median figures, instead, for all 30 players named by BA in each tool category.

With that in mind, I’ve included below a table including the median figures (or 15th-best, at least) for several relevant metrics among each tool category.

Tool PA BB% K% HRC% wRC+ WAR
ATH 401 5.5% 27.7% 1.0% 72 0.0
AVG 3092 8.5% 16.9% 3.3% 96 5.4
DIS 2128 8.6% 18.5% 2.7% 93 3.3
POW 414 7.9% 24.4% 3.7% 82 -0.1
RUN 54 3.9% 25.0% 0.0% 30 -0.5

Now, in lieu of further serious commentary, here are some observations presented by means of bullet point:

  • An inspection of the data above suggests that there is a considerable division in production between the prospects recognized for their capacity to hit for average and demonstrate plate discipline (on the one hand) and the prospects notable for their power, speed, and/or athleticism (on the other). The former two groups have been useful, by and large, at the major-league level; the latter three groups, decidedly less so.
  • Despite the fact that the players noted for their footspeed have graduated the fewest players to the majors and produced by far the lowest park-adjusted batting lines, they’ve still approximated the best power hitters and athletes in terms of overall value, compensating for their shortcomings as batters with much better baserunning and defensive figures than the prospects from the other four groups.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the power-hitting group has produced the best results in terms of home runs on contact, with a median figure of 3.7%.
  • Also probably not surprising: the group recognized for its plate discipline has recorded the highest median walk rate, at 8.6%.
  • Three players were designated as possessing three of the five best tools in their respective organization: Michael Bourn, Billy Butler, and Joey Votto. That triumvirate has combined for about 65 wins to date over ca. 12,000 career plate appearances — or about 3.0 WAR for every 550 plate appearances.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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DD

This perhaps shows why the Phillies draft strategy has not and may not ever produce consistently useful major league players.

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