The 400 homer/10 gold glove club question (see post on August 10th 2010 here) spurred a different question into my mind. Who is baseball’s greatest 5-tool player? For those of you who don’t know what the 5 tools are:
- Speed; indicated by stolen bases statistically.
- Fielding/Defense: indicated by gold gloves somewhat, even though the Gold Glove voting process is known to be bad.
- Arm: no real statistical measure, just rumors and observations.
- Hitting for average: career batting average
- Hitting for power: career homers
My dad and I were talking about this same question and he says the answer is Willie Mays. And I have a hard time disagreeing with him. He was fast (338 career SBs), he was a fantastic center fielder (12 straight gold gloves), he was known to have a cannon for an arm, he hit a career .302 with 3283 hits and belted 660 homers.
Who else might be in the conversation? Lets take a look at some of the candidates:
- Barry Bonds: Career batting .298, 762 homers, 2935 hits and 514 steals. 8 gold gloves, ending a streak suddenly in 1999. Which is also probably when he started juicing (his homers per season jumped from 34 to 49 to 73 in 1999-2001). The only thing Mays had on Bonds was his arm. Bonds always played left field, where you can “hide” poorer outfielders who don’t necessarily need the range of a center fielder or the cannon arm of a right fielder (to prevent first to third base runners). But Bonds had significantly more steals and homers (whether or not you discount them).
- Ken Griffey Jr.: Definitely up there in the argument. Clearly he was fantastic defensively (10 straight gold gloves) and had a great arm. Great power (630 career homers). Only 184 career steals and a lifetime .284 BA with 2781 hits dings him in comparison to Mays.
Here’s some names that have multiple of the tools, but are missing one or two key ones:
- Babe Ruth: Great power and average combo, he obviously had a good arm starting as a pitcher, but he had zero speed and ate himself so large that he could barely play the outfield.
- Ted Williams is always an interesting test case for the “What could have been?” question. He hit .344 with 521 homers and a really good argument that had he not lost 3 full seasons in his absolute prime to WWII (plus most of two others to Korea in his mid 30s) that he’d be closer to 700 homers for his career. But he was known to be a defensive liability and had only 24 sbs for his career.
- Mickey Mantle: famously said that “if 40/40 was so impressive, I’d have done it every year.” And its hard not to doubt him. Playing in a time when there wasn’t much of a need for him to steal bases, he still ended up with 153 on the career and routinely had 15-20 each season. He retired with 500+ homers, a career ba of .298, a legendary reputation for roaming centerfield in Yankee stadium and an even more legendary reputation for drinking himself out of baseball prematurely at the age of 36.
- Joe DiMaggio: one of the best pure hitters of the 20th century. Career .325 BA, 361 homers. Lost 3 years in his absolute prime to the WWII and retired incredibly early at 36. Played a great center-field (his time predates gold gloves). but very very few stolen bases.
- Stan Musial: one of the “lost players” of the 20th century, in that it is easy to forget his name when talking of the all time greats. 3600 career hits, 475 homers, career .331 BA. Great hitter. Played center field for 20-some years for St. Louis. But as with DiMaggio, very few SBs.
- Bobby Bonds: nearly a 40/40 man one year but strikeout rate is so excessive.
How about some more modern players?
- Paul Molitor another guy to think about. 504 career SBs, .306 BA, only 234 homers but not much on the defensive side, having been mostly a DH for the last half of his career.
- Alfonso Soriano: his 40/40 season was legendary (there was preliminary talk of him doing a 50/50 season, which hasn’t even been approached), and he’s currently got 309 career homers and 271 career SBs. A scatter brained hitter though, defense so bad that he’s barely holding on in left field, and zero arm.
- Jose Canseco: another 40/40 guy. 462 career homers and 200 career Sbs. .266 hitter though. Good arm in right but never a good fielder (remember the infamous ball bouncing off his head over the fence for a homer?).
- Vladimir Guerrero: another near 40/40 guy. Probably worth of further consideration; retired with 449 homers, 181 SBs, a career .319 hitter. But was literally one of the worst baserunners of all time and was poor defensively despite a strong arm.
- Carlos Beltran: injuries have just killed him; a former speed/power hitter and one of the first mega contract guys.
- Brady Anderson: most people regard his 50 homer season either a fluke or (more likely) the result of early PEDs. But the fact remains that only he and Barry Bonds have ever put up seasons which had both 50 homers and 50 sbs.
- Craig Biggio: 414 sbs, 291 homers, .281 career BA, 4 gold gloves at 2nd base. 2nd baseman though, presumably b/c he never had the arm for Short.
- Rickey Henderson: obviously fast as the career leader in SBs. .279 career BA. He twice hit 28 homers while leading the league in SBs. One gold glove and two silver sluggers, and a liability as a left fielder. Maybe not.
here’s a couple “what if” guys, as in what if they hadn’t been injured or otherwise sullied their careers:
- Bo Jackson: A hip injury picked up while playing his hobby football ended his career basically at the age of 28. But he was electric. Who can forget his legendary all star homer, a bomb to dead center that went 448 feet. Bo never won a gold glove but he played a premium defensive position in Center and certainly had the arm to play right. He just missed a series of 30/30 seasons, maxing out with 32 homers and 27 steals). He did not hit for average though, not at all. Best full season BA was a paltry .272.
- Josh Hamilton: After well documented troubles with drugs and the law, this former 1-1 draft pick currently is leading the Majors in batting average (.356), has 26 homers, and plays a very very good center field. He could hit 96 on the gun in high school. His failing is SBs; only a handful on the year. But in a league that so often chews up and spits out flash in the pan players, it is refreshing to see Hamilton succeed. Visual Baseball though discounts both his speed and his range.
- Daryl Strawberry: had a 39 homer, 36 sb year.
- Eric Davis: career year in 1987, hitting 37 homers and stealing 50 sbs. His first 2 full seasons produced a .286/.389/.560 with 64 HR and 130 SB in 147 attempts. Decent average, great power, great speed, with some clear capabilities in the outfield.
In January 2010, Visual Baseball introduced some really neat visualizations that graphically show each player’s strengths and weaknesses. I’d love to see a tool that allows people to plug in individual players, but in their analysis two 2010 players popped up as being very close to the perfect 5-tool player:
- Ben Zobrist: based on his 2009 stats he hit for average (.297) and power (27 homers). He had 17 steals. He showed pretty amazing flexibility by playing every outfield position besides pitcher and catcher at some point. Unfortunately, he’s take a pretty significant step backwards in 2010, sligging nearly 200 points less. Odd.
- Carl Crawford: He’s already lead the league 4 times in SBs and has been hitting an average of 13-15 homers a season. Not nearly Mays-esque stancards but very solid. .305 Batting average with healthy slugging percentages. Left fielder though, but his Visual Baseball graph shows significant range and arm.
And finally, something to think about:
- Alex Rodriguez: 600 career homers, .303 career BA. 300 career steals, a couple of Gold Gloves, and a pretty good arm while playing short. Posted probably the best ever 40/40 season in 1998 (42 homers, 46 sbs). Too bad he had to go and juice it up so that his career is forever sullied.
In the end, I’d have to still put Mays, with a shameful shrug of the shoulders when considering both Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
2017 Post-publishing update: this post was initially done in 2010. There’s several up-and-coming players who are putting their names into this discussion.
Here’s two additional links to consider that were done after this post was published in 2011 at Baseball America.