The elusive five-tool player. You hear it about your favorite team’s prospect every now and then, or if you are watching Moneyball and the story is settling in around Brad Pitt’s, err Billy Beane’s, supposed trajectory. Fielding skills, arm strength, baserunning acumen/speed, booming power with the lumber, and a general efficiency in the box. All quite important, but the moniker is a misnomer in a sense – it insinuates the tools are comparable in value.
One could make a legitimate argument about how valuable each tool is in a vacuum, but Major League Baseball is a contextual minefield. Pure skill in each department is not the only needle being moved, as cost to acquire, availability, and replicability are all vital components.
For example, it is easy to fawn over new Cleveland baseballer Harold Ramirez’s wheels. His 28.9 feet per second sprint speed would fall in about the 90th percentile of all qualified runners since 2015. That’s lightning quick, especially when we take into account his five-foot ten-inch, 220-pound frame.
Of course, Ramirez checks the speed box in the tool discussion. This is where our contextual considerations of cost, availability, and replicability come into play. Current Cleveland outfielders Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer are in the 96th and 99th percentiles in sprint speed, respectively. Minor league camp invite Billy Hamilton is also in the 99th percentile. Non-tender 2020 team member Delino DeShields joins Zimmer and Hamilton. Even former prospect Greg Allen, dealt to San Diego along with Mike Clevinger, checked into the 90th percentile.
The toolset of speed is not scarce or unavailable to the Cleveland front office. That same group – Mercado, Zimmer, Hamilton, Deshields, and Allen – features varying degrees of adequacy with their leather. While we could argue over how each of them rates individually, it is safe to say they all have the fielding skills tool in their bag. That is less clear with Harold Ramirez, despite his speed, as his fielding metrics in small sample size windows have been less than stellar.
Arm strength is another pillar, but per reports Harold Ramirez’s arm skews toward passable and is decidedly not elite. Even if we were being extremely generous and permitting him to count fielding and arm strength as “tools” in the five-tool venture, Ramirez would still fall behind all those other Cleveland outfield options when viewing fielding skills, arm strength, and speed, collectively.
That is where the tools that dwarf the others in value come into play, hitting for efficiency and hitting for power. They are not equal in value even if Bill James, Johnny Numbers, and whatever other baseball analytic icon were to demonstrate proof that they have a similar impact on the outcome of games. Scarcity is the driver of value in this vacuum. Cleveland has these other options that check boxes but have decidedly weak or uncertain hitting outlooks.
It stands to theoretical reasoning that Cleveland acquired Ramirez for his bat. It is noteworthy that with all these other runners with questionable hit tools, they chose to add another one and were forced to designate an arm they clearly liked in some capacity, Jordan Humphreys.
The biggest selling point on the Harold Ramirez batting experiment has been that he posted an adequate near-full season in the big leagues for the Marlins in 2019. Prior to that, Ramirez plowed through Double-A and Triple-A pitching with alarming efficiency in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He will never be the type to draw a ton of walks, being more of the free-swinging variety.
Though his average exit velocity is mediocre, Ramirez’s maximum exit velocity outputs – tipping over the 110 miles per hour threshold and topping out at 113 miles per hour – indicate that there is much more to unlock. This would require, however, getting him away from hitting nearly 60 percent of his balls in play on the ground, where hard hits go to retire.
The righty, to this point, hits almost everything to the opposite field, which also contributes to the mediocre exit velocity. This can be a difficult adjustment for hitters, but the ones that latch on and get it take off towards stardom. Justin Turner’s early years profile looked very similar. Obviously, that is a large step and is improbable, but the maximum exit velocity outputs from Ramirez suggest the sky is the limit. Watching how often he hits ground balls, which direction they travel, and how hard he’s hitting it would be prudent for Cleveland fans.
Ramirez is only 26 and is a few pulled balls in the air away from being a glowing contributor with the bat. At this juncture, his bat is far more intriguing than Bradley Zimmer’s or Oscar Mercado’s, if only because of the extremely remote chance he can adjust his attack point at the plate. Even if the experiment follows the likely route of mediocre hit tool and speed, the mediocre hit tool might be a higher baseline than the alternative. Betting on scarce skill sets in addition to the elite tools will become a fruitful strategy if leaned upon frequently. That scarce skill set will eventually manifest, be it with Harold Ramirez or the next guy or the guy after that.