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August 12, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Five-Tool Surprises

by Jason Collette

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Five-tool talents are a great find in baseball and are very tough to come by as most everyone has some kind of flaw. They are even tougher to come across in fantasy baseball, even given the reduction to 15 teams that is the standard in high-stakes leagues. The five tools for fantasy players are the five standard scoring categories, and the players that produce in all five are the ones that we pay premium prices for on draft day. Most years, this is where Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, and Dustin Pedroia live, but there are some new names in the mix this season, and those three players have not had a lot of company in 2011.

At this arbitrary date of August 12th, we are forced to look at arbitrary benchmarks for articles such as this one, so I am defining the five tool player as someone who has at least 10 home runs, 10 stolen bases, 50 runs scored, 50 runs driven in, and is hitting at least .275. When you filter down the players based on those results, we are left with just six percent of the original 210 hitters selected in a 15 team mixed league draft.

PLAYER

BA

HR

SB

RBI

R

Ryan Braun

.321

21

21

74

76

Matt Kemp

.320

26

30

85

71

Jacoby Ellsbury

.314

19

31

72

84

Dustin Pedroia

.309

15

22

60

76

Melky Cabrera

.306

14

14

67

72

Justin Upton

.300

23

17

72

75

Alex Gordon

.299

14

10

58

71

Asdrubal Cabrera

.291

19

15

66

74

Adam Jones

.290

21

10

71

51

Matt Joyce

.283

16

10

53

57

Carlos Gonzalez

.282

16

16

60

67

Ben Zobrist

.276

15

12

65

77

Curtis Granderson

.275

31

22

91

104

An odd baker’s dozen, no? Braun, Kemp, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Cabrera, Upton… wait, that can’t possibly be Melky Cabrera on this list, can it? Cabrera had just one season in his career in which he met four of the five criteria for this article and that was in his last season in cozy Yankee Stadium in 2009. Last season with Atlanta was a forgettable one as he was below replacement level in value, and his landing in Kansas City was more of an after-thought for most people this off-season. In fact, his signing was viewed as a placeholder move until Lorenzo Cain was ready. His player profile in the Prospectus 2011 did not mince words:

Yet another outfielder who failed to capitalize on the collapse of McLouth, Cabrera arrived in Atlanta as a line-drive hitter who could at least hold his own in all three outfield slots, but he got fat and became a defensive hitter. In the end, the Braves were left with a pudgy switch-hitter who can't hit lefties, doesn't walk, doesn't hit for power, and is limited to a corner. When you add that all up, you get a release at the end of the year, followed by an invitation to join the Royals' menagerie of mediocre outfielders. For the sixth year in a row, Cabrera may find himself with far more playing time than he can possibly reward.

Nobody is perfect, but that write-up appears to be written in Bizarro World as Cabrera has been one of the more amazing fantasy surprises this season with this production. Like Casey Kotchman’s surprising success in Tampa Bay, Cabrera’s success is not a change in process. He is still the same free-swinging batter we have seen the past six seasons, and his five percent walk rate in 2011 is a career low. He is making the same contact he always has, and his batted ball rates are nearly identical to last season in Atlanta. Sure, the batting average on balls in play is a little higher and the home run to fly ball rate is back up to 10 percent again, but there is not a crazy fluctuation in his peripherals to match the surprising change in his production.

Hindsight is always a perfect 20/20, but looking back at the prices the baker’s dozen went for in March is both surprising and frustrating. Here are the Tout Wars draft prices for each player in the 15-team Mixed League this season and the values they have earned according to StallValue Dollar Values:

  • Braun - $39/$37
  • Kemp - $30/$44
  • Ellsbury - $25/$43
  • Pedroia - $27/$31
  • M. Cabrera - $0/$26
  • A. Jones - $15/$24
  • J. Upton - $23/$32
  • Gordon - $2/$23
  • A. Cabrera - $3/$29
  • Joyce - $0/$18
  • Gonzalez - $36/$25
  • Zobrist - $15/$24
  • Granderson - $18/$44

Two players went undrafted on draft day and one was an end game pick. $233 was spent at the draft to acquire these players that have earned $400 to date. Kemp and Ellsbury, coming off disappointing 2010 seasons, have recovered their value and then some. Braun and Pedroia are right about where drafters expected them to be while everyone else but Carlos Gonzalez has turned a profit this season. Granderson has blown away all projections with his monster power year, and others such as Joyce, Gordon, and the Cabrera non-brothers have all had surprising season. If you were to come up with a baker’s dozen list before the season, it would have been more likely to include now missing names such as Carl Crawford, David Wright, Shane Victorino, and Hanley Ramirez, among others, but the cheapskates or the extremely fortunate drafters who grabbed players at what are now extreme discounts are the ones better off.

Even if we were to drop down to look for four-tool players by adding lower batting averages, we still only expand our list by seven names.  Here are the seven players who did everything but hit higher than .275:

PLAYER

BA

HR

SB

RBI

R

Andrew McCutchen

.274

16

19

66

65

Jeff Francoeur

.271

15

18

64

57

Jimmy Rollins

.267

13

27

53

72

Chris Young

.245

17

16

57

70

Ian Kinsler

.240

18

21

50

79

B.J. Upton

.227

16

23

56

53

Danny Espinosa

.227

17

12

55

55

For the most part, this list is surprise-free except for Jeff Francoeur.  I don’t believe anyone of you would be surprised if I told you that Francoeur went undrafted in the mixed Tout Wars draft nor did he end up on a reserve roster. That meant the experts thought there were 85 outfielders/utility players better than Frenchy, and none of them were willing to waste a reserve spot on him either.  $24 dollars later, the people that had to pick up Francoeur to cover an early injury are the ones laughing as they are holding one of the better pick-ups in the league.  Much like Cabrera, Francoeur’s process has not changed at all at the plate, but he has become a running mad man underneath Ned Yost’s lead foot, and that has helped bump up his fantasy value quite a bit.

Removing the runs requirement does not introduce any new names into the fold, but removing the home run requirement introduces Starlin Castro into the mix, and he needs just four home runs to make it to double-digits this season. Removing the stolen base requirement gives us Nick Markakis, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, Brandon Phillips, Hunter Pence, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, Brennan Boesch, and Alex Rodriguez. Most of those players are high performers in at least four categories with Cuddyer and Boesch being the true surprises this season. Removing the RBI requirement results in no new names.

Just 13 players have been five-tool players so far in 2011, and just 34 players overall have met the requirements to be considered four-tool players, which represents just 16 percent of the original player pool. Of the 34 players in the exclusive club so far this season, 11 of those players were drafted for less than $20, meaning the experts did not consider them four or five tool material. That is quite the volatility rate for the best of the best, even if some of it is driven purely by new outcomes of old processes.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Melky Cabrera,  The Who,  Names

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