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April 17, 2013

The Lineup Card

8 Favorite One-Tool Players

by Baseball Prospectus

​1. Mariano Rivera: The Cutter
I’ll leave it up to the scouts to decide if Mariano Rivera can be termed a one-tool player, but he has built his Hall of Fame career by throwing basically one pitch—his vaunted cut fastball. Since 2007, according to BrooksBaseball.net, 89 percent of Rivera’s pitches have been cutters. You can be sure if the data went back further, the percentage would almost certainly be about the same. It is a testament to just how great Rivera’s cutter is that he holds the major-league record with 611 career saves. Yankees manager Joe Girardi summed it up best a few years back when I asked him about Rivera relying so much on one pitch: “You kind of take it for granted because Mo has been so good for so long, but it truly is amazing that he could be that dominant with one pitch. The hitters know it’s coming and they’re braced for it and they still can’t hit it—and it’s been that way for years and years and years.” —John Perrotto

2. Dustin Pedroia: Awesomeness
Some of you may think Dustin Pedroia is a five-tool player, or maybe a four-and-a-half-tool player. It’s true: He can hit, hit for power, field, run, and throw. Ish. After all, he is a second baseman. But the truth is that, in Pedroia’s case, all of those skills fall under the umbrella of his true one overall skill: awesomeness. When Dustin Pedroia does stuff, it’s awesome. When he dives into the dirt to get a grounder up the middle and throws out the runner, it’s awesome. When he hits a line drive off the Monster, it’s awesome. Clutch RBI? Awesome. Base hits up the middle? Awesome. Homers out onto Lansdowne Street? The occasional steal of second or, dare he, third? Crazy stories making fun of teammates or, his favorite target, former manager Terry Francona? Awesome, awesome, and awesome.

I won’t deny the fact that Pedroia looks like an infant with a beard in the middle of a bunch of pro athletes plays a role in his awesome. So, he’s awesome and his awesome is awesome. But don’t take my word for it. Here, have a few concrete examples with your bowl of awesome flakes:

1. When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, Pedroia went down to a local watering hole, hopped over the bar, and started serving drinks. It looked like this:

It was awesome.

2. When Pedroia was defending his teammate, David Ortiz, who was having a rough go of it for a while, he said this:

“It happens to everybody, man. He’s had 60 at-bats. A couple of years ago, I had 60 at-bats, and I was hitting .170, and everyone was ready to kill me, too. And what happened? Laser show. So, relax.”

Predictably, awesome.

There’s something to be said for a guy who can use “Laser show” as its own sentence while referring to his own hitting to a room full of reporters and all without breaking a smile.

3. Pedroia was stopped at the players' entrance at Coors Field in Denver during the 2007 World Series. The security guard didn't believe Pedroia was a player and told him to get lost. Pedroia showed the guard his players' ID card, but the guard said it was faked.

Francona tells the story, "He says, 'You don't know who I am? You don't know who I am?' " Francona says. " 'Ask Jeff f———- Francis who the f—- I am. I'm the guy who hit a bomb and just ended their f———- season."

Awesome. —Matthew Kory

3. Tony Campana: Base-Stealing
Nobody can say Tony Campana isn’t a tough guy. At age 7, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and underwent months of treatment before becoming healthy again. Physically, though, Campana doesn’t strike you as intimidating. He’s 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, giving hope to people like this author that being puny can get you into the big leagues. One thing that Campana has (that this author does not) is blazing, head-turning speed. Campana has been timed at 4.35 seconds in a 40-yard dash—equivalent to an elite wide receiver—and from home to first in 3.6 seconds.

Campana has used his swiftness to great effect on the basepaths, swiping 54 bases in 184 games. He has only been caught five times. FanGraphs credits him with 11 baserunning runs above average despite having only 347 plate appearances—13th in all of baseball in those two seasons.

Unfortunately for the little guy, he’s not much of a slugger. His .272 wOBA ranks him 370th out of 403 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances over the last two years, and his 64 wRC+ is 376th. His ISO of .038 is the second-worst of everybody. He has managed to hit only one career home run—an inside-the-park job against Mike Leake.

For that reason, the Cubs used him as a pinch-runner and late-inning replacement during his stay in Chi-town. He’s currently in Reno, the Triple-A affiliate of the Diamondbacks, where he has only collected three singles in 33 at-bats and yet already has a pair of stolen bases. If young outfielders A.J. Pollock and Alfredo Marte (52 combined games of big league experience) do not perform well in The Show, Campana could get called up as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner extraordinaire once again. —Dan Rozenson

4. Chris Carter: Power
With a 30-grade hit tool and a ton of whiff in his game, it’s safe to say Carter will never vie for a big-league batting title. He doesn’t run well. He doesn’t field well––especially not in left field––and his arm is nothing special. But the one thing Carter can do is hit a baseball a long way, and that’s enough to give him value as a major leaguer.

Carter has legitimate 70-grade power. Though he may be just a .230 or .240 hitter, he could sock 30-plus home runs if given a full season of playing time. That lack of hit tool and K rate will always lead to extreme peaks and valleys. We’ve already seen it on display this season, as he went 3-for-26 with 13 punchouts through seven games before clubbing four round-trippers in a four-game span. The “three true outcomes” guys are rarely boring, and Carter may fit that distinction better than any current major-league player. —Jason Cole

5. Adam Dunn: Power
I waited as long as I could to file this (sorry, editors) because I kept hoping that my favorite Adam Dunn stat would come back into being, but alas, we'll go on without it. As recently as last year, the list of all sufficiently tenured players whose hit-for-contact tool was bad enough to hit under .250 and whose power was so good that they slugged over .500 numbered one in all of major-league history. Just Adam Dunn. But a slowdown from career rates in 2012 despite the bounceback and a poor start to 2013 has put his career slugging at .498 and depopulated the list completely.

Still, he's one of only eight players (min. 500 PA) who have a higher ISO than they do batting average, and in that component of isolated power, he sits above the rest of them.

Player

BA

ISO

Adam Dunn

.239

.259

Russell Branyan

.232

.253

Mark Reynolds

.235

.243

Dave Kingman

.236

.242

Ken Phelps

.239

.241

Carlos Pena

.234

.237

Bobby Estalella

.216

.224

Rob Deer

.220

.222

Source: Baseball-Reference.com play index. Zachary Levine

6. Herb Washington: Speed
Here is Herb Washington's career line, including the minors (no games) and postseason (5 games):

G

PA

R

SB

CS

110

0

33

31

19

He never batted, and he never played the field. After winning the 60-yard-dash at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships in 1970 and being drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Colts, the former Michigan State track star spent all of 1974 and the first month of 1975 with the A's as Charlie Finley's “designated runner.”

Washington made 92 appearances as a rookie and finished seventh in the American League with 29 stolen bases, but was caught 16 times, which placed him fourth in the league. The A's released him after 13 games the following season, ending his baseball career.

Still, Washington's legacy is assured. He will always hold the record for fewest plate appearances by a man to steal at least 31 bases. Nobody else—not even Finley's other running specialists (Allan Lewis, Matt Alexander)—comes close:

Player

PA

SB

Herb Washington

0

31

Allan Lewis

31

44

Matt Alexander

195

103

Tony Campana

347

54

Eddie Miller

366

49

 

In fact, nobody else has ever stolen a single base without accumulating zero career plate appearances. And this is the beauty of Herb Washington. There will never be another like him. —Geoff Young

7. Eddie Gaedel: Plate Discipline
They say he never saw a pitch he liked. They say he never took the bat off his shoulder. Pitchers looked in at him and swore. "That strike zone's too small, blue!" they'd yell. "It's not fair."

The plate is 17 inches wide; the rest is what you make of it. A better batter's eye you could not find than that of Eddie Gaedel. (Just make sure you pinch-run for him when he gets on!) —Larry Granillo

8. Cory Snyder: Power (And Mullet)
It has been more than a quarter century since Sports Illustrated picked the Cleveland Indians to win the 1987 World Series. The Indians nearly made the playoffs that year, falling just 37 games short of the AL East champion Detroit Tigers. If you click on that link, you'll see a picture of Joe Carter, who eventually did win a World Series, and a now semi-obscure right fielder for the Indians (and current Double-A manager), Cory Snyder. And when I was an impressionable 6-year-old, Cory Snyder made his debut with the Indians, belting 24 home runs in 103 games in 1986.

I suppose that since we're talking about tools, and "arm" is a tool, then Snyder had two tools. Snyder had played shortstop on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team but quickly found himself playing right field in the majors. But the one thing that Snyder was really good at was swinging really hard, just in case he made contact. Snyder wasn't a three true outcomes hitter, because that would have required walking once in a while. In 1987, the year that he was to propel the Indians to the World Series, Snyder hit .236/.273/.456... with 33 home runs. And 166 strikeouts. And to a 7-year-old, that was awesome.

Then again, he did have one other redeeming quality: He had an 80-grade mullet/'stache combo. —Russell A. Carleton

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

terryspen

What, besides public backlash, would preclude a team today from signing a dwarf like Gaedel in September and using him as a pinch-hitter to lead off the ninth when it needs a baserunner? Team him with Campana as his designated pinch runner and you've got a golden combination. (And if you say Selig could reject the contract, I'm no lawyer but I'm thinking the Americans With Disabilities Act might preclude that).

Apr 17, 2013 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

I suspect that the improved quality of both pitchers and baseballs would make this strategy ineffective as most MLB-quality pitchers can locate in the smaller strike zone. Assuming the dwarf was basically unable to hit the ball, I doubt this would work with great frequency, certainly not enough to justify the necessary two roster spots (one for the dwarf, one to replace him in the field) it would cost you.

Perhaps in September when rosters expand, but again, I believe most MLB pitchers, knowing the batter was not dangerous, could throw strikes.

Apr 17, 2013 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
terryspen

I don't know -- if the dwarf gets into a normal hitting crouch, the strike zone top to bottom would be about five inches and much lower than normal. The pitcher would be thrown out of his normal rhythm and would be trying to aim the ball. If the dwarf walks 40 percent of the time, which I think is a low estimate, that's a better OBP than 90 percent of MLB hitters. And how many teams, even contenders, call up their full compliment of 40 players? A team could experiment in spring training, having a dwarf stand in the box during some pitchers' side sessions to see how it goes.

Apr 17, 2013 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

This could be fairly easily tested by examining if there's a relationship between player height and unintentional walks. While the dwarf is an extreme example, and there are obviously other skills at play, by your reasoning, Joe Mauer should be much easier to get out than Kirby Puckett (alive version).

Someone with some statistical skills could run this regression fairly easily, and it's an interesting question beyond the dwarf PH stunt.

Apr 17, 2013 17:55 PM
rating: 3
 
jdeich

Only one roster spot if you use him in road games. Top of the 1st, the little person leads off, nominally playing the same position as the player who will replace him right after the PA.

Or in the NL, he pinch hits instead of a standard hitter in any situation where a walk has especially high value (i.e., all bases empty or runner on 1st). You were going to burn one bench spot anyway, so the cost of the little person is only one spot.

With sufficient OBP, he'd be more valuable than Herb Washington, who really did waste two roster spots, and had negative WARP because he got caught stealing so often.

I agree that the only reason this hasn't been tried again is public relations.

Apr 17, 2013 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
gdragon1977

From "Veeck - As in Wreck" (which is a fantastic book)

"The next day, Harridge issued an executive order barring Gaedel from baseball. A new rule was promptly passed making it mandatory that all player contracts be filed with and approved by the president."

I don't think that Bud would allow it, and I don't think that any owner would cross him to attempt it.

Apr 17, 2013 10:10 AM
rating: 0
 
terryspen

Again, I'm not a lawyer but I think the Americans With Disabilities Act would make it difficult for Selig to void the contract -- and person would surely file suit if he did.

Apr 17, 2013 10:13 AM
rating: 1
 
bhalpern

I know what Cole Hamels would do to prevent it.

Apr 17, 2013 10:20 AM
rating: 4
 
Shkspr

It would be trivial to demonstrate that the "essential qualities" a player needs to be successful in the major leagues encompass more than a small strike zone. Any player that sought a court order to overturn a rejected contract would need to demonstrate that they had at least a modicum of speed, power, hand-eye coordination, or defensive ability, or could display these traits with reasonable accommodation, to be an effective player. For example, speed. Given the level of achievement shown in competition, a dwarf that actually swung at the ball and made contact could expect to go from home to first in, at best, six seconds. There is no place for such a player on the team except in an historically peculiar limited role, and no judge is realistically going to deny an argument that a professional athlete needs to be able to run, hit, and field at a basic level.

But let's say that the prospect and team found a sympathetic judge who agreed that the only athletic qualification that a professional sports league could impose upon its employees was to stand there looking tiny. You would very quickly see a rule pop up that said something like, oh, that a pinch runner could not enter the game for a player that had only entered the game that inning, or something like that, and that would be the end of Smallball, Phase II. The rule would stay on the books, and everyone would forget about it until some playoff game in 2026 or something when it killed a rally and gave pundits something to argue about.

Apr 17, 2013 17:19 PM
rating: 1
 
Shkspr

Oops. In case it isn't clear, this is referring to the theoretical possibility of an ADA lawsuit over a Gaedelian stunt.

Apr 17, 2013 17:21 PM
rating: 0
 
terryspen

Your honor, the most important skill a hitter has is his ability to get on base. It is the belief of his prospective employer that he would get on base at least 50 percent of the time, more frequently than any player in major league history. If his employer believes my client will help his team win baseball games, it is of no business of the other 29 owners. In fact, the only reason we are here is that they believe he is right -- otherwise, they would be more than happy to let him waste his money and lose games to their benefit. Look at what they have allowed the Marlins to do time and time again -- how many of those currently on the Miami roster have more than one skill that is above the major league norm? No more than a few. I rest my case.

Apr 18, 2013 04:12 AM
rating: 2
 
Shkspr

Denied. You fundamentally don't understand the ADA or how it's applied.

Apr 18, 2013 08:34 AM
rating: -1
 
jdeich

Why would a player need to demonstrate more than one baseball skill? Isn't Herb Washington the counterexample to this logic? He never hit, fielded, or pitched. He just ran fast, and he was allowed to be a member of the A's for two seasons.

Apr 18, 2013 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

It's not possible to use a dwarf like Eddie Gaedel because Eddie Gaedel was a midget, not a dwarf. Midgets are proportionally small. Dwarfs are small people with disproportionally normal sized heads and hands. Randy Newman is not popular with either group.

Apr 17, 2013 18:32 PM
rating: 0
 
terryspen

Actually, the term midget is no longer used and is considered offensive because it is an 1800s concoction derived from the word "midge," a type of insect. This is from a Salon article about the group Little People of America's 2009 conference announcing "that the word “midget is anathema:"

“When referring to people of short stature, Little People of America will use the terms ‘dwarf,’ ‘little person,’ ‘person with dwarfism,’ or ‘person of short stature,’” reads the group’s statement. “In addition to promoting positive language around people of short stature, Little People of America will … spread awareness to prevent use of the word ‘midget,’ considered offensive by Little People of America.”

Apr 18, 2013 03:56 AM
rating: 1
 
JOARGE9481

The 86' Indians are a fun Strat-o-matic team. Good offense, Nixon and Hall to use off the bench, a matchup pen, a "ringer" #1 (Swindell....only had 9 starts) and a decent #2 for strat purposes(Schrom 1.29 WHIP). I believe Snyder had a big throwing arm...a -3 or -4 if I remember correctly.

Apr 17, 2013 08:24 AM
rating: 1
 
bline24

Kudos to Matthew Kory for an awesome take on Dustin Pedroia.

Apr 17, 2013 09:36 AM
rating: 8
 
rocket8184
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

He came across as a douche

Apr 17, 2013 17:20 PM
rating: -8
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Thanks!

Apr 18, 2013 08:37 AM
 
bhalpern

He meant a deuce, like a runner in the night. Common mistake.

Apr 18, 2013 09:41 AM
rating: 6
 
dianagram

I nominate Greg Golson for "Arm". He didn't/doesn't do much else, but boy that arm ....

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=12084469&topic_id=11493214

Apr 17, 2013 10:17 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He has a lot of tools. The arm is basically elite, but he shows serious run, legit raw (not power utility), and a good glove. Lacks refinement, but has four of the five tools.

Apr 17, 2013 15:59 PM
 
BP staff member Jason Cole
BP staff

I really enjoy watching Golson, and it's a damn shame that the one tool he doesn't have (hit) happens to be the most important for him sticking in the big leagues.

Golson made the best throw I've ever seen in person in Triple-A a few years ago (no, not the throw in Tampa, but this one was pretty similar, just at home plate and also to save the game).

Apr 17, 2013 23:44 PM
 
Adam Hobson

Regarding Rivera: He's thrown the cutter almost exclusively since what seems like forever, but in this case forever is 1997. His sick 4.6 WARP season of 1996 when he threw 107 innings with a 2.09 ERA and 130 Ks–all in relief–was cutter-free.

Apr 17, 2013 10:48 AM
rating: 1
 
bobbygrace

Let's not play fast and loose with our 80 grades. Snyder's mustache/mullet combo is magisterial by today's standards, but in the '80s its value over replacement was much lower than it would be today.

For all-time mustache/mullet tool, I would nominate Dan Gladden. Then again, maybe my own childhood biases inform this choice.

Apr 17, 2013 12:28 PM
rating: 8
 
jdeich

This alleged "mullet" tool is really just a subset of the greater Hair Tool, where Oscar Gamble is an 80 and Matt Holliday is a 20. Oscar had plus-plus diameter with excellent command, and the hat-perch was easy at a big-league level. A very young Jason Parks said Oscar's toolsy mustache was "a two-plane secondary offering with late life." The rest of the facial hair was fringy, but if he could add/subtract and take advantage of his bigs-ready chin, it would have had star power.

Apr 17, 2013 13:05 PM
rating: 9
 
SC

Julio Franco still has the best "old" tool I've ever seen. Though I suppose he also has an 80 "raw egg eating too" which makes him a two tool wonder.

Apr 17, 2013 17:52 PM
rating: 6
 
onegameref

What's really awesome? Holiday Inn t-shirt on the king of awesomeness. Only he can pull it off with that certain awesome flair shown in your pic. Looks like a 19 year old at spring break. Classic.

Apr 17, 2013 22:37 PM
rating: 2
 
Roy in Omaha

My nomination is Billy Butler of the Royals for hitting. Other than that, he can do absolutely nothing. In the field he looks like he's standing in a bucket of mud and he is probably the slowest guy in the major leagues. He can't run, throw, or field. He should throw his glove in the trash. It says a lot about him to say that if Butler lasts until age 38 as an every day player (I personally doubt that he will with his girth) he will utterly smash Cal Ripken's all time GIDP record--by a mile. He is WAY ahead of Ripken's all time record pace. Dude can flat-out mash, though. That is, until he eats his way out of the game.

Apr 21, 2013 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
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