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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.

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