Two of the five tools can be quantified with precision—hitting and hitting for power—because traditional scouting evaluations provide a range of values. Many front offices deem a hitter to be perfectly average if he hits .260 with an on-base percentage of .330 and a slugging percentage of .420. Some prefer isolated power—in this case .160—to slugging because it removes singles from the equation, and that's sensible. Players who finish near these averages generally hit 15-19 homers. This, then, is our average player.
But when we talk about five-tool players, we typically mean five above-average tools. For the sake of this exercise, let's identify an above-average hitter as one who bats at least .285/.360/.460 with an isolated power of .175. That's a 110 percent bump across the board (and then rounded down slightly to please the eye).
A total of 20 batting-title qualifiers met the .285/.360/.460 benchmarks in 2010, while also finishing with an isolated power of .175 or greater. Their home run totals ranged from Hanley Ramirez's 21 to Albert Pujols' 42, with an average value of 29.5. Same story in 2009: 25 players averaged 29.1 homers, ranging from Shin-Soo Choo's 20 to Pujols' 47. And 2008: 29 players averaged 27.7 homers, ranging from Ian Kinsler's 18 to Pujols' 37. Given this, it's safe to set 20 home runs as a floor for above-average power.
Let's put speed on the same scale as power, so an above-average player will swipe a minimum of 20 bags. To simplify, let's define a five-tool offensive season as one that meets the following minimum requirements: .285 average, .360 on-base, 20 homers and 20 steals. (Defense and throwing arm are more difficult to quantify, but we can make subjective assessments later.)
Shin-Soo Choo (.300 AVG, .401, OBP, 22 HR, 22 SB), Hanley Ramirez (.300, .378, 21, 32) and Carlos Gonzalez (.336, .376, 34, 26) were the only three players to meet the criteria in 2010. Applying the same standards for 2000-2010 will point us in the direction of the true five-tool candidates.
Through the magic of Baseball-Reference's play index tool, we learn that 40 times this century a player has turned in a .285/.360/20/20 season. The honor roll of contemporary "above-average" seasons, sorted by most frequent achievers (giving credit in four cases for pre-2000 work):
Bobby Abreu (1999-05, 08)
Alex Rodriguez (1998, 2004-05, 07)
Hanley Ramirez (2007-10)
Roberto Alomar (1999, 2001)
Shawn Green (1999, 2001)
Carlos Beltran (2001, 03)
Vladimir Guerrero (2001-02)
David Wright (2006-07)
Shin-Soo Choo (2009-10)
Darin Erstad (2000), Cliff Floyd (2000), Andruw Jones (2000), Shannon Stewart (2000), Derek Jeter (2001), Ryan Klesko (2001), Magglio Ordonez (2001), Jason Bay (2005), Grady Sizemore (2006), Curtis Granderson (2007), B.J. Upton (2007), Matt Holliday (2008), Ryan Braun (2009), Troy Tulowitzki (2009), Justin Upton (2009) and Carlos Gonzalez (2010)
A few names change if we alter the guideline from 20 homers to .175 isolated power, but it's not drastic. Abreu loses his 2003 season and Jeter his 2001 campaign, while the likes of Brian Roberts (2005), Carlos Guillen (2006), Russell Martin (2007) and Ian Kinsler (2008) join the club.
It seems safe to classify the players who have more than one "above-average" season as five-tool players—at least at the peak of their powers. That leaves us with Abreu, Alomar, Beltran, Choo, Green, Guerrero, Ramirez, Rodriguez and Wright. (And you wouldn't bet against Justin Upton getting there one day.)
Our positional distribution breaks down as four right fielders (Abreu, Choo, Green, Guerrero), two shortstops (Ramirez, Rodriguez), a second baseman (Alomar) and a center fielder (Beltran). That makes sense. The middle-of-the-diamond players require above-average speed and plus range (some will quibble with Ramirez), while the right fielders require above-average arm strength—but are they all plus defenders?
While Barry Bonds did not meet the .286/.360/20/20 standard in the 2000s, he reached those criteria nine times in the 1990s—every season but 1999. Bonds is far and away the record holder for "five-tool" seasons since World War II, and only Abreu (eight) and Willie Mays (six) are in the conversation. Even the lists of four-time (H. Ramirez, A. Rodriguez, Joe Morgan and Hank Aaron) and three-time (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Ray Lankford and Rickey Henderson) achievers is sparsely populated.
You'll notice most of the prolific accumulators (all but Bagwell and Biggio) wouldn't even have been eligible to play in the segregated baseball that existed prior to 1947. That leads to the natural question: How often did players go 20-20, hit at least .285 and get on base 36 percent of the time prior to Jackie Robinson? The answer is not that often.
Ken Williams accomplished the feat for the St. Louis Browns during the 1921-22 seasons. He even led the AL with 39 home runs in the latter campaign. The other three players to reach those standards did so once each: Chuck Klein of the 1932 Phillies, Babe Herman of the 1929 Dodgers and Frank "Wildfire" Schulte of the 1911 Cubs.