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All-Time Best Tools All-Stars

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Barry Bonds (photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images)

Reaching the pinnacle of the sport is difficult. More difficult is staying there for multiple seasons.

That’s what makes players who are perennially recognized in Best Tools balloting so special. Major league talent evaluators deem such players to be the best in the baseball over multiple seasons in their area of expertise. In many cases, this exemplary ability in terms of batting, pitching or fielding is the foundation upon which Hall of Fame careers are built.

In this piece we highlight players who have claimed the most career wins in Best Tools balloting, from its inception in 1988 to the present season of 2018. That’s 30 years of greatness all under one umbrella.

Hitting

Best Hitter
Tony Gwynn, 10 wins
Albert Pujols, 7
Miguel Cabrera, 5

The incomparable Gwynn won eight NL batting titles, including two that predate Best Tools. He hit .370 and .351 in those seasons.

Best Power
Mark McGwire, 6 wins
Barry Bonds, 5
Giancarlo Stanton, 5

McGwire won four home runs crowns, two each in the AL and NL, setting since-broken records for a rookie (49) and in a single season (70).

Best Bunter
Brett Butler, 7 wins
Juan Pierre, 7
Ichiro Suzuki, 6

Best Strike-Zone Judgment
Joey Votto, 7 wins
Bobby Abreu, 4
Barry Bonds, 3

This category wasn’t introduced until 2003, but Votto stands above his peers in this regard, with six NL on-base percentage titles.

Best Hit-And-Run Artist
Placido Polanco, 8 wins
Tony Gwynn, 7
Derek Jeter, 6

Best Baserunner
Ichiro Suzuki, 8 wins
Larry Walker, 5
Roberto Alomar, 4
Juan Pierre, 4

Baserunning is about more than stealing bases, and Ichiro and Pierre were demonstrably the best since 2002, according to the FanGraphs advanced baserunning metric.

Fastest Baserunner
Carl Crawford, 6 wins
Kenny Lofton, 5
Billy Hamilton, 5

This trio of extraordinary basestealers added significant value to their teams with the volume and efficiency of their thievery. Lofton topped 50 steals six times and twice topped 70.

Most Exciting Player
Barry Bonds, 7 wins
Mike Trout, 7
Ken Griffey Jr., 6

This catch-all category typically rewards players who excel both offensively and defensively, as evidenced by this trio of perennial MVP candidates.

Randy Johnson (photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images)

Pitching

Best Pitcher
Roy Halladay, 6 wins
Roger Clemens, 5
Pedro Martinez, 5
Clayton Kershaw, 5

Clemens won AL Cy Young Awards in 1986 and 1987 before the inception of Best Tools, so he would assuredly take the top spot if the exercise stretched back a few years earlier. All four pitchers in this group had all-time great peaks.

Best Fastball
Randy Johnson, 10 wins
Aroldis Chapman, 7
Roger Clemens, 5
Rob Dibble, 5
Justin Verlander, 5

Johnson pitched until he was 45 thanks to one of the best fastballs in history. Note the presence of closers Chapman and Dibble, who both set single-season records for strikeout rate with their huge velocity.

Best Curveball
Darryl Kile, 8 wins
Clayton Kershaw, 6
Tom Gordon, 5
Barry Zito, 5

Kile’s big breaker was the standard-bearer in the NL from 1994 to 2001, when he won Best Curveball in eight straight seasons.

Best Slider
Randy Johnson, 8 wins
John Smoltz, 8
Chris Sale, 4

With a fastball and slider that both ranked as among the most dominant pitches of all time, the Big Unit retired with more strikeouts than anybody but Nolan Ryan.

Best Changeup
Pedro Martinez, 7 wins
Greg Maddux, 6
Johan Santana, 6

Martinez learned his circle-changeup grip early in his pro career and rode it to three Cy Young Awards and a plaque in Cooperstown.

Best Control
Greg Maddux, 13 wins
Bob Tewksbury, 5
Roy Halladay, 4

Best Pickoff Move
Andy Pettitte, 15 wins
Armando Reynoso, 5
Mark Buehrle, 5

Best Reliever
Mariano Rivera, 14 wins
Dennis Eckersley, 4
Trevor Hoffman, 4
Craig Kimbrel, 4


All four of these all-time great closers got results but did so in vastly different ways.

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Fielding

Each Best Tools winner for a defensive category also won the most Gold Gloves at his position for the 1988 to 2018 period. This makes sense because the voting body for both awards have a lot of overlap, namely major league managers and coaching staffs.

Best Defensive Catcher
Ivan Rodriguez, 12 wins
Yadier Molina, 10
Mike Matheny, 5
Salvador Perez, 5

Best Defensive First Baseman
Don Mattingly, 8 wins
J.T. Snow, 6
Mark Teixeira, 6

Best Defensive Second Baseman
Roberto Alomar, 12 wins
Ryne Sandberg, 5
Brandon Phillips, 5

Best Defensive Third Baseman
Scott Rolen, 10 wins
Matt Williams, 7
Nolan Arenado, 5

Best Defensive Shortstop
Omar Vizquel, 10 wins
Barry Larkin, 7
Andrelton Simmons, 5

Best Infield Arm
Alex Rodriguez, 9 wins
Adrian Beltre, 7
Rafael Furcal, 7

Best Defensive Outfielder
Andruw Jones, 9 wins
Ichiro Suzuki, 7
Ken Griffey Jr., 6

Best Outfield Arm
Ichiro Suzuki, 9 wins
Vladimir Guerrero, 7
Jay Buhner, 5

Miscellaneous

Best Manager
Jim Leyland, 12 wins
Bobby Cox, 11
Tony La Russa, 7

Leyland and La Russa were the go-to choices for this category in the early years of voting. As manager of the Athletics, La Russa claimed the honor in the AL each year from 1989 to 1995, save for 1992 when the Twins' Tom Kelly won.

Over in the NL, Leyland won this category every year from 1990 to 1997, the first six years with the Pirates and the final with World Series-champion Marlins. After moving on to the Tigers, Leyland added four more wins in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2013.

Cox won the award 11 times in 13 seasons from 1998 to 2010 as the Braves' skipper.

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