The 20 to 80 Scale: What Any Baseball Fan Needs to Know

I grew up as an adolescent, eating, drinking and sleeping baseball, particularly my beloved Mets. Listening to Gary Cohen call the games on the radio, I picked up the baseball lingo of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Whether or not you picked up on the use of foods to describe the action (like mustard or cheese on his fastball), you were pretty much covered if you can talk about a guy’s batting average and how many RBI’s he was tallying up.

Many of us have adapted to the abandonment of these stats, in favor of better ones. So, a lot of us have begun to get comfortable in describing a player by his Wins Above Replacement, and many of the sub-metrics that go into it. But there is still more than one way to skin a cat. While modern baseball people have to be versed in sabermetrics, we see more and more, the pervasive use of traditional scouting terminology to talk about our favorite ball players.

Telling me a human being gets on base at .370 clip is one thing. But it doesn’t address why he is so good at getting on base. Telling me that a shortstop has a UZR of whatever, doesn’t tell me what I’m looking at when I’m at the ballpark and watching him field his position. Good news to all the traditionalists out there! The ship may be sailing on the RBI, but we can still talk about these men the good old way. In particular, scouts have arranged how they talk about what they are watching into five main categories. These five main categories are the tools a player carries that makes him valuable: hit, power, run, field, and arm.
baseball hitting mechanics
So let’s take that guy who wins batting titles. Jose Altuve, Tony Gwynn, peak Joe Mauer. Those are the guys who have the best hit tools. Or in other words, graded out on a 20 – 80 scale, where 50 is MLB average, and each 10 away from that represents a grade above or below that average, these guys basically grade out as having an 80 hit tool. Not a bad time to just name drop here, but some scouts are throwing an 80 grade on Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s hit tool. And he’s 20. In A-ball. Just sayin’, might want to keep your eye on him.

So a guy like Rey Ordonez had 20 game power. A Shawon Dunston might’ve been tabbed with an 80 arm. Kenny Lofton was an 80 runner, and Edgar Martinez had a 20 glove or field tool. Most MLB players have the majority of their tools grade between 45 (a tick below average) and 55 (a tick above average).

More and more, we are seeing baseball fans talk about players not only in terms of what kind of triple slash that they can put up (a generally good marker for offensive production), but want to describe more accurately what they are seeing when they watch baseball players play. The traditional scouting scale has been maintained as that frame of reference, and is a great place to start when talking baseball with the newest generation of die-hards. Be on the lookout for more in-depth articles on how we describe baseball players, as we get into things like a hitter’s swing path, a fielder’s actions, and a pitcher’s arm slot.

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