SCOUTING 101: Understanding 5 Tools & 20/80

SCOUTING 101: Understanding 5 Tools & 20/80

Spring is the time when a scout’s “follow list” transforms into a preference, or “pref list”. Scouts are no longer just roughly projecting what category a player falls into, they are now writing detailed reports on each player they are submitting for draft consideration, and then putting those players into a preferential order within those categories.

The typical scouting report utilizes the traditional 20-80 scouting scale.


The invention of the scale is credited to Branch Rickey and whether he intended it or not, it mirrors various scientific scales. 50 is major league average, then each 10 point increment represents a standard deviation better or worse than average. 

The Basics

You’ve probably heard people call athletic hitters a “five-tool prospect.” While that is an overused and misunderstood term, they are referring to the 20-80 scouting scale. The five tools for position players are 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running 4) Fielding and 5) Throwing. The general use of the “five-tool” term is when all five are at least average (which is more rare than you’d think) and I generally only use it when all five are above average. 

For hitters, these are the only five tools, despite many questions from readers about why we can’t expand it. Throwing accuracy is folded into the throwing tool grade (which is mostly arm strength since accuracy problems are often fixable) while fielding range, hands, instincts and all the components of defense are folded into the fielding grade. Base running skill and good jumps out of the batter’s box are also folded into the run grade. Many organizations and I will split power into game power (predicting big league power stats) and raw power (how far he can hit the ball in batting practice) but they are often the same and it’s simply a way with numbers to better explain the components of power (and also comment on the hit tool). The hit tool includes plate discipline (the most commonly asked-for sixth tool by the internet) but I’ll get more into why that is and how we can still project contact and on-base skill with one number in the article about the hit tool.

Though some teams have scouts grade each of these components, it’s the five core scouting grades that are paid attention to universally. It’s common practice in scouting reports for scouts to explain in the comments when, say a 55 fielding grade includes some 60 or higher components and some 50 or lower components, but often a 55 means a number of average to above skills and doesn’t merit much explanation. Scouts also use present and future grades for each tool. Present grades often are 20’s for high school players while, in the upper levels of the minors, the gap between present and future grades is very small. A present 20 and future 50 grade on a tool is noted as 20/50.

For pitchers, it is much more straightforward. Scouts grade each of their pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, splitter, cutter being the most common) on the 20-80 scale, then either grade the command of each pitch separately or have one overall command grade. Some teams will do grade for components of command (throwing quality strikes) with control (throwing it in the strike zone, usually closely following walk rate), pitchability (feel to sequence pitches, keep hitters off balance, etc.) and other similar things. Some clubs go so far as to have scouts grade deception, arm action (how clean/efficient/loose the arm swing is in back) and other components that the industry feels predict health. That said, the three core pitches (fastball, changeup, best breaking ball) and command are the four core grades that scouts use to make decisions and that inform the overall grade.

Objective Tool Grades

Tool Is CalledFastball VeloBatting AvgHomersRHH to 1BLHH to 1B60 Yd Run
80 80 97 .320 40+ 4.00 3.90 6.3
75 96 .310 35-40 4.05 3.95 6.4
70 Plus Plus 95 .300 30-35 4.10 4.00 6.5
65 94 .290 27-30 4.15 4.05 6.6
60 Plus 93 .280 23-27 4.20 4.10 6.7
55 Above Avg 92 .270 19-22 4.25 4.15 6.8
50 Avg 90-91 .260 15-18 4.30 4.20 6.9-7.0
45 Below Avg 89 .250 12-15 4.35 4.25 7.1
40 88 .240 8-12 4.40 4.30 7.2
35 87 .230 5-8 4.45 4.35 7.3
30 86 .220 3-5 4.50 4.40 7.4

This is a table showing the tool grades (fastball for pitchers, hit, power and speed for hitters) that have objective scales that every scout uses to grade. These scales will vary team to team, possibly shifted one notch in either direction, or maybe separate grades for fastball velocity for righties/lefties or starter/reliever but these are essentially industry consensus scales.

informationcourtesyof athletewealthmanagementgroup 2016  jason rutherford

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