Which free agents have the best tools?

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Which free agents have the best tools?

Every team enters the offseason with different needs – and no matter what they’re looking for, there’s always a player who fits their plans.

Let’s take a look at the players with the best individual tools among free agents heading into the 2024 season.

This ranking is based on five traditional tools – hitting contact, power, speed, defense and arm power (with a couple of extras thrown in). There are several free agents who stand out in more than one tool, but we are focusing on one player only once.

Here, the best tools available in the 2023-2024 free agent market.

Hitting Contact: Cody Bellinger

What a difference from one year to the next. Bellinger, the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2023, reinvented himself from a hitter who had just hit the fence and barely hit the Mendoza Line in 2022 to hit .300 hitter who became a contact master in 2023. He cut his strikeout total almost in half. He still has many contacts. He started spreading the hits in a line across the park. And he still hit 26 homers.

Check out the 180-degree turn Bellinger made from 2022 to 2023 and where he stands relative to the rest of the league:

• Strikeout Rate: From 27.3% (14th percentile in MLB) to 15.6% (87th percentile)

• Fanning rate: From 27.2% (33rd percentile) to 20.1% (77th percentile)

• Bat sweet-spot: From 34.4% (58th percentile) to 38.0% (86th percentile)

• Expected Batting Average: From .213 (6th percentile) to .268 (74th percentile)

• Batting run value: From -9 (18th percentile) to +23 (88th percentile)

He’s just a different kind of hitter, even compared to his MVP and Rookie of the Year seasons. Congratulations to Bellinger for reinventing himself and becoming one of the most sought after hitters in free agency.

Honorable mentions: Michael Brantley, Shohei Ohtani, JD Martinez, Whit Merrifield

This should be obvious. The American League home run leader and Most Valuable Player is the best power hitter on the market. Ohtani might be the best power hitter in the Major Leagues, period. The Japanese have 124 home runs over the past three seasons, an average of 40 homers per year. The quality of his contact is elite. Ohtani has 220 barrels since 2021 – that’s Statcast’s highest level of contact, balls that are likely to go over the fence or be extra-base hits, based on his exit velocity and takeoff angle. The only hitter with more is Aaron Judge (242).

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And nearly half of Ohtani’s total home runs from 2021 to 2023, 59 of 124, were hit inside the park in each of the 30 major league stadiums. So wherever Ohtani signs, his power numbers will be elite. In fact, the Japanese hit the longest home run last season, a 493-foot shot.

Honorable mentions: Teóscar Hernández, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler

Plate Discipline: Brandon Belt

It is worth noting that the 35-year-old veteran is still contemplating his future as a player. Belt rarely swings at pitches outside the strike zone, resulting in a high on-base percentage. His 17.9% swing-to-out-of-the-zone rate was in the 96th percentile among all MLB hitters last year, his 15.1% walk rate was in the 97th percentage in MLB, and he has an on-base percentage of . 369.

Belt’s keen eye also allows him to pick pitches that hit hard: His 44.5% sweet-spot rate is in the 99th percentile in MLB in 2023 and his 15.0% barrel rate is in in the 91st percentile. Those numbers led him to post an .858 OPS in over 400 plate appearances.

Honorable Mention: Mitch Garver, Robbie Grossman, Andrew McCutchen, Tommy Pham

Speed: Garrett Hampson

Hampson’s average sprint speed last year, 29.8 feet/second, was tied for 14th fastest in MLB. He also had 32 “bolts” (runs at or above Statcast’s elite speed threshold of 30 feet/second), tied for the 18th-highest mark. And Hampson’s 32 bolts came in just 80 competitive races; therefore, he reached elite speed almost half the time, a relatively high rate. Hampson just turned 29, so the utility player’s speed should not decline yet, a weapon that will help him on the bases and on defense.

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Editor’s note: Hampson signed a one-season deal with the Royals on Wednesday.

Honorable Mention: Bellinger, Billy Hamilton, Kevin Kiermaier

Defense (Infield): Matt Chapman

There is a good group of good defenders available this winter, so we decided to split the good glove category between infielders and outfielders. In the infield, the best of all is Chapman, a perennial Gold Glove candidate at third base who has won the trophy four times, including in 2023 with the Blue Jays. Since his Major League debut in 2017, Chapman has amassed a +54 Outs Above Average at the hot corner, becoming one of the best overall defenders in all of MLB in that regard and the second-best third first baseman, behind only the great Nolan Arenado.

Honorable Mention: Nick Ahmed, Brandon Crawford, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Jonathan Schoop

Defense (Jardines): Kevin Kiermaier

Kiermaier is to the outfield what Chapman is to the infield, as he won the Gold Glove four times in center field and is the current award winner at that position (and Chapman’s former teammate in Toronto last season). He will become one of the best defensive central patrolman in the history of the “King of Sports.” Kiermaier’s range in the outfield is impressive – since Statcast implemented Outs Above Average in 2016, Kiermaier’s +84 mark in center field is the best of any outfielder, and is in the top five among all MLB defensemen in any position. Kiermaier has made 62 plays with a 50% or less chance of being a catch in that stretch, one behind Jackie Bradley Jr. for the most of any outfielder, including 17 five-star catches (25% or less chance of being a catch) . less), one behind Billy Hamilton for most of any outfielder.

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Honorable mentions: Harrison Bader, Bellinger

Arm (Infield): Gary Sánchez

Arm strength can be extremely important for a catcher, especially with the new rules MLB implemented in 2023 to further encourage stolen bases, and Kraken has one of the strongest arms of any shield. The Dominican’s ‘pop times’ (the speed at which the catcher releases the ball, measured in seconds and the speed of the throw, in miles per hour) are consistently the fastest in MLB — in 2023, Sánchez’s pop time average to The second baseman’s 1.90 seconds is tied for sixth best among all catchers with 20 or more throws — and the pop times are a product of his powerful throws. Sanchez’s average arm strength last season was 85.5 mph and he tied for the fastest individual throw of the season by a catcher, at 89.7 mph. He can throw out even the best runners looking to steal a base, like Corbin Carroll.

Honorable Mentions: Brian Anderson, Chapman

Arm (Garden): Michael A. Taylor

Taylor has a great ability to put runners on and just keep them from getting extra bases. Last season, Taylor’s competitive average arm speed of 91.5 mph was in the top 10% of MLB defensemen, and he reached a top velocity of 97.9 mph. In fact, his arm power has ranked in the top 10% of the league every season since Statcast technology debuted the metric in 2020. Taylor had a total arm power of 91.9 mph in that stretch, with a top speed of 102.4 mph – making him one of only 10 defenders to throw at least 102 mph – and an outfield assist speed of 98.8 mph.

Honorable mentions: Harrison Bader, Joey Gallo, Aaron Hicks