The Comps for Tim Tebow Aren’t Encouraging

What a time to be alive. Not only is 29-year-old Tim Tebow attempting to launch a career as a baseball player, but he held a showcase in front of scouts from 28 teams — and actually managed to impress some of them. The ex-NFL quarterback put on a show in batting practice, which prompted some scouts to spew superlatives about his power tool. The rest of his game was underwhelming, however, including his performance against live pitching and his throwing arm.

When it comes to gauging Tebow’s talent, all we really have is this showcase and the scouting grades that came out of it. He hasn’t played baseball since high school, so we have exactly zero statistical data to use. The logical conclusion seems to be that he isn’t very good. Sure, Tebow was something of a prospect in high school, but a tiny fraction of high-school baseball prospects succeed in the pros, and that’s without having sat out a dozen years.

The responsible thing to do would be to recognize that this is little more than a publicity stunt and that Tebow will probably bust. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, I decided to play around with the shred of data we do have and infer what it might mean for Tebow’s future.

Jeff Zimmerman has been building up a database of historical prospect grades that he uses to find scouting comps for current players. I asked him to run it for Tebow using the grades from the below scouting report, itself courtesy Dave DeFreitas of 2080 Baseball.

Capture

Right out of the gate, that 70 raw power grade feels a bit lofty. Keep in mind that raw power is a different thing than game power: raw power refers to how far a hitter can hit the ball in batting practice, while game power refers to how he’d fare against actual pitchers. But still: there are very few people with double-plus raw power in the world. What are the odds that a famous ex-quarterback is one of them? Regardless, let’s just accept those grades for the sake of this exercise.

You probably noticed that there isn’t a hit tool listed on there. The hit tool can be difficult to scout, as evidenced by erstwhile lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel’s six-part feature on it. So it’s understandable that DeFreitas may not have wanted slap a hit grade on Tebow after one showcase with limited action against live pitching.

Forced to enter a number for Tebow’s future hit tool, I chose 40. That feels rosy considering Tebow’s lack of baseball experience, especially considering he had some issues against David Aardsma and Chad Smith in the showcase. Indeed, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen guesstimated that Tebow’s hit tool was “probably a 30.” But given Tebow’s other tools, anything below 40 almost certainly wouldn’t play in the big leagues, making this entire exercise moot. So let’s roll with it.

Before I go any further, I’ll note that there’s a heavy dose of selection at play here. Most outlets don’t bother with component grades for players who aren’t top-rated prospects, so by definition, this list only includes top-rated prospects. By no means is Tebow a top-rated prospect, which makes this a terribly flawed exercise. At the very least, however, it gives us an idea of what type of player Tebow is. Here we go.

Tim Tebow’s Tool Comps
Rank Name Year Publication Batting Power Speed Defense Arm
0 Tim Tebow 2016 2080 40 70 50 40 45
1 Aaron Judge 2015 BA 50 70 50 50 55
2 Clint Frazier 2015 MLB 50 65 50 50 55
3 Clint Frazier 2016 BA 50 65 55 50 55
4 Rafael Devers 2014 MLB 50 60 40 45 50
5 Yasmany Tomas 2015 BA 45 70 50 50 60
6 Jabari Blash 2016 MLB 40 55 50 45 55
7 Steven Moya 2014 MLB 40 60 50 45 60
8 Steven Moya 2015 MLB 45 65 50 50 60
9 Aaron Judge 2016 BA 45 75 50 50 60
10 Matt Kemp 2003 MLB Scouting Reports 50 60 50 50 55
11 Joc Pederson 2015 BA 50 60 55 50 55
12 Andrew Benintendi 2015 2080 50 60 60 50 50
13 Matt Olson 2015 MLB 50 65 40 50 55
14 Steven Moya 2016 MLB 40 60 50 50 60
15 Nomar Mazara 2015 BA 50 60 45 40 60
16 Alex Jackson 2016 BA 50 70 45 50 60
17 Domingo Santana 2015 MLB 45 60 50 50 60
18 Domingo Santana 2014 MLB 45 60 50 50 60
19 Stephen Piscotty 2014 MLB 45 60 50 50 60

OK. There are some good names in there, but there are also a lot of guys who have struggled to make contact in the big leagues. That’s a direct result of the low-ish hit tool grades. The man at the top of the list — Aaron Judge — has struck out in over 40% of his plate appearances so far. It’s still very early for Judge, but he’s also had one of the best hit tools listed. Things get particularly ugly when you pull out the 40- and 45-hit guys. Yasmany Tomas, Jabari Blash, Steven Moya and Domingo Santana aren’t exactly the most flattering of comps, as they’ve all gotten lost in the transition to the big leagues.

Given the importance of the hit tool, the most realistic comps from this bunch seem to be Steven Moya and Jabari Blash — the two 40 hitters. Both are over 25 years old, have struck out over 35% of the time in limited big-league looks, and are looking more and more like Quad-A sluggers by the day. And even they outstrip Tebow on defense, particularly due to their strong throwing arms.

I bent the rules pretty hard in this analysis. I only looked at players pre-selected as prospects, fudged Tebow’s hit tool, and glazed over the fact that, at 29, he’s much older than any of the players listed below. Even so, I could only come up with a couple of probable Quad-A sluggers. Jabari Blash with a weaker arm isn’t a usable player.

There isn’t any doubt that Tebow is a good athlete, but it takes a certain type of good athlete to be a good hitter. That’s why the prospect graveyard is littered with players who possessed flashy tools, but never found a way to make consistent contact. Meanwhile, players who don’t have great physiques and go largely unnoticed in batting practice wind up sticking in the big leagues. Kiley McDaniel laid this out very well when he explained the hit tool to us laypeople.

Something that’s important to point out is that there’s traditional athleticism (size, speed, strength: think football combine stuff) then there’s baseball athleticism (looseness of actions and forearm, wrist and hand strength). There’s a surprising amount of guys, with Dan Vogelbach and D.J. Peterson some recent examples, who look physically like non-athletes in the context of world-class athletics. They are both what some scouts call “athletic in the box” meaning their hitting actions look like they belong on a more traditionally athletic body.

Tebow clearly has the traditional athleticism, but there’s little evidence that he has any of the “baseball athleticism” that makes for a good hitter. Of course, there’s a non-zero chance that Tebow develops that baseball athleticism. Stranger things have happened, I guess. But few players are able to make that adjustment, Tebow’s age make his odds even longer. Michael Jordan comes to mind here, as he hit just .202/.289/.266 with a bunch of strikeouts in his lone season as a baseball player.

Who knows what’s next for Tim Tebow? Maybe a team will sign him based on his excellent batting practice. Maybe a team will sign him as a publicity stunt. The Bridgeport Bluefish have already offered him a job. Regardless, it’s hard to envision a scenario where this story ends with Tim Tebow becoming a useful big leaguer. Still, I have to admit that I’ll be watching closely. Logic and reason tell me that there are literally thousands of baseball players more worthy of my attention, but Tebowmania has a knack for transcending logic and reason.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Terence
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Terence

Are there really very few people in the world with double plus raw power, or just very few people with raw power trying to play baseball? Tebow is bigger than Trout and not bigger than Trout in a David Ortiz kind of way. I have no problem believing his raw power tool is 70 even if his current hit tool and current game power tool are both 30.

Bip
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Bip

I think that, in baseball, the swing is such a critical part of getting anything done that it is totally correct to doubt even the *raw* power of a guy who is not very experienced in baseball. The strongest man in the world probably couldn’t even manage 50 raw power if his swing is absolute garbage and he can barely hit bombs in BP.

If Tebow was actually crushing BP, I think that is not to be dismissed. It implies he has some kind of swing.

However, the difference between BP and live pitching is so huge that I would not assume his hit tool to be anything above a 20, and a 20 hit tool implies a 20 game power tool, basically by necessity.

plasmaj
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plasmaj

I agree with this. I think there are a lot more people with double plus raw power than is recognized here. The problem is that probably 99.99% of them don’t have the hand-eye coordination, combined with reaction time, to make good contact with professional pitching (or even college-level pitching). They may dominate slow pitch softball, or hit golf balls 350+ yards, but they wouldn’t last a day in A-ball.
Tebow probably has a few legs up on most of these people though, just given his extraordinary athletic ability.