Hockey has a great skills competition before their All-Star Game, so does basketball. I remember back in the day watching guys like Mark Gastineau lifting weights in the sand prior to the NFL Pro Bowl or Darrell Greene winning the Fastest Man competition. How about those old school NBA games based solely on the dunk contest and three point contest?
Major League Baseball needs something similar.
I like the Home Run Derby and I watch it every year. Who would want to miss the show that Josh Hamilton put on a few years ago in Yankee Stadium?! But baseball needs a little more prior to the All-Star Game; they need to showcase players who utilize four of the remaining five golden tools.
For those who don’t know the five tools a baseball player can have in their toolbox are running, fielding, throwing, hitting for average and hitting for power. The Home Run Derby only showcases the hitting for power tool. What if we had contests to see who did the other four activities the best? Who would win? I got ideas, of course!
This is an easy one: who is the fastest player in baseball? This past weekend MLB Network ran its usual “MLB Player Poll” show and this week’s topic: who is the fastest. Why not let the speedsters show their stuff on he field? It could be a three step process to determine the fastest with the guy who accrues the most points wins. Heck, I would love to just watch Eric Young Jr. run a 100 yard dash against Dee Gordon to see who is faster, but that isn’t baseball, so here is what I propose:
The first contest would have the players lay down a bunt and as soon as they get one fair they run to first and whoever runs to first the fastest wins.(Bunt accuracy is irrelevant, as long as it is fair.)
The second contest would be a first to third dash. After a person hits a ball into the outfield, as soon as contact is made, the player would run from first to third as fast as they can. They cannot run through third, however, they need to slide in to be safe and the guy who does it the fastest wins the second leg of this event.
Finally, the players would have to hit a ball to the outfield (doesn’t need to be a gapper) and run the bases for an “inside the park home run”. Again, whoever runs the bases the fastest wins. All bags must be touched to count.
Each player would bring their own “helper” for the contest, much like the bombers pick who will throw them BP during the Home Run Derby, the speedsters would bring someone to pitch to them for the first and third events and hit a fungo to the outfield for the second event. Could be a coach, childhood friend, parent, etc.
I leave out a stolen base competition because, as Dexter Fowler has proven, it can be more about timing/skill/recognition than speed. I want to measure speed.
As for who I think would win? I put my money on Mike Trout. I do think Dex would perform well in this competition because I find it hard to believe there are many players in baseball who run the bases faster than Dex does. There are a lot of speedsters in baseball right now. According to Fangraphs.com Andrew McCutchen and Michael Bourn both do very well running the bases and I would love to watch Bourn in a competition like this.
This is a bit more difficult to measure, since there are so many positions on the field to measure. I think, however, that the best fielder should be able to catch fly balls in the outfield as well as field ground balls in the infield. If you think of the best fielding athletes in baseball you think shortstop and maybe center field or second base.
This would be a three part competition, too. The first competition would be fielding fly balls in the outfield. The player would stand inside a circle in center field and balls would be launched via a pitching machine (to try to ensure similar balls for each athlete) to the right, left, back and front of the fielder. 10 balls launched to various (and random) areas and the most balls caught, wins.
Next the competitors would head to the infield between second and third base. Ground balls would be hit, hard, by someone who excels at such a thing to the right and left of the player. Not only would the competitor have to field the ball, cleanly, they would have to hit a target at first base to complete the play. Any bobble of the ground ball, missed throw or just a missed ground ball would not be a successful attempt. 10 balls, like above, and the winner is the athlete who converts the most “outs”.
Lastly, the player would stay in the same area but this time they have to turn and run into the outfield to catch a shallow popup. The pitching machine would be used again and set so that the player would need to hustle to get to the ball to make the play. This leg only has five attempts.
As a tie breaker for the entire fielding competition (as it is conceivable multiple players record all 25 possible “outs”) the final out on the final leg (shallow popup) would require the player to catch the ball, turn and fire it home and hit a target. Whoever makes the play and gets the ball home fastest and most accurate wins the tie breaker, if it is needed.
Gosh golly gee that would be a hoot to watch!
I would pick someone like Jack Wilson, Troy Tulowitzki or Rafael Furcal to win this competition. All three are great athletes who play short very well and have great arms. What about a third basemen like Evan Longoria? Do you think Austin Jackson can field ground balls? This contest would tell us.
This competition is open to anyone: outfielders, infielders or catchers. (No pitchers because there isn’t a team in baseball that would allow their pitchers to take part in any sort of competition**)
From the warning track, deep in the hole at shortstop, right field, third base and behind the plate; each position the competitor fields three balls and after each play he throws to a target (located at first for the plays at short and third, home plate for the two outfield plays and second base for the play behind the plate). Whoever scores the most points on the target (think archery) wins the competition.
The players would need a strong arm to have a chance due to the outfield throws and also be very accurate for the infield throws. Hard not to be a homer here and not pick Tulo or Carlos Gonzalez, right? But I think Ichiro would score insanely well on the outfield throws and he would be my pick. But how much fun would it be to see a guy like Yadier Molina take part in a competition like this?! Watching Jason Heyward take a ball from the crouch behind home plate and gun it to second? Count me in!
Hitting for Average
I know, I know, some will say that hitting for average is largely luck, but we aren’t going into that here. This is a timed event. There are five targets a player must hit with a ticking clock and whoever hits all five targets the fastest wins.
Target 1: A grid in front of home plate similar to what the Chicago Cubs used during Spring Training and the player must lay down a bunt that stops in a box down the first or third base line; the area considered the perfect spot for a bunt to stop that most likely results in a hit.
Target 2: A window like they use on the Big Break on the Golf Channel, but much bigger, in the gap between third and short. The player must break that glass to complete the target.
Target 3: Same thing but now between second and first base.
Target 4: The player must hit a ball that lands in a circled area in shallow left field behind third base. That no-man’s area where batted balls can turn into a double when placed perfectly.
Target 5: A ball that takes no more than two hops to hit a target in the gap, either in right-center or left-center field.
To be honest, I am not sure any player has the bat control to complete all five targets in less than three hours, but it would be fun to see if they could. Now all those players, like Marco Scutaro, that announcers dote over because they always “sacrifice themselves” or “move the runner over” or “choke up in two strike situations” would have to prove that they actually do wield the control of their bat required to hit the ball where they choose.
Who would win that contest? Someone like Martin Prado or Derek Jeter? I have no idea, I would love to see players try!
This should be incorporated into the 2013 festivities! I would set my DVR because watching it once wouldn’t be enough. What are your thoughts? Who are your winners? Let me know below in the comments.
**This is also why there isn’t a fastest fastball competition. Can you imagine a GM letting Verlander go out and throw the ball as hard as possible for, like, even five throws??