Show Us What You Got: New Skills Competitions for the MLB All-Star Game
There are more skills required to play baseball than there are for any other sport.
Just think about what it means to be a "five-tool player." Only a few dozen people in the world can both hit and hit for power, let alone run, throw, and catch. That's without even considering pitchers.
Yet, the MLB All-Star Game features just one skill competition: The Home Run Derby.
In this slideshow are 10 contests that MLB could add to its All-Star festivities that test some of the game's neglected skills.
A description of the event, five players who could compete, and my predicted winner.
To prevent guys like Carl Crawford and Ichiro from dominating everything, I decided that players can partake in only one competition each.
10. A Shot in the Arm
A fast player who goes for the extra base is a valuable asset to his team. However, little love is given to the cannon-armed outfielder who scares the runner into staying put.
The contest: A machine launches 10 routine, yet varied, fly balls to right field. The fielder will have to catch it, then throw to a teammate at either third base or home (it would switch off). If the teammate tags the ball to the base within five seconds of the participant catching it, he gets a point.
The contestants: Shin-Soo Choo, David DeJesus, Matt Kemp, Nyjer Morgan, Hunter Pence
The winner: This one is pretty wide open, but the favorite has to be Pence, whose 16 assists led all MLB outfielders last season.
9. 'Round the Base Race
Traditionalists bemoan the loss of speed in today's game. Yet The Show is filled with players who have fantastic wheels.
The contest: Start at home, run around the bases, finish at home. Best time wins. Pretty simple.
The contestants: Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner, Jose Reyes, B.J. Upton, Will Venable
The winner: To be honest, I have no idea who the favorite would be for this one. But my money would be on Brett Gardner, whose 9.0 career Spd score is the best among active players.
8. Drop it Down
The bunt is a lost art in today's game. A select few players still know how to drop it down.
The contest: Each participant gets 10 tries to drop a bunt towards first, third, or the mound. Drag, slash, straight-up square—doesn't matter, as long as it rolls.
The contestants: Erick Aybar, Julio Borbon, Rafael Furcal, Cliff Pennington, Omar Vizquel
The winner: Slick hands and agility made Vizquel one of the best fielders of all time. They also helped him to become the best bunter of his generation.
7. Speed Pitch
Some pitchers get by on control or tricky breaking pitches, but there's nothing like a blazing fastball to make an opposing hitter look lost at the plate.
The contest: Each participant throws 10 pitches. Highest average speed wins.
The contestants: Daniel Bard, Neftali Feliz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Strasburg, Joel Zumaya
The winner: Strasburg and Jimenez get the credit, but no one can hit triple digits on the gun as consistently as Joel Zumaya.
6. Reach For the Stars
Modern game theory places an emphasis on plate discipline and pitch selection, yet some of the best sluggers of our generation sport swings that are not bounded by the arbitrary borders of the strike zone.
The contest: Each hitter will see 10 pitches off the plate. The first one might be a couple inches inside, but by the end they'll be in the dirt or at the eyes.
The batter has to connect with as many of the bad pitches as he can. If it reaches the outfield grass in fair territory—roll, bounce, or fly—the batter gets a point.
The contestants: Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Lopez, Victor Martinez, Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Tejada
The winner: A few years ago, Vladimir Guerrero would have been the easy choice to win this. But last year, Pablo Sandoval swung at 41 percent of pitches off the plate and still managed to hit .330.
It takes more than raw speed to be an elite base stealer. In addition to wicked wheels, the best base thieves have aggressiveness, good instincts, and a knack for avoiding tags.
The contest: A popular drill for Little League teams, "Pickle" (also called "Running Bases"), is a game in which runners scoot back and forth between two bases, timing their takeoffs based on the fielders' throws and accumulating as many steals as they can before they are tagged out.
It could be done individually, with each subsequent participant trying to beat his predecessor's stolen base total. The players could also all take to the base path at the same time, with the last man standing declared the winner.
The contestants: Michael Bourn, Carl Crawford, Rajai Davis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Scott Podsednik
The winner: He may not be the fastest of the bunch (though if he isn't, he's not losing by much), but no one in the game can match Carl Crawford's baserunning smarts and his ability to dodge fielders' gloves.
4. Catch 'Em if You Can
If we're going to honor the game's best base thieves, it's only fitting to recognize their best guardians.
The contest: A pitch machine will throw 10 balls of varying speeds to different locations in and out of the zone. For each pitch, the catcher has four seconds from when the ball is shot out to throw it to a teammate, who must tag second base.
The contestants: Lou Marson, Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Miguel Olivo, Ivan Rodriguez
The winner: Yadier Molina has taken Pudge's title as the best backstop arm in baseball, but I think Ivan Rodriguez would rise to the occasion and reclaim his throne.
3. Aim and Fire
A fastball is flashy and a filthy breaking ball will get you on the highlight reel, but command is the most important skill for a pitcher to possess.
The contest: A horizontal laser is set up between the batter's boxes, moving after each pitch. Each participant gets 20 tries to trip the laser as many times as he can.
The contestants: Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Cliff Lee, Ricky Nolasco
The winner: With 18 free passes to his name already, Ricky Nolasco probably won't meet his preseason goal of 25 walks or fewer this year. But while Cliff Lee would probably be the favorite, Nolasco seems like a solid sleeper pick.
2. So You Think You Can Catch?
New stats like Ultimate Zone Rating are helping to put an emphasis on one of the most undervalued attributes in the game: Defensive range.
The contest: For each player, a machine launches 10 fly balls to different parts of the outfield, with just a few seconds between one ball being caught and the next being shot. Whoever catches the most balls wins.
The contestants: Mike Cameron, Nelson Cruz, Franklin Gutierrez, Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki
The winner: Might as well make Franklin Gutierrez' plaque now. There's no question Death to Flying Things would win this, but it would still be the most fun contest to watch.
1. The Biathlon
Lots of professional players can hit and lots of professional players can pitch (most that can't do either don't last very long). But not many players can do both.
The contest: Each participant has to take to the mound and throw five strikes at or above 90 mph, then grab a bat and hit five home runs. The player who takes the fewest combined pitches to do it wins.
The contestants: Rick Ankiel, Yovani Gallardo, Bryce Harper, Micah Owings, Carlos Zambrano
The winner: OK, he hasn't actually played a professional game yet. But Bryce Harper has reportedly mashed 500-foot homers, and while he's not going to be a pitcher, his fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s.