Home runs are just so….blah.
Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion can hit the ball a long way. We get it. Isn’t it time for the other baseball skills to have their day during the All-Star week festivities?
If there was going to be an MLB skills competition, here’s some of the events we’d like to see featured, and some of the players we’d like to see included:
Pitching accuracy, throwing a fastball in a specific location
Description: A high-tech take on the old carnival game of throwing a beanbag through a hole. The great thing about this event is that it focuses on control, not speed – meaning pitchers wouldn’t be worried about hurting their arms trying to throw 100 mph to impress people.
How selected: The best measure we have for control is how well a pitcher commands the strike zone, namely walks and strikeouts. So we’ll go with strikeout-to-walk ratio as the indicator (minimum 40 innings pitched; all stats as of July 7).
1. Sean Doolittle, Athletics – 30.50 K/BB ratio
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – 9.58 K/BB ratio
3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox – 8.67 K/BB ratio
4. Phil Hughes, Twins – 8.55 K/BB ratio
Range: infielders fielding ground balls
Description: A pitching machine, pointed at the ground, fires out grounders to an infielder’s left and right, getting progressively farther and farther to the extreme edges of his range. Whoever can snag the furthest ball wins.
How selected: Fielding percentage is often inaccurate and not a good judge of a slick fielder. So we’ll go with the top players in Ultimate Zone Rating/150, an advanced stat that measures a player’s range on balls hit in his fielding zone averaged out over 150 games.
1. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics – 20.6 UZR/150
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox – 19.1 UZR/150
3. Zack Cozart, SS, Reds – 18.5 UZR/150
4. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals – 17.4 UZR/150
Outfielders: throwing out a runner at third
Description: The actual runner isn’t needed here. We’re just looking for quickness of release, speed of throw from the outfield and accuracy of the throw to third base.
How selected: ARM – an advanced stat that measures the amount of runs above average an outfielders saves by using their arm to prevent runners from advancing.
1. Alex Gordon, Royals – 8.1 ARM
2. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics – 7.2 ARM
3. Leonys Martin, Rangers– 5.2 ARM
4. Nock Markakis, Orioles – 4.6 ARM
Base stealers: Speedy thieving
Description: Base stealers compete for the fastest time from first to second base (slide required at the end). If you really wanted to expand this, you could also include catchers throwing down to second to try and nab them. Yadier Molina vs. Billy Hamilton would be a heck of a lot more fun than watching Troy Tulowitzki struggle to hit a home run.
How selected: Speed score, and advanced stat that measures a player’s speed and baserunning ability.
1. Dee Gordon, Dodgers – 8.7 Speed Score
2. Ben Revere, Phillies – 7.9 Speed Score
T-3. B.J. Upton, Braves – 7.7 Speed Score
T-3. Denard Span, Nationals – 7.7 Speed Score
Batting: directional hitting
Description: Think of the NBA’s three-point contest, but for hitting. Hit a ball to right, left, center. Hit a grounder, liner, fly ball and home run. It measures a player’s bat control.
How selected: Patience is great in-game, but here we’re just looking for the top players who make contact with the ball.
T-1. Denard Span, Nationals – 92.6% contact
T-1. Victor Martinez, Tigers – 92.6% contact
3. Kurt Suzuki, Twins – 92.3% contact
4. Michael Brantley, Indians – 91.2% contact