Now that we’ve supplied fans with a few new shiny stats which may lead them to vote differently for future All-Star Games, it’s time to reevaluate the ponderous Home Run Derby.
I know you may be shaking your head. We’ve had the derby every year since 1985. How will fans react? I’ll answer your question with a question. How’s that replay thing worked out for us? Let’s show true faith in our fans’ intelligence and appetite for a midsummer facelift. We need to show off the best our baseball players have to offer in a skills competition.
Scouts evaluate position players on five “tools” — hitting for average, defense, power, speed and arm strength. I propose that we have players compete in dynamic games to test their abilities on the last three (hitting for average and defense are much more appropriately measured at game speed).
Labeling a guy a five-tool player is way sexier than three, I know, but sometimes less complicated is better. Hang in there with me.
First things first — we must select our players. Let’s do the same thing we’re doing with the game itself, commish, and match up fans vs. evaluators. The fans vote for their top five players in each category of power, speed and arm strength. Instead of GMs, the scouting directors for each club will be responsible for picking the opposing squads. They should be perfect at this job; they have been responsible, at one point or another in their careers, for closely examining the position players at all levels.
What about the pitchers, you ask? This tools matchup is meant to replace the HR Derby, so if you ride the bump for a living, you’re ineligible. Those guys will be fine with the break for their arms.
On to the specifics. Power rules, singles drool, so let’s start there.
When scouts evaluate players for power, they are not simply watching to see if the ball clears the wall. They’re laser focused on the flight of the ball, its trajectory and the speed with which it leaves the bat. When a ball is struck with more velocity and at the right angle to create the most distance, you end up with a bomb. That’s what evaluators salivate over.
The players chosen by the fans and the players chosen by the scouts rotate in and out exactly as in HR Derbys past. However, in this event, each player gets just one round of 20 swings. More notably, the amount of homers that a man blasts is irrelevant. Only the homer hit the farthest matters. The crowd will go wild as Giancarlo Stanton crushes one 547 feet. No sir, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have common sense.
Let’s move on to the tool for the little guys. No disrespect, Trouty. I know you can fly.
Historically, baseball has used the 60-yard dash to measure speed. In the most trivial way, this makes sense. This measurement, however, doesn’t tell us much about baseball speed.
Baseball speed is a substantially different animal. Running at angles, turns at the bags, straight-ahead speed, acceleration, change of direction – these are all important components of a ballplayer being a good runner. There may not be a perfect competition that spotlights everything, but the one I suggest is a simple game. We’re looking for a competition that will fascinate fans.
Haven’t you asked your buddy over a glass of scotch and a cigar who would win in a race, Mickey Mantle or Billy Hamilton? Me either.
Let’s let these rabbits run the bases for time. They get a home to first, a first to third and a triple. They’re on the clock at first move and the stopwatch is clicked the moment they strike the bag. We’ve never seen our best athletes do anything like this in a public setting. They can slide or run through, which will add an additional layer of strategy and intrigue. See, we even get to engage in one of my favorite pastimes, myth busting.
Enough about me, let’s get back to you.
I can see your face getting red as you scream at me. “These men would injure themselves!”
I’m pushing back. They will find themselves in far more awkward and precarious positions playing in the All-Star Game itself. GMs aren’t holding players back currently. We are creating a totally controlled environment and asking players to run three sprints at short distances; not a dangerous ask, relatively speaking. If violently swinging a wooden pole at unnaturally high and risky volumes (the current derby) is acceptable, I’d argue that my proposed competition is a safer alternative.
Power isn’t just displayed with the bat, sir. As you well know, our men have some rockets or cannons or hoses or ... choose your own masculine nickname. What do you think? Puig or Cespedes? Tulo or Simmons? I digress.
This is fairly measurable in the same way power is. It’s straightforward. How fast does the ball come out of a position player’s hand?
To measure this, we have the infielders throw five balls from various angles from shortstop to first base and put them on the radar gun. They will each have time to gather themselves and let it go across the diamond from different X’s on the infield dirt.
We’ll do the same for the outfielders, except they’ll stand in center field and we’ll measure the velocity from second base (just to select a consistent starting point). As we gather data, we can figure out where to best place the radar guns. When I come to your office to discuss this, we must figure out some boundaries as it relates to the accuracy of the throws, as that will simply make the competition more (or less) watchable. Once I have your approval to proceed in building out the contest, I’ll dial in details, not to worry. For now, let’s just continue spitballing.
For the sake of the contest and to be well rounded, we’ll have the fans and evaluators vote for one catcher each. We’ll have them chuck balls down to second base, in their full gear for realism. We don’t need a huge sample size. Let’s just get these dudes good and loose and watch them throw a handful of balls, oooing and ahhhing at the arm speed and velocity displayed on our monstrous scoreboard.
Let’s face it: Our current Home Run Derby can be monotonous and long. Mr. commissioner, I reckon the aggregate of all three proposed competitions would take roughly the same amount of time as the current event. It would be far more compelling, exponentially more educational, and allow a platform for a wider variety of players to join the party.
Is this an elementary proposal? Perhaps. You did say you wanted to add a younger audience.