A strange thing has been happening with the T-Mobile Home Run Derby this year: People are more excited about pitchers participating in it than hitters.
First, it was Madison Bumgarner, whose already infamous batting-practice display in Busch Stadium earlier this year led him to openly advocate inclusion in the Derby next month in San Diego. That led the Cubs' Jake Arrieta to say he wants in, and then came the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright.
And now everyone's into it! (Inevitably, Bartolo Colon is getting roped into this.) This is a cute idea, one supposes, the same way the Kids Run Around the Basepaths Day is cute: Charming little rugrats running around a field and pretending they can do what the big kids do. I love Bumgarner, Arrieta and Wainwright as much as anybody, but let's look at their career batting lines:
The worst-hitting position player this season -- the one with the lowest OPS but enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title -- is Alcides Escobar of the Royals. Here is his 2016 batting line:
Escobar is having a nightmare season at the plate, and he's still slugging nearly twice the lifetime slugging percentage of three people we're talking about including in the Home Run Derby. Can you imagine Escobar participating in the Derby? Or Nick Ahmed? Or Nori Aoki? Or Billy Burns? All of them are dramatically outslugging all of those hurlers.
I know it sounds like a fun time, a goofy little sideshow in San Diego, but there is a near 100-percent chance that an actual pitchers Home Run Derby would be apocalyptically boring. The only upside I can think of is that all those kids who shag fly balls during the contest would finally get some infield practice. It's cute. But it's a terrible idea.
The shame is that pitchers have distracted from one of 2015's most positive developments: The Home Run Derby was fun again! After years of atrophy -- the sport's equivalent of whippets, or maybe just repeatedly bashing your head into concrete -- the Derby got a jolt of electricity last year simply by adding a clock and a bracket. Giving the Home Run Derby structure and a time limit immediately invigorated the event, providing it with urgency, rhythm and drama. It also gave baseball something it had never had before: buzzer beaters. (Watching Todd Frazier hit a tournament-winning homer as time expired was one of the most exciting things I saw in sports last year.) The Derby had life again.
This is too positive of a development to waste on pitchers. I'm actually looking forward to the Home Run Derby this year, but not if we're just going to use it to giggle at Colon for five minutes. The Home Run Derby is for dudes who hit the ball a long way, and now for those who can do it under time constraints and increasing pressure. It is sadly not, as much as I love the guy, for Wainwright.
So let's get serious about this. Whom do we want to see in the Home Run Derby this year? There are eight competitors, four from each league, seeded by home run totals for the first half of the season. Let's pick our best eight.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies. He has never been in one before, and it's time for the world to see what he can do. Arenado might well be one of the best five players in baseball right now.
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets. Both times that he has competed in the Derby, he has won. Now Cespedes can do it with the team he helped lead to the World Series last year, the team that has made him a folk hero. Plus, we'll all want to see what he drives to the stadium.
Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox. He's the defending champ, albeit with a different team in a different league, but he's still in second place in homers this year for a team that has surprised. Frazier won't receive the cheers he did last year, but you've got to let him defend his title.
Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres. I know, I know: Not exactly stirring. But someone from the home team has to participate -- Robinson Cano will never live down not picking a Royals player in 2012 -- and Kemp is more of a household name than Wil Myers (who's actually having a much better season). Either one will do, really, but there has to be at least one of them.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox. Ortiz has only been in the Derby four times, and none since 2010. (His first was in 2004.) He's the most obvious, no-brainer pick here, the best opportunity possible for all of baseball to thank him, all at once, for his amazing career. Plus, Big Papi will probably win the thing.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins. All right, so maybe he's having a pretty rough year so far. (It's also possible that he's hurt.) But it just never quite feels like a Home Run Derby without Stanton. He has only competed in one of these, and who knows, maybe the Derby will get his season back on track? Either way, other than Ortiz, Stanton's the one guy everyone will want to watch.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's time. He has turned it down the past two seasons -- in 2014, he said he just wanted to "enjoy it from the sidelines"; and in 2015, he backed off because his teammate Albert Pujols was taking part. But he has no such excuse this time. Besides, the Angels are toast: It'll probably feel nice for Trout to actually have something to compete for.
Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles. He's leading the Majors in homers and has only participated once in the past, back in 2012. Trumbo is the closest thing we have to Dave Kingman, and he's having a career year for a first-place team. He has to be here.
Apologies to Kris Bryant, Cano, Carlos Correa, Chris Davis, Bryce Harper (the toughest omission), Manny Machado, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. No apologies to Bumgarner, Arrieta and Wainwright, however.