Pitchers in the Home Run Derby Would be a Huge Hit

Jeremy Schooler

“Pederson back, near the wall, and… it’s outta here! Syndergaard with his second home run of the night, a 3-run-shot! New York Mets announcer Gary Cohen, filled with excitement and shock, yelled these words as Noah Syndergaard became the first Mets pitcher to hit two home runs in a game in over thirty years.

For someone who not only spends the vast majority of his time pitching—and does that pretty well as demonstrated by his eight strong innings the night he hit two home runs—but also only gets an at-bat every five games, Syndergaard has remarkable power. However, until recently, it would be ridiculous to consider he would have any part in the Home Run Derby festivities that take place the day before the All-Star Game every year.

Recently, debate has ignited within the baseball community over ways to improve the Derby, which generated nearly record low ratings this year in San Diego. One way of doing this would be to allow pitchers to be involved in some way, an idea that has been picking up steam in recent weeks. The main reason for this is Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, a former World Series MVP and two time Silver Slugger winner, has expressed interest in participating in the Derby.

“I want to do it,” Bumgarner told ESPN’s Buster Olney when asked if he would be willing to compete in this year’s Home Run Derby.

Earlier this season in Oakland, Bumgarner, a perennial leader in offensive categories among pitchers, became the first NL pitcher in 40 years to bat in an American League park, thereby forfeiting his team’s right to a designated hitter. Bumgarner proved this decision of Giants manager Bruce Bochy to be worthwhile, as he hit a double in his first at-bat.

Once Bumgarner expressed interest in the Derby, the Cubs Jake Arrieta, last year’s NL Cy Young winner, and the Cardinals Adam Wainwright both said they would want to participate as well. Whether by coincidence or not, all three of these pitchers are considered elite (as pitchers). Wainwright is the only one without a Cy Young or World Series MVP, and he has finished in the top three in Cy Young voting four times.

Obviously none of those pitchers, or any others at the position, ended up being involved in the Home Run Derby this year, but the talk is still on for next year.

Sports Illustrated baseball analyst Jay Jaffe even made a list of 8 pitchers who could realistically compete in a pitcher’s only version of the derby, which became a popular compromise between people who thought pitchers should be included in the general Home Run Derby, and people who thought they had no place there whatsoever. Jaffe’s scenario keeps the current Home Run Derby as is, but allows pitchers to take their hacks.

Jaffe’s list includes the three pitchers previously mentioned, the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke, the Orioles Yovani Gallardo, the Cardinals Mike Leake, Syndergaard, and fellow Met Bartolo Colon. Gallardo, the only American League pitcher in the field, seems like an odd choice coming from a league where pitchers do not bat, but his 12 career home runs (all during his stint in the NL with Milwaukee) rank just one behind Bumgarner for first among active pitchers.

The other notable selection in Jaffe’s field is Colon. The man affectionately known to teammates as “Big Sexy” has developed a cult following for his hitting, as his flails at pitches and slow running speed have made become must-see-TV. Colon, in his 19th season, hit his first career home run earlier this year. At the time, Gary Cohen called it “one of the great moments in baseball history.”

That early May night at Dodgers Stadium in which Noah Syndergaard did something no pitcher in baseball has done in 10 years was memorable, exciting, and drew fans in. A night filled with him and his fellow power-hitting pitchers doing what so few at their position can do is just what the Derby needs.

 

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