A little over a week ago, San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner expressed his interest in competing in the Home Run Derby, held annually prior to the All-Star Game. Just a few days after that, Chicago Cubs ace, and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta also proclaimed that he would like to compete. Since then, Major League Baseball has proposed holding a separate pitchers home run derby. Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets endorsed that idea. While that may seem like a logical first step, the league should simply allow Arrieta, Bumgarner, and Syndergaard to compete in the regular Home Run Derby.
Let Them Rake: Why Pitchers Should Hit in the Home Run Derby
Low Risk of Injury
Few legitimate reasons exist for keeping pitchers out of the home run derby. One argument against it, put forth by the Giants in response to Bumgarner’s request, concerns the risk of injury. The team also stated that, even in a separate pitchers home run derby, they would not want him going more than one round. One can understand the Giants worries. Bumgarner stands as their ace. Any injury to him that could have been avoided had he not been allowed to compete would potentially devastate their season.
Yet those worries seem overblown. It is highly unlikely that Bumgarner would sustain any injury at all competing in glorified batting practice. If that is indeed their concern, then the National League should simple admit defeat and adopt the DH. Otherwise, they run the same risk of injury whenever a pitcher takes normal batting practice.
Any Addition Means Added Time
The league might worry that adding pitchers to the Home Run Derby would mean either increasing the number of participants, thereby making the event longer, or excluding some deserving batters. Yet adding a second home run contest would essentially have the same effect as adding more participants to the actual Derby. Either way, fans would be subjected to more time spent watching players hit home runs. So really, in terms of time, a pitchers home run derby provides no significant advantage over adding more players to the existing Derby.
Most Pitchers Can’t Hit, but Some Can
The third possible argument against allowing pitchers in the Home Run Derby is the same argument that American League fans have used to defend the designated hitter for years: most pitchers just can’t hit at all, let alone hit home runs. A fair point, and a good reason a few pitchers should just join the regular Derby instead of competing in a separate one. Finding enough pitchers who hit well enough to make it more than just an amusing sideshow would be challenging. For every Bumgarner, ten other pitchers exist who couldn’t hit a beach ball with a tennis racket.
The fact remains that some pitchers, like Bumgarner, Arrieta, and Syndergaard, can do some damage with the lumber. The truth: as long as pitchers are required to swing bats in the National League, pitchers hitting will remain a part of the game. Unless the NL adopts the designated hitter, pitchers simply remain hitters who don’t make it into the lineup every day. If pitchers must hit in games, they should be allowed to compete in the Home Run Derby. At the very least, pitchers should compete when the All-Star Game takes place at a National League ballpark.
Embracing Change in Baseball: A Pitchers Home Run Derby is Not Enough
As long as a pitcher proves during the season that he can hit home runs, as Bumgarner has again and again, that pitcher earns the right to compete in the Derby. Refusing him entry simply because of past precedent follows the same faulty line of thinking that demonizes bat flips. Changing a great sport for the sake of creating change would be wrong. Sometimes, however, new elements make something already wonderful even better.
If a pitcher can rake, let him rake. Even if only Arrieta, Bumgarner, and Syndergaard compete, they would add an exciting new aspect to an event turned stale over the years. Baseball as a whole risks becoming too stale. It starves for innovation. Allowing pitcher participation in the Derby would go a long way toward making baseball fun again.