It wasn't that long ago that you thought it was too soon to begin voting for the 2012 All-Star Game. Now the All-Star Game is barely more than a month away. That's still quite a bit of time, but we're closer to the All-Star Game than we are to the start of the regular season, which is how you know that the regular season has emerged from its inchoate stages.
If we're barely more than a month away from the All-Star Game, that means we're barely more than a month away, minus a day, from the Home Run Derby. Indeed, that's coming up on Monday, July 9. By specifying the day of the week, I make it seem even closer than it is.
And now we have some Home Run Derby news, courtesy of Major League Baseball: according to a release, Robinson Cano is the captain of the American League team, and Matt Kemp is the captain of the National League team.
Remember how there are teams now? There are teams now. They started with the teams in 2011, when the American League beat the National League 76 to 19. I was taught from an early age to always reduce my fractions, so in 2011, the American League beat the National League 4 to 1. That doesn't seem like very many home runs for a Home Run Derby!
Cano has been named a captain because he won the Derby last July. Kemp has been named a captain because he led the NL in dingers last year. Last year's captains were David Ortiz and Prince Fielder, but I suppose we don't care about last year's captains.
Nor am I sure if we care about the Home Run Derby. Honestly, I'm not -- it's one of those things everybody knows about, and everybody knows enough about to make fun of, but I've never once run into somebody who finds the Derby genuinely entertaining. I don't think I even liked it as a child, and I liked blankets as a child. I liked Iron Eagle and Michael Crichton as a child. The Derby routinely gets high ratings, but on Derby night there's literally nothing else sports-related on television, and I imagine many of those viewers just have the Derby on TV while they're minding something else. I can't imagine there's much of a captive audience.
Nevertheless! The Derby exists, and as long as it exists, it should be made to be as entertaining as possible. Some entertaining elements are unpredictable. Last year Cano hit against his father Jose, and won in walk-off fashion over Adrian Gonzalez. The year before, I don't think anything entertaining happened, and the same goes for the year before that, but the year before that Josh Hamilton mashed 28 dingers in the first round. Tony Gwynn mashed 25 dingers between 1989-1993. This is a nonsensical statistical comparison that still reads meaningful, which is a trick I've picked up since making this my job.
But some entertaining elements can be managed. Cano is to handpick three American Leaguers, and Kemp is to handpick three National Leaguers. The identities of the participants are the only things that can be controlled. I don't know who Cano and Kemp will end up picking, but I know I do have some suggestions.
Each could pick one player who simply hits a lot of home runs. It would look weird if the captains didn't select one of the league leaders in home runs. The obvious pick here for Cano would be Josh Hamilton, and the obvious pick here for Kemp would be Giancarlo Stanton. On a per-plate-appearance basis, since 2011 Hamilton has been out-homered by Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson(!), but Hamilton leads them both in 2012, and Cano already serves as the token Yankee so the Derby doesn't need another.
Next, each could pick one player who's capable of slamming mammoth home runs. There's a difference here between groups, where they guys in the first group hit a lot of home runs, while the guys in this group might hit less frequent but more impressive home runs. If people are going to watch the Home Run Derby, they probably want their jaws to be dropped. Unfortunately for both captains, Wily Mo Pena is playing in Japan, but Juan Francisco isn't. Nelson Cruz isn't. Adam Dunn, Mark Trumbo, Justin Upton, Bautista -- the candidates are out there. Stanton, of course, hits a lot of home runs and a lot of impressive home runs, so Kemp could have a little additional flexibility. Someone should be selected who has freak raw power, but maybe struggles with contact or breaking balls. In the Home Run Derby, there will be no breaking balls.
Finally, each could pick one wild card. What I personally like for a wild card is a player who doesn't belong at all. For Cano, the decision's pretty much out of his hands -- he's obligated to select Ichiro. I don't think there's any one player who could drive stronger Derby ratings than Ichiro, in whose homer potential people have long been curious. But Ichiro might decline an invitation, in which case Cano could name Ben Revere. Revere has batted 600 times in the major leagues without going deep. He owns one home run in triple-A, and for all I know that was inside the park. Here is Revere's career big-league spray chart, from Texas Leaguers:
Revere's a punchless slap-hitter, and while his isn't a familiar name in most households, those already watching might find themselves captivated by Revere's desperate attempts to finally hit a ball over the fence. As for Kemp, he'd have himself a choice. He could go with Juan Pierre, who's homered four times since 2007. He'd compare well with Ben Revere. Or he could go with Jose Altuve, who already owns five big-league home runs, but who stands at five-foot-five, which might even be an over-measurement. I would be more entertained by a Home Run Derby that has Stanton and Altuve on the same team than by a Home Run Derby that has Stanton and, I don't know, Troy Tulowitzki on the same team. There's nothing about Troy Tulowitzki that makes me want to see him try to hit homers. There are lots of things about Jose Altuve that make me want to see him try to hit homers.
The 2012 Home Run Derby will not consist of the players named above. The 2012 Home Run Derby will be less entertaining because of that, and we'll have Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp to blame. Hopefully it still finds some way to make itself watchable, because in case I haven't already said it, there'll be literally nothing else on. In sports. There'll be lots of other stuff on, but sports fans are allowed to watch only sports.