LOS ANGELES, CA : Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers strikes out to end the game with the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Mets won 6-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Dodgers are sending the best athlete to the 2011 Home Run Derby in Matt Kemp, but should that matter?
Career home run totals for the 2011 Home Run Derby participants:
Rickie Weeks: 106
Matt Kemp: 111
Robinson Cano: 131
Jose Bautista: 144
Adrian Gonzalez: 185
Matt Holliday: 194
Prince Fielder: 214
David Ortiz: 368
Kemp has never hit 30 or more home runs in a season. He is on pace for something like 40 this season, but in his previous five seasons, he was a hitter with power, not a power hitter.
But if the eight players up there were in some other sort of athletic exhibition -- some sort of "American Gladiators: Baseball" -- which guy up there would you take? Prince Fielder and David Ortiz would absolutely own the Human Cannonball, but I'd doubt they could even score a goal against a Gladiator in Powerball. Now, I'd take Weeks and Cano for a few Powerball goals, but they wouldn't have the strength to overpower Gladiators in the other contests.
But Kemp? He has the strength to overpower folks. He has the speed to go around them. He's agile and quick. It's probably between a young Matt Holliday and Kemp for the title of best athlete, but I think Holliday is a long ways from his quarterbacking days.
What does this have to do with the 2011 Home Run Derby? Well, it's more like "American Gladiators" than a game of baseball. It's an exaggerated slice of baseball in an exhibition format. In that format, I'll take the best athlete who can complement that with home run hitting ability, someone who could avoid the inevitable fatigue and still tap into a vast reserve of strength in the later rounds. So Kemp might be the best bet of any of the participants.
Of course, Jose Bautista is probably the best at hitting home runs. He just hit two this morning, and it's an off day. There's a chance, a slight chance, that the skill of hitting home runs might apply to the Home Run Derby. Just maybe.
But if you're looking for a dark horse in the competition, take the athlete. Kemp has the kind of natural tools that would allow him to sail through the Atlasphere, Swingshot, and Breakthrough & Conquer. Why not the Home Run Derby?