Of all the events of Major League Baseball's all-star festivities, by far the best and most exciting spectacle is the The All-Star Hit by Pitch competition. Competitors from both leagues will step up to the plate against some of the top pitchers from the opposing league, to find out who can fail to get out of the way of the most pitches. Let's take a look at the field, and see which of this year's all-stars is most likely to win this prestigious competition.
Starting with the AL:
Derek Jeter - Jeter is the only player in the competition this year with over 100 HBPs to his credit, with a career total of 136. He's been hit 7 times this season, and he has an excellent shot at besting his singles season career high of 14. No doubt he'll have consulted with league HBP leader and Yankees teammate Jason Giambi for tips on how best to approach the contest. No doubt the home crowd will be behind Jeter also, because who doesn't love to see Derek Jeter step up to the plate and get hit by a pitch?
Manny Ramirez - Manny got a late bump in the voting for this years Hit by Pitch competition when Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera teamed up to hit him 3 times in a game on July 5th
. Unlike other events, the voting for the hit by pitch competition is done by opposing pitchers, who vote by hitting batters with pitches. However, the fans still get their voice because only players who make the all-star team can participate in the HBP competition. Manny joins National League participant Chase Utley as the only players this season to receive 3 votes in a single game. While Manny's numbers are impressive, it's tough to judge his chances in this competition. As usual, it all depends on his frame of mind. Will he be out there trying to compete for the fun of it, or will it be just another tool in his complex contract negotiations with the Red Sox front office? As Boston fans like to say "that's just Manny being hit by a pitch".
Carlos Quentin - Carlos Quentin is the league leader in HBPs among right handed batters (12), and also leads the league in being hit by right handed pitchers (10). This is Quentin's first all-star appearance so he may be a little nervous, but when it comes to getting hit by pitches, he knows what he's doing. He was hit 43 times in the minors in 2004, between single A and double A ball, including twice in one inning. Quentin is surely one player who knows that standing still is sometimes the best way to get where you're going.
Kevin Youkilis - Youk has been hit by 7 pitches this season, but the ball that struck him and caused the most damage was thrown by teammate Mike Lowell. Youkilis had to leave a game on June 22nd when a warmup throw between innings bounced and hit him in the eye. But, Youk is apparently much better at being hit in the batters box than at first base. His chances in this competition depend on how much he can annoy the National League pitchers, who may not be as familiar with him as their AL counterparts. One AL pitcher who wished not to be named had this to say about him: "Can you really blame us for hitting him all the time? He takes so many pitches, and he's got that stupid-sexy-flanders batting stance - you know, like that Simpson's episode where Flanders is in the ski-racing outfit and Homer can't stop looking at his rear?"
And for the National League:
Adrian Gonzalez - Gonzalez has only been hit 5 times this season for the Padres, but that was enough to win him the 4th spot on the National League's roster for the Hit-by-Pitch competition. On paper, he may look like a reluctant competitor, but he's a competitor none the less so I'm sure he'll go out there with every intention of winning. When asked about participation in the Hit-By-Pitch contest Adrian Gonzalez said "The what?".
Nate McLouth - Another first-year all-star, McLouth has been hit 9 times so far this year, and at 5' 11" tall and 180 pounds, he's the smallest of this year's competitors. Only Reed Johnson has more HBPs this season, among players in the "180 pound and under" weight class. McLouth is also 4th on the Pittsburgh Pirates career HBP list among players born in October, so that should really help him out.
Aramis Ramirez - Ramirez has been plunked 9 times for the Cubs this year, so he and Reed Johnson have a chance to become only the 2nd pair of Cubs with over 10 HBPs each since the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Ramirez has the most patient approach to getting hit among the NL competitors, averaging 3.3 pitches per plate appearance when he takes a plunking. The other 3 participants only see 2.6 pitches on average, or 1.6 pitches before the one that hits them. The American League group, on the other hand, average 3.6 pitches per plunk, or 2.6 before the ones that hit them.
Chase Utley - Utley rounds out a National League lineup heavily loaded with left-handers. Right handers have been hit 612 times this season compared to just 324 for lefties, and right-handers are getting hit about 37% more often per plate appearance this year, but Utley led the majors with 25 plunks last year, and another left handed batter (Giambi) leads the majors again this season. Utley has been plunked 11 times this year, including a 3 HBP game against the Mets in April, but he hasn't been hit by a pitch on a Monday since May 14th of 2007.
All in all, it should be an excellent competition, and while we always hope they'll change the rules to let non-All-stars in, such as Giambi, Rickie Weeks, Reed Johnson, and Kevin Kouzmanoff this year, there is plenty of talent in the lineup to make for a great contest. Good luck to everyone, stand your ground in the batters box, and don't get hurt - since that's an automatic disqualification.Update:
This year's hit-by-pitch competition has been canceled due to insurance liability.Update2:
Apparently there is not, and never was an All Star Hit By Pitch competition, which has to come as an embarrassment, to Bud Selig and the league.
Labels: Carlos Quentin