Prior to last night's Home Run Derby, I was not a fan of Adam Dunn. I couldn't understand why the Nationals would keep paying a player with 10 errors already this season, despite his .266/.398/.544 line. It seemed to me that for the money the Nationals were paying him, they could find an outfielder with slightly worse batting statistics but significantly better fielding abilities.
After watching the Derby, I (think I) understand what the Nationals are trying to do. Mike Rizzo has made it clear that Adam Dunn will not be traded, and that makes a lot of sense. Having a slugger like Adam Dunn generates fan interest in the Nationals and builds confidence in the clubhouse. Prince Fielder, despite being just 25, is seen as a leader in the Brewers' organization -- why would the Nationals expect anything less of Dunn? He's 29, older than all of the Nationals' starting pitchers, older than "face of the franchise" Ryan Zimmerman, so why shouldn't they expect him to step up and lead the team?
What I don't understand, though, is why Dunn wasn't invited to the show off his skills in St. Louis. For purposes of argument, I compared Dunn with the eight players selected for the Derby. Of those nine players, Dunn ranks fourth in home runs (23), fourth in RBI (62), second in walks (68), fifth in average (.266), fourth in OBP (.398), fourth in slugging percentage (.544) and fourth in OPS (.943). He's fifth in the majors in home runs. Sure, he doesn't lead in any category, but his numbers are better than many of the players that were selected. Participation in the All-Star Game is not a requirement to hit in the Derby, so why wouldn't MLB just select the top eight home run hitters and let them have at it? Here's what the field would have looked like if they had:
1.) Albert Pujols (STL), 32 home runs
2.) Adrian Gonzalez (SD), 24 home runs
3.) Carlos Pena (TB), 24 home runs
4.) Mark Reynolds (ARI), 24 home runs
5.) Adam Dunn (WAS), 23 home runs
6.) Russell Branyan (SEA), 22 home runs
7.) Nelson Cruz (TEX), 22 home runs
8.) Prince Fielder (MIL), 22 home runs
Arizona, Washington and San Diego combine for a record of 100-164, or .379 baseball. Seeing a hometown player hit in the Derby would do wonders for bringing attention back to teams at the bottom of the league. Fans would start going to games again, watch the games on TV (the Nationals averaged just 8000 viewers per game last year) and generating very valuable revenue for the team. I'm not saying it's MLB's responsibility to generate interest in bad teams (rather, it's the team's responsibility to be good), but I am saying that going by statistics would have had that effect. As long as the Home Run Derby is an event nominally based on an objective statistic, Major League Baseball should look only at the numbers.