Last Updated: 2019-07-08
Interest in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is hit or miss, but just about everybody tunes in for the Home Run Derby. Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio is the site of this year’s glorified batting practice and eight competitors will hope to raise the championship trophy.
I’ll take a look at the outright odds and also the first-round matchups in this comprehensive preview of Monday night’s slugfest. Though, if we’re being honest, the entire first half of the MLB season was the Home Run Derby.
Odds from BetOnline as of 11 a.m. ET:
Josh Bell +300
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. +350
Pete Alonso +375
Joc Pederson +500
Ronald Acuna Jr. +700
Alex Bregman +800
Matt Chapman +900
Carlos Santana +1000
Right off the bat, pardon the pun, there’s some equity in Santana at +1000 because Progressive Field has historically played better for left-handed hitters because of the 19-foot wall in left field. Obviously hitters have a much different launch angle for something like the Home Run Derby, but that wall in left field could keep some balls in that would otherwise be into the seats in a lot of other parks. Santana isn’t as prolific of a home run hitter as the other guys on the list, so the odds are fair, but Santana is one of three lefties in the Derby.
What are we looking for in the Derby? Well, there are five things we can use to narrow the field. Launch angle on fly balls and line drives, fly ball/line drive exit velocity, Barrels/BBE%, which is barrels per batted ball event turned into a percentage, FB+LD%, and Pull%.
Here are those pertinent stats listed in the order of the odds:
FB/LD Launch Angle
Bell: 26.4 degrees
Guerrero: 23.4 degrees
Alonso: 26 degrees
Pederson: 28.8 degrees
Bregman: 27.1 degrees
Acuna: 26.2 degrees
Chapman: 28.5 degrees
Santana: 26.1 degrees
FB/LD Exit Velocity
Bell: 96.8 mph
Guerrero: 94.7 mph
Alonso: 96.6 mph
Pederson: 96.9 mph
Bregman: 91.8 mph
Acuna: 94.7 mph
Chapman: 97.2 mph
Santana: 94.3 mph
FB + LD%
Why do these numbers matter? Home runs don’t happen on ground balls. Home runs are typically pulled. Exit velocity allows the ball to travel farther. Launch angle helps because a 105 mph line drive with a 10-degree launch angle isn’t getting out of the ballpark. Hitters will obviously make adjustments to the batting practice format and won’t be getting breaking balls and all of the usual things from a game, but you’d still like a guy with strong swing mechanics that doesn’t need to change a whole lot in order to accommodate this contest.
There have been 3,691 home runs this season. Per Statcast, 2,129 have been pulled. There have been 3,100 that have been pulled or hit to the middle of the field. Guys that have oppo power are great and can surely put on a show like Aaron Judge did back in 2017, but it’s a hard way to go about winning a Home Run Derby.
As mentioned, lefties inherently have an edge with the lower wall in right and center. Righties will have a tougher time pulling home runs, especially on balls they get under a little bit to the big part of the park. That makes it tough for me to like most of the righties, but one I do like is Matt Chapman. Chapman isn’t as much of a pull hitter as most of the field, but he has a very high barrel rate and the highest exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. The +900 price tag isn’t bad either. He’ll be one of the two bets I make for this tournament.
The other will be Joc Pederson. He’s no Cody Bellinger, but the Los Angeles Dodger hits the ball really hard and has the highest Pull% in the field. Pederson is 14th in HR/FB% and has the 20th-lowest Oppo%. The wind could be blowing in from right, so that will help a guy that has a higher pull rate with hip rotation that will likely allow him to drive the ball into the corner of the ballpark, which is more protected from the weather conditions.
So, I’ll be looking at Chapman (+900) and Pederson (+500) as outright winners.
Alex Bregman (+120) vs. Joc Pederson (-150)
Man, I really do love Alex Bregman, but his Pull% is down quite a bit this season. He also draws the unfortunate matchup of being a righty against a lefty in a place that does have a pretty big park factor swing. Bregman’s barrel rate is down this year and that really does concern me in an event like this where it’s all about hitting the barrel.
He put on a hell of a show last year as one of my picks, but came up short in the first round. I’d expect him to come up short here as well.
Pick: Pederson (-150)
Pete Alonso (-175) vs. Carlos Santana (+145)
Carlos Santana is one of my favorite Indians of all-time, but he’s outgunned here. Santana has always been a guy that hits a lot of ground balls to the pull side. I’m worried about his ability to elevate in this format. I’m certainly worried about it against a pure power hitter like Alonso. Alonso is a guy that I think can tire himself out in a tournament like this, which is why I don’t have him among my picks to win, even though so many metrics point in that direction.
Pick: Alonso (-175)
Josh Bell (-210) vs. Ronald Acuna Jr. (+170)
If you want to discuss pure, raw power, Acuna Jr. may have the most of it in this event. He may be second to Alonso, but Acuna can really swing it and has serious power to all fields. He reminds me a lot of Manny Ramirez in that regard. The problem for me with taking the upset here is that Acuna does showcase that power to all fields. That’s not how you win the Home Run Derby. You need to make it as easy as possible by hitting to the small parts of the park.
Furthermore, Acuna is going up against a lefty in Bell. Bell also has a lot of familiarity with his good friend and batting practice pitcher Jon Schwind. Bell is the favorite for a reason.
I do think that Acuna at +170 is a little bit too big of a number, but I don’t think it’s a necessary gamble.
Pick: Bell (-210)
Matt Chapman (+110) vs. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (-140)
I like the underdog here, as you would expect with my suggestion to take Chapman. This is a hard event. Mentally, it is a challenge. Physically, nobody is worried about Vlad the Impaler Jr., but mentally, it can be real tough. We know Guerrero’s raw power is substantial, but he’s always hit too many ground balls for my liking. Maybe he can flip the switch here.
I wouldn’t be terribly surprised, but I don’t think people have any idea how good of a baseball player Matt Chapman is because he’s buried in Oakland. His defense may get the accolades, but he’s a terrific hitter with a really good barrel rate for a guy that hits his share of ground balls.
Pick: Chapman (+110)
These are all for beer money. Enjoy the Derby!
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