Baseball fans and players will collectively catch their breath in the upcoming days, as the All-Star Break and unofficial halfway point of the baseball season is already upon us.
Before the ceremonial, historic, This Time It Doesn’t Matter All-Star Game on Tuesday, eight of the leagues premiere sluggers will face each other in a battle of sheer brawn, as they will attempt to outslug each other in the Home Run Derby.
With the formatting constantly being tweaked, the HR Derby has settled into a neat eight-person bracket, as shown below:
The Miami faithful have reigning dong-crusher Giancarlo Stanton, as well as their underrated slugging first baseman Justin Bour, in the mix. Interestingly enough, the pair of Fish will face a pair of Baby Bombers in the first round in Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. The National League’s answer to Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, will face division rival and thin-air-abusing Charlie Blackmon. Two more division rivals, Moose Tacos and Miguel Sano, round out the bracketing.
On paper, it appears to be shaping up to be a great set of match-ups and potential match-ups (let’s be real, who isn’t routing for Judge vs. Stanton in the finals?) But we at Fungraphs are too analytic to stop there. Let’s delve a little deeper at what the venue and players have to offer in today’s dinger party.
Marlins Park unfortunately was not constructed with the Home Run Derby in mind, as it has more cavernous dimensions than most of its counterparts around the Majors. In fact, according to ESPN Park Factors for 2017, Marlins Park ranks just 23rd in HR. Park Factors ranks Marlins Park unfavorable, at 26th overall.
Per Swish Analytics, Marlins Park favors lefties, with a (still-below-average) 0.81 HR factor vs. 0.74 for righties.
Let’s look at our eight sluggers and see how they compare to one another in a few key aspects with regards to power.
A closer look at the 2017 HR Derby participants. (Number in parentheses indicate ranking among MLB hitters, min. 100 BBE; Data via Baseball Savant and FanGraphs)
The four lefties (Bellinger, Moose, Blackmon, and Bour) already have a slight advantage in Marlins Park over their opposite-handed counterparts.
On paper, all eight appear to have the resumes needed for entrance into the Derby. The top 7 seeds actually all rank in the top 26 in MLB (among batting title qualifiers) in isolated slugging percentage (ISO), which is merely one’s slugging percentage minus the batting average (Sanchez still needs more PA after missing about a month with a brachialis injury).
The new StatCast data have been permeating around baseball broadcasts and blogs. One new term coined in the StatCast era is “Barrels“, which is basically the best possible outcome for a hitter. It’s essentially hitting the ball at the ideal angle and exit velocity to produce a very favorable outcome for the hitter (at least .500 AVG and 1.500 SLG). Aaron Judge leads the way, with an absolutely staggering 1 in 4 (!) of his batted ball events (BBE) being Barrels. Miguel Sano is still in the Top 10 in Barrels/BBE, with a more modest 18.6% of his BBE with the ideal outcome. Bellinger and Stanton also rank well in this metric, hitting about 15% of their batted balls as Barrels.
What about exit velocity? Every single damn ball off the bat nowadays is tagged with an exit velocity, whether it’s a routine ground out or a mammoth home run. Unsurprisingly, Judge leads the pack in exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, hitting them, on average, over 101 MPH. Somewhat predictably (since Barrels relies on exit velocity in its metric), the same pecking order follows, with Sano, Bellinger, and Stanton close to the top of the pack in MLB. Blackmon lags the Derby group in both categories, as he is the only participant with less than 10% of his BBE as Barrels, and hitting his FB/LD a relatively meager 91.5 MPH.
Finally, in terms of all BBE hit really fast (95+ MPH), Judge once again leads his peers at 56.5% of his batted ball events going 95+ MPH off of the bat, with only Alex Avila (58.0%) doing it more often in the Majors. Judge and Sano are the only two in the pack doing this over half of the time.
The underlying numbers backup what any Yankees fan already knows: Aaron Judge was tailor made for the Home Run Derby. He routinely murders baseballs in batting practice, and is even destroying property with his prodigious power. Now he sets his sights on destroying his peers and that godawful monstrosity in center field at Marlins Park.
However, despite all of the underlying numbers, the HR Derby has surprised the masses before with its outcome. No matter who ends up victorious, it is shaping up to be an eventful, dong-filled night.