Monday, July 15, 2013

MLB All-Star Week: Home Run Derby Preview

Is it an exhibition?  Definitely.  Does it have any bearing on where teams will finish in the standings, who will win a home run title or decide an MVP or Silver Slugger?  Absolutely not.  In fact, an argument can be made that it can actually be detrimental to players who participate in it by messing up their swing for the second half.  

Why all the fuss about the home run derby then?  Let me tell you....

Because its the mutha-f#$^%$ home run derby! That's why!  It's the most democratic, most manly, most pure aspect of the entire game...here I am, here is my bat, I am going to try and crush as many baseballs over this fence as I can.  Who remembers being a kid and not playing home run derby? 


Some fans will call this nothing more than glorified batting practice.  So what?  It is glorified batting practice but it also the most entertaining part of the All-Star festivities. 

And until the NBA Slam Dunk contest gets its balls back and until more people start watching the NHL Skill Competition, the home run derby is still the best all-star exhibition event in sports.  That's a fact. 

And while as eight-year old kids, we had trouble hitting tennis balls over the local high school girls softball fences (I still might), there's something special watching the game's elite power hitters mashing baseballs farther than most of us deem possible.  

It's also refreshing seeing players, legends and fans all watching in awe, joking and interacting reminding us all that this is still a kids game at heart.  It's something I'm definitely going to be watching and you should be too.

But even though it's an exhibition, who can we expect from the competition?  Who will do best and who are the favorites.  Home run totals from the first half are just numbers.  Let's dig in to see what we can expect from each contestant.


The Contestants


National League 

David Wright, 3B - New York Mets (c)
Bryce Harper, OF - Washington Nationals
Michael Cuddyer, OF - Colorado Rockies
Pedro Alvarez, 3B - Pittsburgh Pirates (x) 


American League

Robinson Cano, 2B - New York Yankees (c)
Prince Fielder, 1B - Detroit Tigers
Chris Davis, 1B/OF - Baltimore Orioles
Yoenis Cespedes, OF - Oakland Athletics (x) 


We will come back to the contestants.  First, let's take a look at the venue...



This sweet-ass chart, courtesy of Hittrackeronline.com, shows the dimensions of Citi Field.  Further research will show that there have been 83 home runs hit at Citi Field so far this season, ranking it the 12th easiest ball park to hit a home run.   I bet you didn't see that one coming as the home of the Mets was so notorious for being a pitchers haven that they needed to move and lower the outfield fences in in 2012.  Before that, Citi Field was the 27th stadium for home runs.  


The more visual friendly chart above shows the new outfield dimensions compared to the previous one.  Let's just say the changes have made a difference.  It will actually be the second easiest stadium for the long ball out of the past ten home run derbies, with only Chase Field during the 2011 All-Star game ranking ahead of Citi (10th to 13th, respectively).  The 83 home runs hit at Citi Field this season have averaged 399.9 feet.  So we can expect some bombs tonight.  


The Favorites:

Lefties will no doubt have advantages in this stadium with the short right field "Pepsi Porch" and while the left field wall has been moved in and lowered, it's still a daunting task for a right-handed power hitter to clear the "Great Wall of Flushing" compared to the porch in right field.  Here's who I have as the players most likely to go deep early and often tonight.  



Prince Fielder:
The defending champion and also the only player to win a Derby playing for each league, the big man for Detroit will not only be the guy I'm cheering for tonight but also expected to put on a show.  Not only does he have a natural swing built for the event (which thankfully, won't screw it up during the second half) but he's been here before.  He never turns down an opportunity to enter the Derby and is familiar with what could be an unfamiliar setting for new contestants (i.e. crowd, lighting, no hitting cage, live pitching, etc.).  All eyes are going to be on him tonight and Fielder knows it.   



Chris Davis
It seems like everything this guy hits travels out of the park with a record 37 dingers for the Orioles this season.  While Davis is by far having the best season of his career, the power surge actually goes back to last year's All-Star break where something clicked.  He has a long, natural upper-cut swing and if he can adjust early to the unique setting of the derby early on, he's shown all season that once he gets in the zone, balls fly out of the park.  One, two, three home runs could turn into double digits in a hurry.  



Robinson Cano
The AL captain had a tough time last Derby in Kansas City when he was mercilessly booed by angry Royals fans for leaving Billy Butler off the squad.  The cold reception clearly effected him as he ended up going 0-fer.  But like Prince, Cano has won the Derby before (2011) and is familiar with the event.  Unlike last year, expect be plenty of Yankees fans filling the seats in Queens and he's got the power and the swing to do it again.  

Serious Contenders

These are guys that could sneak into the final round, mash a big number of first round totals or even win the entire thing....but they could also flame out and hit zero.  Either way, these are definitely guys to keep an eye on tonight as they step up to the plate.  




David Wright
The NL captain will no doubt be the hometown fan favorite going into tonight.  While he's got the left field disadvantage and it's his first Derby since 2006, he's a guy that could definitely feed off the home crowd if he gets into an early rhythm.  He won't hit many tape measure shots but he may definitely be the most consistent per round which is key to getting into the finals...where anything can happen.  




Bryce Harper
I've been waiting to see this guy in the Derby since he was gracing the covers of SI as a 16-year-old.  Selected by fan vote, expect Harper to launch at least a couple of bombs in the Pepsi porch. His dad will be throwing to him, so that's not only cool but also a good strategy as I'm sure everyone in their reading this would be able to launch rockets off their old man.  Right?  

That's a clown question bro...but can Harper seriously win? It's tough to tell as he may be the toughest contestant to project.  It's his first Derby, so he'll have to adjust to the scene right away.  He's the youngest contestant but his short and compact swing makes it likely he won't tire in the later rounds like others have.  He's always been a kid that's enjoyed the spotlight so don't be shocked if he embraces the event and puts on a spectacle.  



Yoenis Cespedes  
Don't overlook the Oakland Athletics outfielder.  He may not be as sexy a choice as the guy he replaced (Jose Bautista) but he's built like a truck and can mash with the best of them.  This could be an event tailor-made for him as he will be able to focus on just one thing: crushing the s--- out of the ball.  He'll definitely have his "ohh and ahh" moments with a 400-500 foot blast or two but doing it consistently over the course of the night against the left field fence will be a tall task.  


Darkhorse Contenders



Michael Cuddyer 
Wright surprised everyone when he selected Cuddyer to participate.  While Wright may remember Cuddy for winning a home run derby against the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and the Upton brother, he's best known for his recent 27-game hitting streak.  He has good opposite field power but anyone who has a hitting streak that long isn't trying to blast homers all the time.  He will have to tonight.  



Pedro Alvarez 
First of all, I only included Alvarez in the "Darkhorse" section because he's not as much of a household name to casual baseball fans but I can easily see Alvarez not only winning this event but doing it in legendary fashion.  If you haven't seen him, Pedro has the most violent, explosive swing in the game.  And when he connects, it's just incredible to watch...like this opposite field shot onto Waveland Avenue last year.
(PLEASE JUST CLICK THE LINK OF THIS ALVAREZ HOME RUN)

Not only does he attack the ball with the bat like he's getting out some serious issues but he's also a New York kid straight from Washington Heights.  Manhattan locals will know this and he will get some serious crowd support.  Can his swing take him to the Derby title?  You'll just have to find out tonight....



PREDICTIONS

So now that you know what I think about each contestant, here are my complete predictions (a.k.a. complete guesses) for tonight's show....

FIRST ROUND
1. Harper
2. Davis 
3. Alvarez
4. Fielder
5. Wright
6. Cano
7. Cespedes
8. Cuddyer

SEMIFINALS
1. Harper
2. Alvarez
3. Davis
4. Fielder

FINALS
Winner: Harper
Runner-Up: Alvarez 



Tune in tonight at 8 ET on ESPN to see how the 2013 Home Run Derby unfolds and remember what it's like to be a kid again.  And if you want to read these articles about rich people pretending to be baseball fans, check out this article:Home Run Derby can have negative impact on player's second-half power

And of course, the counterargument...
The Overblown Fallacy Of The Home Run Derby Hangover

The Forbes one was actually pretty good...
Good luck to the contestants and special thanks to the hometown captains, Cano and Wright for giving us another year of quality, entertaining contestants in what should be another spectacular home run derby, except for one more thing, Mr. Wright.....

WHERE THE F--K IS MY GIANCARLO STANTON!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?