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Mile High Mashing: Previewing the 2021 Home Run Derby

Politics apart, the most important upside to Main League Baseball’s choice to maneuver this 12 months’s All-Star Recreation from Atlanta to Denver is that for the primary time in 23 years, the House Run Derby will likely be held at Coors Subject, the place baseballs fly additional than every other main league venue as a result of mile-high altitude. When you have any sustained curiosity within the occasion, that is the bucket listing location for a Derby, and if that’s not sufficient to juice this competitors, MLB has made clear the balls themselves received’t be saved within the humidor previous to the festivities, theoretically leading to drives of even larger distance. Brief story longer: MORE DINGERS!

If there’s a draw back to the pending fireworks present, it’s that the new baseball MLB launched this 12 months isn’t carrying fairly so far as years previous. The typical distance of a hard-hit fly ball — that’s, one hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or larger — is 366 toes, which is up 5 toes from the shortened 2020 season however down 9 toes relative to ’19, the 12 months these distances peaked.

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That decreased distance is regardless of this 12 months’s hard-hit fly balls having the very best common exit velocity of the Statcast period at 101.2 mph; they averaged 101 mph in 2019, the 12 months that dwelling runs peaked with a median of 1.39 per workforce per recreation. That was deemed Too Many Homers, and after dropping by 8% from 2019 to ’20, per-game dwelling run charges have fallen one other 7.85% this 12 months, to 1.18 per workforce per recreation. The excellent news is that at Coors Subject, that downturn received’t matter; by way of Statcast, this 12 months’s hard-hit fly balls are averaging 393 toes — 7.3% additional — and that’s with the humidor.

It’s value noting that Coors Subject’s outfield distances are asymmetrical, measuring 347 toes down the left discipline line and 390 to left middle, in comparison with 350 down the best discipline line and 375 to proper middle — albeit with a 16-foot-6 fence in right-center and proper, in comparison with simply eight toes in left, save for the left discipline nook, the place it’s 13 toes. In line with our park factors, in relation to homers righties have a two-point benefit over lefties (111-109). Through Statcast, on these hard-hit fly balls at Coors, righties’ pictures have averaged 395 toes, in comparison with 391 toes for lefties.

Simply as there was no All-Star Recreation final 12 months as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, there was no House Run Derby, however this one will decide up the identical format used from 2015-19 — a format that has accomplished wonders for the watchability of this spectacle. The competitors will likely be an eight-man, single elimination bracket that makes use of timed rounds, although this 12 months, these rounds have been trimmed from 4 minutes to a few for the quarterfinals and semifinals, and to 2 minutes for the finals. Mainly, it’s a nod to how taxing this will likely be to do at altitude, and it’ll additionally make for a tighter present.

Past that fundamental block of time, there are a few wrinkles. Every participant will get one 45-second timeout per spherical to be used in that regulation interval, and for some cause associated to the occasion’s sponsorship, all people additionally will get 30 seconds of bonus time per spherical, with those that hit a drive of at the very least 475 toes throughout their spherical receiving one other 30 seconds. Throughout that bonus time, the gamers will likely be swinging at particular magenta balls that promote the occasion’s sponsor. If two contestants are tied after their regulation and bonus time, every will get one other 60 seconds, after which if the contestants stay tied after that, they every get rounds of three swings apiece till a winner is set.

As with yearly, the listing of contributors consists of solely a few of the recreation’s high sluggers. Mike Trout is injured and so received’t take part, and likewise, neither Kyle Schwarber nor Ronald Acuña Jr. have been scheduled to take action earlier than their respective accidents. Additionally absent are Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Derby’s runner-up in 2019, in addition to former winners Giancarlo Stanton (2016), Aaron Judge (2017), and Bryce Harper (2018), to not point out Fernando Tatis Jr., who leads the NL with 28 homers. That also leaves a discipline that must be very entertaining, headlined by main league dwelling run chief and two-way surprise Shohei Ohtani in addition to defending champion Pete Alonso, the one participant with earlier Derby expertise:

2021 House Run Derby Subject

Seed Participant PA HR HR/PA HR/CON HR/FB EVF Avg HR Brl% 440
1 Shohei Ohtani* 338 33 9.8% 16.4% 38.8% 100.2 417 25.9% 7
2 Joey Gallo* 351 24 6.8% 14.3% 31.2% 99.1 414 19.6% 5
3 Matt Olson* 360 21 5.8% 8.3% 18.6% 96.2 406 13.8% 1
4 Salvador Perez 363 21 5.8% 8.3% 23.1% 97.9 400 14.3% 4
5 Pete Alonso 304 17 5.6% 8.3% 17.9% 95.4 411 16.0% 2
6 Trey Mancini 361 15 4.2% 6.3% 18.5% 91.6 407 12.5% 2
7 Trevor Story 318 11 3.5% 5.1% 11.8% 92.1 419 9.3% 3
8 Juan Soto* 328 11 3.4% 5.0% 19.6% 96.2 402 10.9% 0

All statistics by July 10. EVF (exit velocity on fly balls), Avg HR (common home-run distance), Brl% (barrels per batted ball occasion) and 440 (whole of dwelling runs projected for at the very least 440 toes) by way of Baseball Savant. * = Bats left-handed.

Ohtani’s high seeding is predicated upon his main league dwelling run rating as of July 7; by that measure, one needed to go all the way in which right down to the nine-way tie at 71st to incorporate all eight contributors. House run totals are hardly the one measure of a slugger’s functionality, in fact, significantly on this context, and whereas it’s truthful to query the applicability of any of the above metrics I’ve gathered in relation to non-game conditions, it’s value appreciating the attitude they supply on this group. I’ve gone past the uncooked totals to indicate how usually every contestant homers per plate look, per batted ball [HR/ (AB – SO + SF)], and per fly ball, with their common exit velocities on flies, their common projected dwelling run distance, and their barrel charge, which in keeping with a 2019 study by Devan Fink correlates finest with latest Derby success.

I’ve additionally included every participant’s whole variety of homers projected to journey least 440 toes, which was the brink that latest Derbies used for the gap bonus to kick in. This 12 months, that threshold is 475 toes, however that’s solely about 8% additional than 440 toes, which is kind of on par with the common distance acquire in hard-hit fly balls between Coors Subject and the majors as a complete.

The occasion will air at 8 pm Japanese on ESPN on Monday night time. Right here’s the bracket from MLB.com:

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Ohtani (1) vs. Soto (8)

On paper, this seems to be a mismatch between two first-time contestants. Ohtani — who will change into the primary Japanese participant to take part in a House Run Derby — was already living up to the hype relating to his two-way prowess earlier than embarking upon his newest tear on the plate, throughout which he’s homered 16 occasions in 23 video games, with 4 of his 10 homerless video games coinciding with ones that he was additionally the Angels’ beginning pitcher. Primarily based on information by Saturday, the 27-year-old phenom leads the majors in dwelling runs per plate look by 0.7 share factors, and in barrel charge by 4.5 factors, plus he leads this discipline in each class I’ve gathered save for common distance, the place he takes a again seat solely to the Coors-aided Story. In order for you a testomony to how far forward of the sector he’s, Statcast tasks that 26 of Ohtani’s 33 dwelling runs would have gone out given the fence distances and heights at Coors Subject; Gallo is second with 19, Perez third at 17.

One quirk which may be of curiosity: he hasn’t taken batting practice on the field since Opening Day, preferring as a substitute to work within the indoor batting cages in order that he can use a pitching machine that throws at larger velocity and that may provide him breaking balls.

Soto has had a subpar first half by his personal requirements, slugging simply .444, 113 factors beneath his mark for his first three main league seasons; a left shoulder pressure could have contributed to these shortcomings, although the slugger said that the harm affected his throwing greater than his hitting. Soto’s hitting the ball on the bottom with larger frequency than ever (54.8%), has only a 5.0 diploma common launch angle, and hasn’t hit a success single homer of 440 toes this 12 months, maxing out at 437 toes and producing the bottom common distance of the sector. That mentioned, he’s been displaying extra energy these days, hitting seven of his 11 homers — together with three of his 5 longest — and slugging .504 since June 1. His general exit velocity on fly balls is in a digital tie for fourth amongst this group.

Perez (4) vs. Alonso (5)

That is the one all-righty first-round matchup. Perez has been pulverizing the ball when he connects, rating third in homers per fly, homers per batted ball (in a digital tie), and common exit velocity on flies. His barrel charge and 56.7% hard-hit charge are each profession bests, as is that this 12 months’s 114.2 mph most exit velocity. Whereas he’s received the bottom common dwelling run distance of the sector, he additionally performs within the hardest ballpark for righties to homer in from among the many gamers on this group, given Kauffman Stadium’s 93 park issue. He’s simply the second catcher to compete within the Derby previously 12 years, in addition to Gary Sánchez (2017). No backstop has ever received, although Ivan Rodriguez did end second in 2005.

As for Alonso, he placed on fairly a present two years ago within the midst of his record-setting 53-homer rookie season, throughout which he displayed mastery of this format; although his wins over Carlos Santana, Acuña, and Guerrero have been all simply by one dwelling run, he didn’t should make the most of the bonus time he’d earned in any of these rounds. To a point, he’s gotten his stroke again after a down 2020, together with his barrel charge, common exit velocity, and hard-hit charge all rebounding. That mentioned, his common exit velo on fly balls is down 1.6 mph relative to 2019, and his common dwelling run distance is three toes shorter, although it’s nonetheless good for fourth place on this group, whereas his 117.1 mph max exit velo is second solely to Ohtani’s 119.0. If he wins, he would change into the fourth participant to win a number of Derbies, after Ken Griffey Jr. (1994, ’98-99), Prince Fielder (2009, ’12) and Yoenis Céspedes (2013-14).

Gallo (2) vs. Story (7)

Gallo is perhaps probably the most anticipated first-time participant this aspect of Ohtani, as a result of the person offers in distance. His 28 homers of at the very least 440 toes since 2017, his first full season, are tied with Stanton for the main league excessive; no person else has greater than 22. Likewise, his common dwelling run distance of 415 toes is tied with Story for second amongst gamers with at the very least 50 homers in that span, one foot behind one other Rockies hitter, Ryan McMahon. He’s second to Ohtani in nearly each metric above, and by a considerable margin.

The one stat above wherein Gallo isn’t second to Ohtani is common homer distance; he’s third behind Ohtani and Story, whose Coors-aided 419 toes leads this pack and is tied (with Teoscar Hernández) for second within the majors behind Tyler O’Neill’s 420 toes. As you may see, the truth that he’s both final or second-to-last in many of the different metrics underscores the affect Coors can have in relation to hitting the ball within the air, but it surely additionally tells on Story. If he’s hitting 92-mph fly balls whereas others are at 96 or larger, he’s in hassle. If there’s excellent news, it’s that he’s been hitting the ball a lot more durable since coming back from his bout of right elbow inflammation in late Might and early June (93.6 mph common exit velo) than prior (89.1 mph). Will that be sufficient to assist him change into the fourth participant to win a Derby in his dwelling ballpark, after Ryne Sandberg (1990), Todd Frazier (2015), and Harper (2018)? In all probability not.

Olson (3) vs. Mancini (6)

Provided that he’s spending half his video games hitting within the hardest dwelling run park for lefties of any participant right here — the Coliseum’s park issue is 90 — it’s a testomony to Olson’s energy that he’s not simply right here however that he’s seeded extremely. He’s in digital ties for third or fourth within the “homers per” metrics in addition to exit velo on flies. From amongst this group, he’s additionally second in xSLG (.554) behind Ohtani.

A 12 months in the past, Mancini was present process remedy for stage 3 colon most cancers after being recognized throughout spring coaching. That he’s returned to the majors to play at a excessive stage is outstanding, even when he’s not but again to his 2019 kind. Although he’s received the bottom exit velocity on fly balls right here, he’s fifth or sixth within the three “homers per” metrics. By the numbers, there’s nothing right here to make one imagine he’d win, however he’s unattainable to not root for given what he’s been by.

When you’ve learn this far, you most likely need some predictions, and whereas I’m not going to assert to be an knowledgeable in prognostication, my observe file since becoming a member of the FanGraphs workers is fairly strong, as I did pick Harper to win in 2018, and Alonso to do so in ’19 (over Guerrero within the finals, even), not that I used to be going too far out on a limb both time. On the danger of compromising my sterling file whereas sporting the green-and-black, I’m selecting Gallo to beat Ohtani within the finals, and hoping that the occasion soars to the heights that each one of us anticipated in relation to a Coors Subject House Run Derby.

Mile High Mashing: Previewing the 2021 Home Run Derby

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