By: Shaun Smith
Whether you love it or think it’s a complete waste of time, the Home Run Derby during the MLB All Star weekend is a large success for baseball and normally garners high ratings for ESPN.
The odd thing is that now in the post-PED era, numbers in the Derby have skyrocketed from where they once were.
The most Griffey ever hit total was 19 while McGwire mustered 16 one year. Josh Hamilton hit 28 in the first round back in 2008, many years removed from the bombers in the 90′s.
Even the unknown at the time Bobby Abreu hit 24 homeruns in Round 1 to set the previous record back in 2005 (which earned him a Yankees contract).
In fact what most people forget is in the same year, David Ortiz set the 2nd highest first round record with 17 homeruns.
So this begs the question, why has numbers increased? Could it be gimmicked baseballs for the Derby? What are those State Farm gold balls really made of?
This year we have some real power hitters in the Derby.
The Derby, as well as All Star Game, takes place at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Both Left and Right Field stands at 330 ft, both Left-Center and Right-Center Field are equal at 387 ft. and Center Field is 410 ft.
Kauffman Stadium isn’t known for being a hitter’s ballpark, but according to statistics power numbers have been increasing over the last 10 years.
So which of these major leaguers have a shot to win this thing? Let’s break this down player-by-player.
Matt Kemp (Captain) – LA Dodgers CF
- Kemp says he wants to participate in the Derby but is still on the DL with a hamstring injury. You would think that just having to stand at home plate and swing a bat wouldn’t be strenuous on your hamstring but that is not that case. Much like pitchers, hitters also expel power from their legs and power will be needed to win this thing. The worst thing he can do is re-aggravate the injury once again doing this. I feel he is going to take it easy with at most 3 home runs. Not to mention he can’t even start the All Star Game because of his injury. Definitely don’t put your money on Kemp.
Carlos Beltran- St. Louis Cardinals RF
- Speaking of injury, next up is Carlos Beltran, the man made of straw. Somehow Beltran has made it through the first half of the season without an injury so he may try to keep it that way. On the other hand, he has the power and ability to switch hit so he could have an advantage. Beltran is that dark horse who could shock people. Remember when Vladimir Guerrero won the Derby back in 2007 and you could see the pain on his face every time he cracked one out of the park? Maybe Beltran could do the same. He does have experience hitting in the ballpark. Most people don’t remember that Beltran played for the Royals in the beginning of his career from 98 to 04 until going to Houston. I expect Beltran to be hitting right-handed, more on that later.
Andrew McCutchen- Pittsburgh Pirates CF
- Surprise! McCutchen is the new Derby participant replacing Giancarlo, who will miss the next month of action due to an injured knee. Honestly I don’t give McCutchen much of a chance. Yes, he’s a good hitter and yes, he is a potential MVP for this season, but McCutchen is not what I would consider a power hitter. I wish McCutchen the best of luck but I doubt he will win.
Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies OF
- Gonzalez has the possibility of really shocking some people. Much like Stanton, CarGo had a slow start to the season but since then is batting a crisp .336 with 17 HRs and 58 RBIs. The only All Star selection from Colorado, CarGo is in a similar standing as Cano was last year in the Derby, a serviceable power hitter who was predicted to do well but not win. Just like Cano, CarGo has the ability to win the whole damn thing, or he could have a performance like Brandon Inge three years ago. I’d say he is too much of a wildcard to put your money on.
Robinson Cano- New York Yankees 2B
- Reigning Derby champion, Cano has the ability to become only the 2nd repeat Derby champion since Griffey, Jr. in ’98 and ’99 (as well as ’94, Griffey’s first win). It’s very fitting to be comparing Cano to Jr. Cano’s swing is the best looking and most fluid I’ve seen since Griffey played. Both men are 2nd generation players, Junior obviously the son of Ken Griffey Sr. and Cano’s father is former Houston Astros pitcher Jose Cano (even though Jose only pitched in the majors for a month). It was fun last year watching Robinson Cano’s father throw pitches to his son with a scorned look on his face basically telling his son, “hit a HR or I kill you.” I really like Cano’s chances to repeat here.
Prince Fielder- Detroit Tigers 1B
- Fielder is a former Derby winner (2009) and has experience in the contest. He has been tearing it up in power numbers this past month. Could he be practicing for another Derby title? Last year, Fielder had a serviceable outing and just missed the final round. The one thing Fielder has that the other competitors may not is that he takes this thing seriously. Fielder really loves contests like these and actually wants to win, whereas the others may not care one way or the other. If you’re a betting person, I wouldn’t discount Fielder.
Jose Bautista- Toronto Blue Jays RF
- Bautista leads all of MLB in homeruns with 27 as of now and has the most power of the entire AL Team. Last year in Bautista’s Derby debut, he only hit 4 HRs and was eliminated in the first round. Many believe Bautista threw in the towel and feared possibly messing with his swing last year. I’m not the biggest conspiracy theorist but Bautista is in the later part of 31-years-old and only has so many years left. Plus Bautista’s contract is only $14 million per season for the next four years. After that he will be on the Yankees radar since they like their aging power hitters in the outfield. It’s possible that Bautista isn’t even doing it on purpose; he’s just more focused on hitting bombs for a Toronto team going nowhere. Of course after saying all that Bautista will probably win.
Mark Trumbo- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim LF/3B
- Trumbo is another one of the young guns in this Derby. He single handedly carried the Angels last season when Kendrys Morales went down after his 2nd injury-stricken walk-off celebration. Then this season, Trumbo and Mike Trout team up to carry the line-up while Albert Pujols and Morales struggled (I like to consider Trumbo and Trout the Batman and Robin of the Angels). Trumbo may be out to prove himself in the Derby and could possibly be victorious. Outside of L.A., not many people are aware of Trumbo so he may take advantage of this stage. I think Trumbo can surprise people like Nelson Cruz did back in 2009 (and almost won the whole thing).
With all that said, who am I predicting to win the Derby this year?
When it comes to selecting a winner for the Derby, the first thing I look at is the ballpark. The dimensions of Kauffman Stadium don’t really favor any hitters, lefties or righties.
The one telling stat about Kauffman Stadium is that right-handed hitters have hit more homeruns since the park was renovated in 1995 than left-handed hitters.
Normally during the Derby, I will favor the lefties since a lot of major league stadiums seem to favor the southpaws. Not to mention lefties are known for having quick swings, sometimes timing can be a huge factor in the Derby.
Out of the line-up, barring Stanton plays, we have four righties (possibly five if Beltran decides to bat right).
Now watch a lefty win this year but I’m sticking with a right-hander with my pick. Call me crazy but I kind of like Trumbo this year. He could come out of nowhere like Abreu did and win the whole thing.
I even went the extra distance and simulated a mock Derby on MLB: The Show 12. The winner turned out to be Prince Fielder with Cano at a close second.
I really wish I could pick two guys this year so my official pick will be Mark Trumbo and my secondary/back-up selection will be Robinson Cano since he is the reigning champion. Of course I could change this pick at some point before Monday night but for now I will take Trumbo/maybe Cano.