2012 Home Run Derby contestants and their numbers

All statistics are current through July 3, 2012.

The whole All-Star star break is kind of a joke. We let the fans and the players pick “the best” to represent each league in a grudge match that “counts,*” but like a high school or national election, it is the popular who always seem to win. Derek Jeter (15th among qualified shortstops in WAR (+1.0) this season, batting .267/.318/.342 since May 1) is the starting AL shortstop while Yunel Escobar (+1.5 WAR) is left off the roster and not-even-top-10-but-just-as-valuable-as-Escobar shortstop Rafael Furcal is the NL’s starting shortstop ahead of better performing players like Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Jed Lowrie and Ian Desmond.

The token representation system would rather have the Cubs represented by Bryan LaHair (+1.1 WAR). Heck, do we even need this charade that every team must be represented? I mean did the 2010 version of Marlon Byrd really need to make the roster over Carlos Gonzalez? If the All Star game really “counts,” then shouldn’t the best of each league be squaring off instead of the beauty pageant we put on every year?

*Note: who wins the World Series “advantage” is only an “advantage” if the series goes to Game Seven. That has happened only once (last year) since the whole “it counts” thing began in 2003. If the Series goes less than seven games, the “loser” of the All-Star game actually has the upside of “home field advantage” given the two-three-two ballpark system in place.

The Home Run Derby’s set-up is no less puzzling. While it is nice that the contestants are no longer confined to All-Star selectees, the rule letting last year’s top-scoring league representatives choose the field is equally bizarre. What standards govern who is to be selected? Are we looking at batting practice power (if so, then where is Ichiro Suzuki?)? Are we looking at raw power (if so, then where are Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, Curtis Granderson and Joey Votto)?

Are we basing the NL selection solely on whether the player’s name has “Carlos” in it (if so, where is Carlos Ruiz?)? Why does there have to be four players from each league if the Home Run Derby doesn’t count for anything other than pure ratings—especially if players from the real “home team” routinely fail to make the rosters (though, to be fair, no one wants to see Billy Butler hit 10 doubles and then sit down).

It is nice to see Giancarlo Stanton finally playing this year, but where is Bryce Harper? While Harper’s longest home run this year would be shorter than any of the current contestants, and while his isolated power and at-bats per home run rate would trail the current group of players, his raw power is flat out impressive. Harper’s longest home run might be shorter than any of the current eight contestants (at 438 feet), but his average home run distance (420.1 feet) is the greater than any of them.

Moreover, his average speed of the ball off the bat (107.7 mph) would also lead the current Home Run Derby contestant crowd—all the more impressive considering that only 46 percent of all pitches thrown to Harper have been fastballs when something like 60 percent of all the pitches thrown this year have been fastballs. Among all qualifying hitters, only Alfonso Soriano (who can hit only fastballs) and Hamilton (who absolutely crushes them) have seen fewer fastballs than Harper this year. This speaks miles to Harper’s bat speed, an important attribute in a contest like the home run derby where change-ups are lobbed and the batter needs to supply more “counter kinetic” energy to drive the ball the distance. My best guess, however, is that Matt Kemp does not read FanGraphs.

That rant aside, let’s break down the 2012 Home Run Derby. The National League is being represented by Kemp (captain), Stanton, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gonzalez. The American League is being represented by Robinson Cano (captain and 2011 Home Run Derby champion), Jose Bautista (who embarrassed my predictions last year), Mark Trumbo and Prince Fielder.

Let’s begin with the change in ballpark from Chase Field to Kauffman Stadium.

Last year at Chase Stadium, the roof was closed. This year’s contest is outdoors. That is an important factor because, beyond things such as as wind, temperature and humidity are key variables to flyball distance. Research from 20 years ago indicates that the difference in flyball distance between 50 degree and 90 degree temperatures varied by 16 feet, while more recent studies have shown that every 10 degree change in temperature above/below the low 70s results in a three to five-foot change in expected flyball distance.

A few feet might seem negligible, but anyone who watches the Home Run Derby knows that plenty of fly balls either just make it or just miss the wall throughout the competition. An open roof in the high 90s last year could have had much different results than a closed roof with controlled comfortable temperatures and neutralized humidity. This year, Weather.com is projecting thunderstorms and a high temperature of 91 and low of 71 at Kauffman Stadium for the Home Run Derby, with expected humidity ranging between 49 percent and 63 percent.

Another key factor this year is going to be the ballpark dimensions. You can see, pictured below, the dimensional differences between the two parks (courtesy of Hit Tracker):

Kauffman Stadium is one of the hardest ballparks in the major leagues to hit home runs in. StatCorner says it has a home run index of 73 for left-handed batters and a factor of 85 for right-handed batters. Neutral is 100; anything below that is bad news for batters. By comparison, Chase Field’s home run park factor is 114 for left-handed batters, and 102 for right-handed hitters.

That means that, in theory, right-handed batters should have the upper hand this year. Second, were all else equal, we should expect fewer balls hit to result in home runs this year. But of course not all is equal. We have new contestants and even those returning are a year older and in different physical condition. Further, the sample size of events occurring is small enough that anything is possible.

Noting that anything can happen, and adding the disclaimer that predicting a Home Run Derby is more random than predicting the outcome of a single baseball game, let’s break down the statistics of this year’s contestants. First, let’s look at some comparable player data, starting with the standard numbers:

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Name Team Age LHB/RHB? HR AB/HR HR/OFFB 2012 ISO Career ISO xBH
Matt Kemp LAD 27 RHB 12 10.1 41.4% 0.364 0.209 19
Giancarlo Stanton MIA 22 RHB 19 14.9 16.4% 0.272 0.266 39
Carlos Beltran STL 35 Switch 20 13.8 26.0% 0.261 0.215 31
Carlos Gonzalez COL 26 LHB 17 17.4 26.6% 0.260 0.229 39
Robinson Cano NYY 29 LHB 20 15.6 31.7% 0.273 0.194 44
Jose Bautista TOR 31 RHB 27 11.0 26.2% 0.307 0.234 37
Mark Trumbo LAA 26 RHB 20 13.5 26.7% 0.300 0.244 38
Prince Fielder DET 28 LHB 12 25.3 15.8% 0.184 0.252 31

There are some things to note, besides Kemp’s arguably playing-time-skewed numbers. First, at least on the surface, Fielder looks like the “odd man out” this year with his low isolated power rate since his rookie season in 2005. Fielder, by a mile, has the highest at-bat per home run rate of any participant (at 25.3). Cargo, spacing 17.4 at bats between home runs, has the second highest rate. Still, Fielder is safely middle of the pack in terms of average home run distance and longest home run of the season.

Further, as noted below, Fielder is tied with Stanton with the second highest ball-off-the-bat speed of any participant (50.8 percent of all pitches seen have been fastballs). Fielder has the longest and most consistent record of legitimate power of any of this year’s contestants, is in his prime, has four no-doubt home runs this year and is the only contestant with zero “lucky” or “just enough” dingers. Equally encouraging is the fact that Fielder’s overall power numbers are suppressed by a power-less April (.136 ISO). I would not count Fielder out as a dark horse to win, save for the fact that Kauffman Stadium’s original ballpark name was “death to lefties.”

On the opposite spectrum from Fielder is Trumbo, a total wild card for me. While possessing good pop (.223 ISO last year, .300 ISO this year), he does not possess the best contact skills (74.6 percent this year against an 80-plus percent major league average). Trumbo tends to swing and miss a lot (12.3 percent career whiff rate versus a 8.5-9 percent annual league rate), and a lot of his success in the derby will likely hinge on whether he properly squares up the ball. I guess that can be said about any derby participant, but the peripherals make it seem even more true for Trumbo.

Lastly, what is up with Beltran? He’s 35 years old and injury prone, but playing like it’s 2006 all over again. Can he be trusted and stay healthy in the second half? These are questions without clear answers, but the numbers show that Beltran is showing excellent power from both sides, and he’s always had good laser beam power. Beltan’s biggest weakness in the derby might be his relatively low flyball rate (39.6 percent) and higher than average popup rate (12.5 percent).

Next, let’s look at some “advanced” home run statistics of each, courtesy of Hit Tracker, starting with average true home run distance and longest home run distance:

Name Avg True HR Dist Longest HR
Matt Kemp 400.2 feet 454 feet
Giancarlo Stanton 406.4 feet 462 feet
Carlos Beltran 408.9 feet 464 feet
Carlos Gonzalez 412.4 feet 445 feet
Robinson Cano 406.8 feet 440 feet
Jose Bautista 403.3 feet 455 feet
Mark Trumbo 420.1 feet 459 feet
Prince Fielder 413.0 feet 456 feet

Average speed of home runs off of bat:

Name Off Bat Speed
Matt Kemp 101.8 MPH
Giancarlo Stanton 107.1 MPH
Carlos Beltran 104.5 MPH
Carlos Gonzalez 106.0 MPH
Robinson Cano 105.2 MPH
Jose Bautista 106.5 MPH
Mark Trumbo 107.2 MPH
Prince Fielder 107.1 MPH

And a breakdown of each player’s spray chart:

Name %Pull %Middle %Opposite
Matt Kemp 8.3% 33.3% 58.3%
Giancarlos Stanton 63.2% 26.3% 10.5%
Carlos Gonzalez 41.2% 47.1% 11.8%
Robinson Cano 65.0% 30.0% 5.0%
Jose Bautista 88.9% 7.4% 3.7%
Mark Trumbo 65.0% 25.0% 10.0%
Prince Fielder 75.0% 16.7% 8.3%

I had to put Beltran in his own special chart because he’s a switch hitter. Here’s his spray chart:

%Right Field %Center Field %Left Field
Carlos Beltran 55.0% 20.0% 25.0%

Kemp’s had a lot of opposite field power this year, and that could work to his disadvantage in the Home Run Derby this year. However, Kemp’s 2009-2011 spray chart shows Kemp has plenty of pull and dead-center power, so I wouldn’t be worried about what his 36-game sample size says about his tendency to hit opposite field home runs this year. CarGo has ample dead-center power too, which in theory should work to his advantage as a lefty in Kauffman, but his home (.305 ISO this year, .287 career) versus away (.190 ISO this year, .166 career) splits indicate the park might turn out to be a true challenge to his chances of getting past the first round.

I would likely put my money on Stanton or Bautista. I really like their raw power, handedness and bat speed. But then again, I said that about Bautista last year, and he did not make it out of the first round (and Robinson Cano won the derby).

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below. You can catch me on ESPN Radio 1420 Honolulu this Friday July 6 at 2:30 PM discussing the home run derby. Catch the feed live online by clicking here.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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10 years ago

Great read, really enjoyed it

10 years ago

This is spectacular data which I have further analyzed to determine where I am going to place myself in the right field SRO seats to optimize my chances at catching a homer.  Thanks!

Jeffrey Gross
10 years ago

Thanks for the nice words Dan and Joel! I’m really glad I was able to find time to write my first article in a few months amid the end of the bar exam prep.

10 years ago

you’re not a law student anymore, jeff…

Jeffrey Gross
10 years ago

@Steve: Yeah. I’m actually licensed to practice in one state, soon two…good call, I should update my profile!

Kevin Sickle
10 years ago

Excellent article, Jeff!  Really impressed with the research and writing.

Jeffrey Gross
10 years ago

Thanks kevin!

10 years ago

Where the heck is Jay Bruce? Honestly who wants to see ancient Carlos Beltran?

10 years ago

Roby cano is going to get boo’ed at so bad.

Chris Taylor
10 years ago

Very good read but is there an update on this considering Stanton is out due to his knee? I don’t know that McCutchen is the best choice as a replacement. He does have power though just expected someone else. But we’ll see if they made a good choice in McCutchen.

don donaudy
10 years ago

I think you’re way off base. The All Star game is a show for the fans. As such they are entitled to see there favorite players and popularity is the measuring stick. I am glad you aren’t my grandson’s little league coach. Most of the kids on his team wouldn’t get to play. Great research though!