Who Will Win the 2017 Home Run Derby?
It's the battle of the century. Decades from now, children will look to their mothers and fathers, Cheerios running down the infants' chins, and ask, "Where were you for Judge v. Stanton?"
It may sound like a storied Supreme Court case that decides the future wellness of the United States, but it's clearly something much more important than that. How many times has the nation's highest court given us one of these?
Your move, RBG.
And while the Supreme Court has justices, they don't have a judge who can mash taters like this.
Stanton is the reigning champ, defending his own turf down at Marlins Park, which is hosting this year's All-Star festivities. Judge broke some guy named Joe DiMaggio's record for the most home runs in a rookie season for the New York Yankees. Yes, he broke that before the ceremonial halfway point. No, that is not human.
So who has the edge entering tonight's derby? If you turn to Vegas for help, you'll see that they're dead even. Both Stanton and Judge are +200 to win on Bovada, holding a major advantage over the rest of the pack. That means we'll have to do a bit more digging.
Let's break this thing down analytically to see who should be the favorite entering tonight's competition, which figures to be one for the ages. However, there are six other competitors in the field, all of whom worthy opponents. And as we'll see, it's possible one of them could have an even better shot than either of the two heavyweights.
Which Stats Matter?
Last year here on numberFire, we took a look at previous dinger fests to see which stats best translated into success for the individual players. The data was fairly definitive that we need to look at fly-ball rate.
Heading into that one, the leader in fly-ball rate entering the All-Star break had made the finals of the derby four consecutive years. The average finish of the leader in fly-ball rate at the derby was 2.2 in the previous five iterations. And 2016 followed that exact same pattern.
In that 2016 field were four batters who had fly-ball rates above 40.0% in the first half. All four won their first-round matchups, and the leader in fly-ball rate -- Todd Frazier -- lost to Stanton in the finals. Stanton's 43.9% fly-ball rate was third in the field behind Frazier and Adam Duvall. Even more so than hard-hit rate, fly-ball rate is the king of this competition.
Another data point that popped up as relevant was having the platoon advantage, in this case meaning batting from the side of the dish that has the upper hand at that specific stadium. We were to favor righties at Petco Park last year, and all four batters in the semis swung from that side of the dish. This year, left-handed batters have a slight advantage, according to RotoGrinders' platoon park factor page, though it is a below-average park on both sides, and the gap isn't overly large. Regardless, we should be giving a slight bump to lefties.
Who Will Win?
So, we know what we're looking for. We want a guy with a massive fly-ball rate who preferably swings from the left-hand side. Here's a chart of all eight contestants along with their seeding and Vegas odds for the event. The "Platoon?" column simply asks whether the player will have the platoon advantage with the left-handed batters receiving a "Yes" in that department.
Well. Looky there. If the discussion about lefties holding an advantage wasn't enough to convince you that others have a shot, maybe this will be.
The leader in fly-ball rate in the group is Cody Bellinger at 48.8%, a gap of almost two percentage points ahead of second-place Mike Moustakas. Both those guys are nine percentage points ahead of Stanton and Judge, and they both swing from the preferred side of the dish. That should get your attention.
Since Bellinger debuted in the big leagues on April 25th, nobody has more home runs than his 25, besting Judge by one. And Bellinger reached that plateau in seven fewer plate appearances than Judge. Stanton is six dingers behind Bellinger in that span, tied with Moustakas at 19.
Because of the way the brackets shook out, we won't have to wait until the finals to see Bellinger face one of the top names. He would hypothetically meet Judge in the second round, which would possibly be the most intriguing matchup of the entire bracket. They're both young pups who are lighting the world on fire, so why not have them spice things up early?
As for Moustakas, his path is tough, but his odds reflect it. He'll see Miguel Sano in the first round, and Sano has Judge- and Stanton-esque strength to go with the third-highest fly-ball rate in the competition. That should be a good pairing.
If Moustakas gets through that, he then has to deal with Stanton in Stanton's house for a crown the Miami Marlins' slugger has already won once. That's no small task. But as you can see with his fly-ball rate, Moustakas is up to the challenge, and he may be the most intriguing of the batters who are +1400 to snag the trophy.
This isn't to say that neither Stanton nor Judge will win. That would be a foolish assertion. But it seems clear that Bellinger is going too far overlooked, and Moustakas has the ability to play the darkhorse. Based on the odds, they seem to be the guys we should be favoring if we're looking to make the derby a little more interesting.
In the end, we may not get the matchup of Judge v. Stanton that we were promised. But that doesn't even matter. Judge and Bellinger figure to tango plenty of times in the years ahead, and Stanton's opponents will all be worthy foes. Regardless of how this thing cranks out, there is one thing of which we can be certain: if you're a fan of dongs, moonshots, and sweet pairings, tonight is going to be fun.