2018 MLB Home Run Derby Betting Guide

Bryce Harper opened the betting favorite, but should we be putting our money on another slugger to take home the title?

Last year was the year of the home run in Major League Baseball. Thanks to the launch angle movement, suped-up balls or some combination of the two, the league exploded to the tune of a record 6,105 home runs.

So far in 2018, we've seen a shift toward normalcy. While hitters tallied 3,343 homers to this date a year ago, the total stands at just 3,189 -- 154 fewer -- through the games of July 12th. Still, that's a boatload of dingers.

Which brings us to the home run derby.

We won't get into the tournament bracket, the ever-changing format and all the details, but on Monday night, eight batters will square off for this year's title at Nationals Park. Last year's champion, Aaron Judge, has opted not to defend his title, so it's a new batch of potential champions, including the home park favorite Bryce Harper.

According to Bovada's opening odds for the derby, Harper was also the betting favorite to take home the hardware. But roughly 24 hours later, he's no longer on top.

The Field

Player Open Odds Current Odds Implied Win Probability
Kyle Schwarber +900 300 25.00%
Bryce Harper 275 325 23.53%
Jesus Aguilar 350 450 18.18%
Rhys Hoskins 550 550 15.38%
Javier Baez 600 550 15.38%
Max Muncy 500 650 13.33%
Freddie Freeman 550 800 11.11%
Alex Bregman 900 1100 8.33%

The Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber has watched his Vegas-implied win probability go from just 10.0% -- tied for last to open -- to more than double that in the matter of a day. In terms of other movement, Harper's chances have taken a small dip to second while breakout star Jesus Aguilar's odds have decreased along with those of the out-of-nowhere Max Muncy, All-Star Freddie Freeman and longshot Alex Bregman.

There's been some odd changes, to say the least, but that should allow smart bettors to take advantage. But how can we find value among all the noise that comes with what feels like a crapshoot of a contest?

Past Winners

For the past two years, numberFire's Jim Sannes took a look at Derby trends, with an emphasis on the hard-hit and fly-ball rates of participants and winners. I've extended that a step further in the chart below, which shows the first-half numbers behind the past 12 champions before the derby that season.

Year Champion Handedness Home Runs ISO FB% HR/FB% HH %
2017 Aaron Judge R 30 .362 37.5% 41.7% 49.0%
2016 Giancarlo Stanton R 20 .262 43.9% 26.3% 39.9%
2015 Todd Frazier R 25 .301 48.6% 18.4% 38.9%
2014 Yoenis Cespedes R 14 .195 49.5% 10.0% 29.0%
2013 Yoenis Cespedes R 15 .195 47.8% 13.6% 30.4%
2012 Prince Fielder L 15 .206 33.1% 16.1% 33.1%
2011 Robinson Cano L 15 .225 31.8% 16.0% 28.7%
2010 David Ortiz L 18 .299 47.8% 20.9% 38.9%
2009 Prince Fielder L 22 .299 44.4% 20.8% 41.4%
2008 Justin Morneau L 14 .189 36.0% 12.4% 31.5%
2007 Vladimir Guerrero R 14 .222 35.6% 13.9% 36.3%
2006 Ryan Howard L 28 .304 35.0% 35.9% 39.5%

It's clear to see that the past five winners have all been right-handed bats. Oddly enough, we had a string of five straight left-handed champions from 2008 to 2012, preceded by the alternating wins of Ryan Howard in 2006 and Vladimir Guerrero in 2007.

As for the five statistical categories, the minimums for winners have been: 14 home runs, a .189 isolated power (ISO), 31.8% fly-ball rate, 10.0% home-run-to-fly-ball rate and 28.7% hard-hit rate. Meanwhile, the averages among them are: 19.2 homers, a .255 ISO, 40.9% fly-ball rate, 20.5% home-run-to-fly-ball rate and 36.4% hard-hit rate.

To take it one step further, using Statcast numbers via, we can see that of the past three winners -- as far as the data goes back -- two have had averaged batted-ball distances beyond 200 feet while all three have put together distances beyond 330 on fly balls and 400-plus on homers only.

Both Judge and Giancarlo Stanton had an average launch angle in the 13-degree area with Todd Frazier -- an outlier of sorts -- at 18.5. However, the three of them are bunched together in average fly-ball launch angle (ranging from 36.2 to 37.4 degrees) with Judge and Frazier posting average home run angle of 27-plus degrees. Stanton was at just 23.9 in the first half of his winning year.

What type of numbers do this year's contestants enter with?

Player Handedness Home Runs ISO FB% HR/FB% HH %
Jesus Aguilar R 24 .337 44.7% 28.2% 46.3%
Bryce Harper L 23 .260 40.0% 25.6% 41.2%
Max Muncy L 21 .333 44.7% 30.9% 45.8%
Alex Bregman R 19 .246 43.5% 14.1% 40.3%
Javier Baez R 18 .271 32.9% 22.8% 37.8%
Kyle Schwarber L 17 .243 37.8% 26.2% 41.5%
Freddie Freeman L 16 .222 32.9% 17.6% 44.0%
Rhys Hoskins R 14 .211 49.3% 13.3% 31.9%

Not only does Aguilar lead this year's field -- and the National League -- in the volume-dependent home run category, but he's also first in ISO and hard-hite rate as well as second in fly-ball and home-run-to-fly-ball rate. Put simply: dude is mashing!

After Aguilar (composite rank: 7), if we're ranking the participants by their composite ranks across the five above stats, it is as follows (with the lower scorer being better): Muncy (10), Harper (20), Schwarber (25), Bregman (26), Baez (27), Freeman (30) and Hoskins (33). If you want to look at it as tiers, we've got Aguilar and Muncy at the top, followed by Harper and three others, while Freeman and Hoskins bring up the rear.

For what it's worth, if we're looking back at the small sample of Statcast numbers, Aguilar and Muncy have much steeper launch angles across the board. However, they're right around the ideal batted-ball distances (Aguilar at 211 feet on all, 341 on fly balls and 394 on homers; Muncy at 205, 351 and 401) of the past three winners.

If we're choosing between the two, Aguilar has the advantage statistically while Muncy makes for the better bet at longer odds. We have to consider one more thing, though, and that's from which side of the plate they're hitting -- one from the right and one from the left -- and the venue they're hitting in. Aguilar draws the advantage in this category.

Over the last 12 years, 7 times has the winner taken advantage of the field with the higher park factor, in terms of home runs, for their side of the plate (per FanGraphs). One of the five times it didn't lead to the winner turned out to be a wash (Prince Fielder in 2012). According to 2017's numbers, Nationals Park favors righties by a factor of 100 to 95.

Furthering the advantage is the fact that of all home runs hit there this year, those by lefties have an average launch angle of 29.3 degrees compared to 27.5 for righties. On one hand, that could mean that it requires less of an angle in the places where righties hit homers more (mostly out in the left field porch), but it could also speak to wind conditions or nothing more than just higher hit balls from left-handers. Although it's worth noting that nearly just as many homers have come from lefties (55) as righties (59) despite 486 fewer batted-ball instances for lefties. Harper factor or not, that's a sizable advantage to lefties.

Making Your Picks

You can't go wrong with either Aguilar or Muncy as a value bet, and of the two, Aguilar seems the better candidate to win the contest, given past history and the decided park factor advantage. If you're just playing the return, though, you can't go wrong with getting 20 dollars more on every 10 for Muncy.

As for a longshot play, Bregman has undeniable appeal. His composite rank (among the stats that we've decided to consider here) has him fifth in the field compared to his eighth-place spot in Vegas odds.

Don't be tempted by Schwarber's climbing odds. He's now overvalued in comparison to Harper, who sits second in odds but a tidy third in the composite score -- but first in going yard in this very ballpark: