2018 MLB Home Run Derby Betting Guide
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.
|Player||Open Odds||Current Odds||Implied Win Probability|
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?
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 %|
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 baseballsavant.com, 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 %|
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!
There is no day without a homer on the menu for Jesus Aguilar. #Brewers pic.twitter.com/wiV7d5gGlQ
â€” Today in MLB (@TodayintheMLB) July 13, 2018
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:
Bryce Harper left no doubt on this home run.pic.twitter.com/NBTnm1z2av
â€” Juiced MLB (@JuicedMLB) July 3, 2018