2016 Home Run Derby Analytics: Who Is the Favorite?
Things be slow in the sports world once Major League Baseball hits its All-Star break. The WNBA is off today, and there's not a whole lot cooking for the NBA, NHL, or NFL offseasons.
They're just making way for the unrivaled spectacle that is the home run derby.
Yes, ladies and gents, as all other leagues slow to a halt, we get to watch baseball's best launch long dongs and mash taters into the night sky. It may not be the world's most exciting event, but at least it gives us something over which to obsess when I can't yell obscenities during some random Minnesota Twins game.
We know the participants, and we know the venue. But whom should we expect to come out on top once the dingers have all landed? Because there's legitimately nothing better to do, let's go where you never thought you wanted to go before and delve into derby analytics.
By checking out the past five derbies, we can formulate a list of traits that are most conducive to success in the event. We can then take those lessons and apply them to this year's field to find an expected champion.
Is it overkill? Oh heck yeah. But am I still at least a tiny bit intrigued? You bet your breezers. Let's check it out.
Because things such as strikeouts, walks, and doubles don't matter for an event like a home run derby, we can't use our normal set of metrics to determine which player will come out on top. Instead, we can focus all of our attention on batted-ball stats.
The two most obvious sources of deliciousness here are hard-hit rate and fly-ball rate, both of which can be found on each players' FanGraphs page. If a player excels in these two areas, you'd expect him to do well in a format such as this.
In trying to predict what will happen tonight, we only have data for what the players have done in the first half of the season. As such, when looking back on the past five derbies, only a player's hard-hit rate and fly-ball rate from the first half were included in the discussion. This way, we could see who was swinging it the best when they actually took the field.
But what about hot streaks and current form? Do they matter, and should we be factoring them into our decision-making processes?
We start to get relevant sample sizes for both of those once we hit a three-week mark. If a batter had posted absurd numbers in the three weeks before the derby, then it may be logical to think they would carry that form into the batting cages. This necessitated a look at how the sluggers did in the three weeks leading up to the derby to see whether or not this was relevant info.
There are some hitters who excelled in either just hard-hit rate or just fly-ball rate. There were some who were doing well in both. As such, let's also check out the sum of the two marks -- which we'll call hard-fly rate -- to see if combining the two can give us a better predictive measure of results.
The table below shows how the leader in each metric entering the derby fared that respective season. These are the average first-round home run totals and average overall finishes for each player who led the derby participants in each category. The "P3" rows refer to the leaders in those categories over the three weeks prior to the home run derby. For some context, the average number of first-round home runs for the entire five-season sample was 6.2, and the average finish was 4.5.
|Category||Average Home Runs||Average Finish|
|P3 Hard Leader||5.6||6.0|
|P3 Fly Leader||6.2||5.4|
|P3 Hard-Fly Leader||7.4||4.2|
Based on this, there are really only two categories that jump out as being superbly helpful: fly-ball rate and hard-fly rate for the entire season. Current form didn't seem to matter much outside of a slight advantage for the hard-fly leader over the previous three weeks.
Grouping the data like this may actually undersell the importance of fly-ball rate. Back in 2011, Jose Bautista had the highest fly-ball rate of all derby participants, but he came home with a sixth-place finish. In the four seasons since, the leader in fly-ball rate has been in the finals each and every season, and they have won the past three. Not only does that make sense given the nature of the format, but it also seems like we've found some actionable info.
All of this is before we consider the role of platoon splits at a given park. Over the past four seasons, the 22 players with the platoon advantage (based on the home-run rate for each handedness at the park in which the derby took place) have logged an average finish of 4.5. The 12 without that advantage have an average finish of 5.3. The only winner over the past four years who didn't have the platoon advantage was Prince Fielder in 2012, but that was after he barely reached the second round with five home runs in the first. Bautista -- who did have the platoon advantage -- led all hitters with 11 home runs in the first round that year and finished second.
By looking at the recent derby history, we can see that a batter's fly-ball rate, hard-fly rate, and handedness are likely the three most important factors for predicting success. What does that tell us about the 2016 field?
Handicapping the Field
Since the start of the 2014 season, right-handed batters hold a dinger advantage at Petco Park in San Diego with a 2.55 home-run rate. Left-handed batters are at 2.17 over that span, and the gap has widened a bit this year. Right-handed batters figure to hold a decent edge over their left-handed counterparts in tonight's affair.
With that in mind, below are this year's participants with their relevant information based on what we saw in investigating the past five derbies. In the "Platoon?" column, any batters marked "Yes" will swing from the right-hand side, thus giving them the upper hand at this specific park.
|Seed||Participant||Fly-Ball Rate||Hard-Fly Rate||Platoon?|
The guy with the highest fly-ball rate entering this year is none other than the defending champ, Todd Frazier. He also has the platoon advantage, meaning he should likely be near the top of our list.
The hard-fly numbers give us a bit of a different picture. Frazier's hard-hit rate this year is just 31.9%, causing him to slide behind Adam Duvall, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mark Trumbo when the two are combined. When Frazier won it last year, he led the field in both fly-ball rate and hard-fly rate, so this lends a bit of extra uncertainty.
Fortunately for Frazier, there is a bit of a saving grace. When Yoenis Cespedes won in both 2014 and 2013, his hard-hit rates were lower than where Frazier's at right now. You can win the derby with a low hard-hit rate if you've got a jacked-up fly-ball rate, and that's what Frazier has right now. That could be enough to make him the favorite entering the night.
Currently, Bovada has Stanton as the favorite at +300, followed by Trumbo at +375 and Frazier at +500. The sleeper here, though, would appear to be Duvall, who's chilling all the way down at +700. Of the four clear-cut leaders, he's the one Vegas considers to be the biggest longshot. If you and your friends wanted to hypothetically put a can of pop on the line using these odds, Duvall could be a fun pony to pick.
Cespedes was able to pull of the repeat in 2014. If history is any indication, Frazier may be able to do exactly the same tonight given the fly-ball tendencies he flashed the first half of the season. But don't sleep on a long-shot like Duvall, who may be waiting to leap up and snatch that crown right off his former teammate's head.