Home Run Derby guide
With no major or minor league games scheduled for Monday, the Home Run Derby is the soup du jour if you want to watch professional baseball players in action, and the sheer power on display from some of the game’s big thumpers can be breathtaking. So never mind that it’s just glorified batting practice; as we take a brief break from mulling over first half reviews, second half previews and trade deadline scenarios, we offer this handy cheat sheet for the Derby, which takes place tonight at 8 pm ET in Kansas City.
Ideally, the eight participating players would be the top home run hitters in each league, but the various stars needed to align in order to make that happen never do so; the captains for each league make their selections, but players decline invitations (as David Ortiz reportedly has) or bow out due to injuries (as Giancarlo Stanton did before undergoing knee surgery the other day). So instead we have the American League represented by Jose Bautista (tied for first at 27 homers), Mark Trumbo (tied for sixth at 22), captain Robinson Cano (tied for eighth at 20) and Prince Fielder (tied for 18th at 15), while the National League is represented by Carlos Beltran (second at 20), Andrew McCutchen (tied for fourth at 18), Carlos Gonzalez (tied for sixth at 17), and captain Matt Kemp (tied for 26th at 12 despite playing just two games after May 13 due to a recurrent hamstring injury). All can hit the ball out of the yard, without a doubt, but they’re not dominating the leaderboard.
|PLAYER||TEAM||2012 HR||HR/con||Career HR||HR/con|
The percentages in the above table are each player’s seasonal and career rates of home runs per batted ball — that’s HR / (AB – SO + SF) — a means of expressing home run frequency (call it HR/Con, short for Contact) that seems most applicable to the Derby, if not necessarily predictive given that Cano, the player with the lowest career rate, is the defending champion. Nonetheless, here’s a look at the contestants, in alphabetical order, as well as the venue in which they’ll be taking their cuts.
The Blue Jays slugger not only shares the major league lead in homers with Josh Hamilton at the break, he has hit by far the most of any major leaguer since the beginning of the 2010 season; his 124 are 32 more than runner-up Albert Pujols. Go back to the beginning of 2009, the year his transformation into an elite power hitter took off with a 10-homer September, and he’s still second with 137, between Pujols (140) and Fielder (131). Among the participants, Bautista’s career rate of HR/Con is third, his 2012 rate second, though the latter is just eighth among all players with at least 10 homers. Bautista participated in the Derby for the first time last year, but he failed to get out of the first round, hitting just four homers; only two players finished with fewer. He hasn’t had much success in KC, hitting two homers in 21 games, with an HR/Con rate of 3.6 percent.
Playing the part of the prodigal son returned is Beltran, who wore Royal blue from late 1998 through mid-2004. His 61 homers at Kauffman Stadium are more than 10 times the rest of the participating field’s total, and in fact are second only to Mike Sweeney among players over the last 20 seasons. Even so, his HR/Con rate there is a modest 4.6 percent. He’s a first-time participant in the Derby, but at 35, he’s also the elder statesman, and his 322 career home runs are the most in the field. He’s hit 20 in this, his first year with the Cardinals, putting him pace for his highest total since 2006, when he bopped 41 for the Mets.
The defending champion, Cano defeated Adrian Gonzalez in the finals last year, his first time participating in the Derby. As noted above, he’s the least homer-oriented of the field in terms of career HR/Con, but at age 29, he’s developing into more of a power hitter; his 20 homers this year put him well on pace to demolish his career high of 29, set in 2010. He’s never had a whole lot of success in KC, hitting three homers in 30 games there, for a HR/Con of 2.9 percent.
Though he’s just 28 years old, Fielder is the most experienced Derby participant. This is his fourth time in the event; he won in 2009, tied for third last year and finished sixth in 2007; additionally, his father, Cecil, participated three times from 1990-1993. Among the participants, the younger Fielder’s 8.0 percent career HR/Con is the highest, but his move out of Miller Park has had an impact; his 2012 rate of 5.3 percent is the lowest of his career. That said, he’s actually been more prolific at spacious Comerica Park (10 homers, 7.4 percent HR/Con) than on the road (five homers, 3.4 percent). He has yet to make himself at home in KC, failing to homer in six games thus far.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez is a first-time participant in the Derby. As a member of the Rockies, he plays in a park that’s among the game’s most conducive to homers; his career HR/Con at Coors Field (8.7 percent) is more than twice what it is everywhere else (4.2 percent), so it seems quite probable that his longball prowess won’t translate. He has just one homerless game at Kauffman under his belt.
After crushing a career-high 39 homers last year en route to a runner-up finish in the NL MVP voting, the 27-year-old Kemp appeared ready to top himself when he homered 12 times in April. Alas, he hasn’t hit one since, playing just 11 games while serving two stints on the disabled list due to a hamstring injury. Even so, his HR/Con is third among all players with at least 10 homers; Oakland’s Brandon Moss (10 homers, 17.5 percent) and Chicago’s Adam Dunn (25 homers, 15.5 percent) are the only players higher. Kemp is currently amid a rehab assignment, and there’s been a bit of grousing from the most curmudgeonly as to whether his participation is appropriate, to which we offer a Bronx cheer. This is an exhibition, and Kemp, who is scheduled to be activated right after the break, won’t be doing any running. It’s tough to blame him for wanting to participate, particularly with last year’s disappointing Derby showing in which he was eliminated after the first round, hitting a contest-low two homers. He has never played in Kansas City before.
The 25-year-old McCutchen is having a breakout season, particularly in the power department; his 18 homers are within shouting distance of his career-high 23, set just last year. The Pirates play in one of the game’s most homer-suppressing parks, but McCutchen’s career home and road splits are fairly even, with HR/Con rates of 4.6 and 4.3 percent, respectively; this year, they’re at 8.0 and 6.5 percent. Like Kemp, he has never played in KC before.
In just his second full major league season, the 26-year-old Trumbo has emerged as an elite power hitter; his 22 dingers aren’t that far off last year’s total of 29. His 2012 HR/Con is the third-highest rate of any participant, and ranks 11th in the majors overall. Trumbo has done this despite playing in the AL West, which features three homer-suppressing parks (Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle), but even so, his 2012 splits are identical, with 11 homers and 9.8 percent HR/Con rates at home and on the road.
The Royals’ home stadium opened in 1973, making it currently the majors’ sixth-oldest park, but it received a $250 million facelift from 2007-2009. At 330 feet down each foul line, 387 feet to left- and right-centerfield, and 410 to dead center, it’s not a homer-conducive park at all.
The Bill James Handbook 2012‘s park home run factor for 2009-2011 is just 77, meaning that it cuts home runs by 23 percent; only Target Field (76) is lower, while the new Busch Stadium is the same. For whatever reason, lefties have actually had a much tougher time at the park, with a park factor of 64 in that span (lower than any park besides Petco at 63), compared to 89 for righties (tied for eighth-lowest). That’s bad news for Cano, Fielder and Gonzalez, the participating lefties.