2023 Dwelling Run Derby Preview: Swinging for the Fences in Seattle

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Within the midst of a season by which he gained AL Rookie of the Yr honors and helped the Mariners break their 21-year playoff drought, Julio Rodríguez took a star flip at the 2022 Home Run Derby. The 21-year-old phenom thrilled the group at Dodger Stadium by crushing 32 homers within the first spherical, together with 9 of a minimum of 440 ft, and defeated Corey Seager, 32-24. He adopted that by knocking off two-time defending champion Pete Alonso within the semifinals, 31-23, earlier than falling to Juan Soto within the finals, 19-18. With this yr’s Derby happening at Seattle’s T-Cell Park, Rodríguez will attempt to grow to be the fourth participant to win the occasion on his residence discipline, after the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg (1990), the Reds’ Todd Frazier (2015), and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (2018).

What’s extra, Rodríguez, who’s seeded seventh this yr on the premise of the eight contributors’ residence run totals by means of July 4, will once more match up with the second-seeded Alonso within the first spherical — a pairing that coincidentally options the one two returning contributors from final yr. The stakes are excessive for Alonso right here, as he’s nonetheless looking for to hitch Seattle icon Ken Griffey Jr. as the one three-time winners in Derby historical past. To do this, he could must defeat one other acquainted opponent: sixth-seeded Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was the runner-up when Alonso gained for the primary time in 2019.

I’ll get to the contributors shortly, however first, the format, which is alongside the traces of what has been used for the occasion since 2015, a set of modifications that has achieved wonders for the watchability of this spectacle. The competitors might be an eight-man, single elimination bracket that makes use of timed rounds of three minutes apiece for the primary two rounds and two minutes for the ultimate spherical, by which level the rivals are typically fairly gassed. Every competitor will get an extra 30-second bonus in every spherical, and may earn an extra 30-second bonus if he hits a minimum of two residence runs with projected distances of a minimum of 440 ft in response to Statcast.

Every participant is allowed to name one 45-second timeout to be used throughout regulation time; it could’t be used throughout bonus time, although every participant will get a break between the regulation and bonus segments. The lower-seeded participant in every spherical goes first, and the spherical will finish within the equal of a walk-off if the upper seed surpasses his complete. If two contestants are tied after the bonus time, they every get a 60-second spherical with no bonus time or timeouts, and in the event that they’re nonetheless tied after that, they every get rounds of three swings apiece till a winner is determined. The winner of the Derby will take residence $1 million of the $2.5 million complete pot.

The Derby arrives amid a season by which residence run charges are on the rebound thanks a minimum of partly to a livelier ball — one with a lower coefficient of drag — than final yr’s. The place groups averaged 1.07 residence runs per recreation final yr, the bottom mark since 2015, they’re as much as 1.16 this yr, proper round the place they have been in ’16 and ’18 however nonetheless beneath the record-setting ’19 season (1.39 per recreation) and the elevated charges of ’20 and ’21. Equally, hard-hit fly balls — these with an exit velocity of 95 mph or increased — are touring a mean of 366 ft, one foot farther than final yr however one lower than 2021, and 9 ft beneath the height in 2019. Nevertheless, they don’t carry as properly at T-Cell Park, which is simply 10 ft above sea stage, close to the water, and one of many hardest parks to hit in total. This yr, those self same hard-hit fly balls are averaging 359 ft at T-Cell, one foot lower than final yr and 9 ft lower than 2019:

The influence of T-Cell’s residence run suppression is principally upon left-handed batters, owing to the longer distance to right-center (385 ft) than left-center (378 ft). Lefty hitters have a 94 park home run factor by our five-year methodology (six % beneath league common), the place righties have a 102 issue (two % above league common). By Statcast’s three-year methodology, the break up is extra excessive, with 90 for lefties and 104 for righties. Thus it shouldn’t be all that shocking that the entire contestants on this yr’s Derby are righties, save for switch-hitter Adley Rutschman, who figures to bat righty. On that observe, right here’s the total bracket:

And right here’s a take a look at the sector with some related stats:

2023 Dwelling Run Derby Discipline

Seed Participant PA HR HR/PA HR/Con HR/FB EVF Avg HR Barrel% 440
1 Luis Robert Jr. 375 26 6.9% 11.2% 25.2% 95.9 406 15.5% 9
2 Pete Alonso 348 26 7.5% 11.3% 24.5% 94.2 404 14.8% 23
3 Mookie Betts 396 26 6.6% 9.5% 19.4% 96.1 397 12.8% 2
4 Adolis García 393 23 5.9% 9.0% 19.0% 96.2 401 16.4% 4
5 Randy Arozarena 376 16 4.3% 7.1% 17.6% 95.0 400 14.6% 1
6 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 384 13 3.4% 4.5% 13.8% 96.2 409 13.6% 16
7 Julio Rodríguez 397 13 3.3% 4.9% 14.6% 94.0 394 9.8% 3
8 Adley Rutschman# 383 12 3.1% 4.5% 12.5% 91.9 403 6.7% 1

All statistics by means of July 9. EVF (exit velocity on fly balls), Avg HR (common home-run distance) and 440 (profession complete of residence runs projected for a minimum of 440 ft) by way of Baseball Savant. # = Swap hitter.

The tactic of seeding is unsophisticated, because the gamers are ranked based mostly upon what number of residence runs they’d hit when the sector was finalized on July 4, with residence runs since June 15 used as a tiebreaker. By that methodology, one needed to go all the way in which right down to the tie for 63rd to incorporate all eight contributors. Dwelling run totals are hardly the one measure of a slugger’s functionality, significantly on this context, and whereas it’s truthful to query the applicability of any of the above metrics I’ve gathered relating to non-game conditions, it’s value appreciating the angle they supply on this group. I’ve gone past the uncooked totals to point out how typically every contestant homers per plate look, per batted ball [HR/ (AB – SO + SF)], and per fly ball, with their common exit velocities on flies, their common projected residence run distance, and their barrel charge, which in response to a 2019 research by Devan Fink correlates greatest with current Derby success. I’ve additionally included every participant’s Statcast-era complete of homers with projected distances of least 440 ft, the edge that the current Derbies (save for the 2021 one at Coors Discipline) have used for the space bonus.

Truthfully, it’s not essentially the most dazzling discipline. Not that they might have participated if wholesome, but it surely’s a bummer to not have Aaron Judge or Mike Trout; the latter has by no means participated within the contest. We don’t get Shohei Ohtani, main league residence run chief, although it’s powerful to begrudge the two-way famous person some relaxation on the heels of what could have been the best month in main league historical past. No Ronald Acuña Jr., who’s not solely within the midst of an unbelievable season by way of energy and pace but additionally hits for unbelievable distance; his 426-foot common on residence runs is the best amongst any participant with greater than three homers. There’s no Soto to defend his title, and no Harper, both, although that’s comprehensible given the latter’s less-than-full-powered restoration from offseason Tommy John surgical procedure. Guerrero is definitely the one different participant in addition to Rodríguez and Alonso with earlier expertise on this contest, and considered one of solely three contributors with 100 profession homers, in comparison with seven of eight final yr.

Nonetheless, it’s a enjoyable sufficient format that it must be entertaining nonetheless. Right here’s a take a look at the 4 matchups

(1) Robert vs. (8) Rutschman

The 25-year-old Robert is within the midst of his greatest season. He’s second within the AL in homers behind Ohtani, and has already hit greater than his 2021 and ’22 seasons mixed (25). That has one thing to do with staying wholesome, as he performed simply 166 video games in these two seasons, however he’s additionally barreling the ball extra constantly this yr. He has the second-highest barrel charge of the group, in addition to the second-highest common residence run distance, and till Sunday he was additionally second in fly ball exit velocity earlier than slipping behind in a crowded discipline. Given all that, he may very well be a really enjoyable contestant.

The 25-year-old Rutschman is already an All-Star, a franchise cornerstone, and a face of baseball within the making, however statistically, it’s laborious to make a case as to why he’s a part of this discipline. He’s final among the many group in each class above — generally by so much — apart from common residence run distance, the place he leapfrogged from sixth to fourth on Sunday by hitting the longest residence run of his profession, a 461-footer into the higher deck at Goal Discipline; the truth is, that’s the longest of any of this yr’s Derby contributors as properly. What he has going for him past that demonstration of potential energy is the native hook. He’s a local of Portland who starred at Oregon State, and he’s simply the only option of candidates who’re both native to Oregon or Washington or went to varsity in these states (apologies to Michael Conforto and Jake Lamb). That ought to make him one of many fan favorites.

(2) Alonso vs. (7) Rodríguez

Earlier than struggling a bone bruise and sprained left wrist when he was hit by a Charlie Morton pitch on June 7, the 28-year-old Alonso was setting a 57-homer tempo. In inserting him on the IL, the Mets introduced, “A typical return to play for one of these harm is roughly 3–4 weeks,” however Alonso spent simply the minimal 10 days sidelined. He’s homered 4 occasions since returning and is at present tied with Betts for second within the NL in homers, however has hit simply .147/.267/.347 because the harm whereas producing a mean exit velocity of 87 mph, with an 7.7% barrel charge. All of which is to say that he is probably not 100%, which is a disgrace, as a result of a wholesome Alonso is as completely constructed for this competitors as any participant within the majors. One factor to notice is that the place Mets bench coach Dave Jauss was an enormous a part of Alonso’s success as his pitcher within the final two Derbies, this time round Mike Friedlein, Alonso’s travel ball coach from when he was a Tampa teenager, might be throwing to him.

At 22, Rodríguez is the youngest participant for the second yr in a row. His season to this point hasn’t been as much as the extent of his stellar rookie marketing campaign, although the drop-off isn’t as extensive as his 51-point drop in wOBA suggests. His exit velocity is 0.8 mph increased and his Best Speed exit velo — the typical of his prime 50% of batted balls, a better indictor of efficiency — has improved as properly (from 103.7 mph to 104.1). That stated, he’s not barreling or pulling the ball as typically, he’s hitting it on the bottom extra, and his most exit velocity has fallen from 117.2 mph to 115.5. His common residence run distance is the bottom within the discipline, and he has the best share of homers projected for lower than 400 ft (61.5%), although his ballpark could also be accountable, as he’s averaging eight ft fewer on his residence homers (390 ft vs. 398). Nonetheless, it’s clear from final yr that he is aware of what he’s doing on this format, and never laborious to think about the T-Cell crowd giving him a carry.

(3) Betts vs. (6) Guerrero

The 30-year-old Betts is the oldest and most completed participant on this discipline, the profession chief in homers (239), the one former MVP, and already a possible Corridor of Famer (he’s 14th in JAWS among right fielders, forward of Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Dave Winfield, and the elder Vladimir Guerrero). At 5-foot-9, 180 kilos, he doesn’t appear like a house run hitter, however after setting a profession excessive with 35 final yr, he’s on tempo for 47 this yr, and simply three leadoff homers away from tying the single-season file of 13. He’s not a lot of a distance man; simply two of his profession homers have reached the magic 440-foot mark, and half his homers this yr had projected distances beneath 400 ft, a share increased than all however Rodríguez.

The 24-year-old Guerrero, however, is a distance man. Sixteen of his 117 profession homers (13.7%) have been 440-footers or longer, edging Alonso (13.3%) for the best charge of this group. In the meantime, Guerrero’s 409-foot common for homers is three ft farther than any of the others, and he has the bottom share of sub-400 foot homers of the group this yr (30.8%). Like Rodríguez, he isn’t having an enormous season with the bat, however he’s hitting the ball a lot more durable than his slash stats recommend; his .547 xSLG is 104 factors increased than his SLG. In different phrases, he brings the thunder. Of the decrease seeds, he’s bought the most effective shot at winding up within the finals.

(4) García vs. (5) Arozarena

Not solely does this matchup pit a pair of Cuban gamers towards one another, however each García and Arozarena have been teammates within the Cardinals’ minor league chain earlier than being traded away. They continue to be shut pals, and García is godfather to Arozarena’s daughter. If the top-seeded Robert advances out of the primary spherical to face the winner right here, that semifinals matchup can even be an all-Cuban affair.

The 30-year-old García leads the group by way of each barrel charge and common exit velocity on fly balls. His 4 homers of a minimum of 440 ft places him within the higher half right here, although observe that whereas the 28-year-old Arozarena has none, his common distance is only one foot lower than that of his pal. Although not a very prolific residence run hitter — he’s topped out at 20 in his two full seasons — Arozarena has been hitting the ball a lot more durable this yr, along with his barrel charge and different Statcast numbers profession highs. And as his postseason resumé and star flip for Staff Mexico within the World Baseball Basic have proven, he’s a participant who completely thrives within the highlight. That may very well be an enormous assist on this contest.

If you happen to’ve learn this far, you in all probability need some predictions, and whereas I’m no knowledgeable in prognostication, my monitor file since becoming a member of the FanGraphs employees contains the Harper and Alonso wins in 2018-19 — the latter over Guerrero within the finals, even (not that I used to be going too far out on a limb both time). I haven’t achieved as properly in recent times, nonetheless, and whereas my impulse is to choose Alonso based mostly on his profession resumé, as an alternative I’m going with Guerrero over Robert within the finals. Greater than something, I’m hopeful that regardless of the relative lack of star energy, this contest will present thrills on the extent of current Derbies.