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July 8, 2010

One-Hoppers

Derby Deliberations

by Ben Lindbergh

I have a confession to make, though I suppose it’s nothing shocking: I don’t care who wins the Home Run Derby. When I do decide to tune in, I generally either join the proceedings in progress, or watch the beginning and cut out whenever my exposure to Chris Berman reaches levels toxic enough to make me fear hearing “Backbackback” in my dreams. I dig the long ball as much as the next chick dude (by the way, that commercial sure has taken on some added layers of meaning in the wake of the McGwire ’roid revelations, hasn’t it?), but almost anything can become boring with enough repetition. In the absence of any stakes (even Bud Selig doesn’t try to pretend that the Derby counts), and in the presence of a pitcher who actively attempts to serve up big flies, rather than trying tenaciously to prevent them, even the most prodigious blasts begin to seem routine, at least on television. The players lounging on the field with their camcorders always seem to be having fun, but I tend to have a hard time getting into the spirit of the competition.

Considering my apathy toward the Derby’s outcome, one would think that I’d be equally indifferent to the composition of its roster. Somehow, though, things just don’t seem to work out that way. It may not matter to me whether the powers that be ordain that the competition take place, but once they’ve decided to do it, some part of me wants it done right. If people are tuning in to see home runs, MLB should give those people what they want: the maximum possible abundance of big flies. In most cases, the players who end up participating are unobjectionable, but almost every year, at least one selection seems a bit off.

Last year, Brandon Inge was one of the privileged few chosen to swing for the fences in St. Louis. To be sure, he’d hit 21 homers before the break, which made him seem a superficially acceptable choice, but this is Brandon Inge we’re talking about; the paper Tiger had surpassed 16 round-trippers in a season only once before, and, truer to form, closed the book on 2009 (292 plate appearances later) with only 26. I’m amenable to the idea that the All-Star Game should reward in-season standouts, with only the scantest of glances cast toward prior or future performance, but it seems to me that since the Derby is a specialized skill competition, it should involve only the players who boast the greatest true aptitude for that particular skill. Would you rather see the likes of Inge fail to hit a single homer and exit after the first round (apologies to Brandon for the small sample size), or a certified slugger mash moonshots deep into the night?

In order to identify the most suitable candidates for the Derby in 2010, I calculated a regressed, three-year-weighted, and park-neutral home-run rate for each of the position players on the All-Star rosters, and then adjusted the result for the dimensions of Angel Stadium, the site of this year’s Derby (which favors lefties just slightly more than righties when it comes to the long ball). The output of that process is a rough estimate of each player’s true home-run-hitting talent (as a percentage of plate appearances) come Derby time. Four players from each league’s All-Star squad participate in the Derby; in a perfect world, the octet would consist of the following players:

Name

League

"True" HR Rate

Miguel Cabrera

AL

.0616

Alex Rodriguez

AL

.0611

Evan Longoria

AL

.0549

David Ortiz

AL

.0539

 

Name

League

"True" HR Rate

Albert Pujols

NL

.0639

Ryan Howard

NL

.0610

Adrian Gonzalez

NL

.0594

Ryan Braun

NL

.0517

 
So, there it is: my Home Run Derby dream team. It’s possible that some among the All-Stars possess “5 o’clock power” against BP fastballs that doesn’t show up in games (Ichiro, for instance, has often been mentioned as a potential source of Derby dramatics), and could be better candidates for a competition of this nature than the most obvious choices, but that’s a matter of speculation. Or perhaps what we should be looking for isn’t the players who hit the most home runs, but the longest (although the two lists would be similar, if not identical).

Of course, none of these names is a surprise; the culprit responsible for the occasional Inge appearance is the marquee players’ (or their teams’) understandable unwillingness to take part. Since I can barely be bothered to watch, I can’t blame them for being unwilling to put their effort, reputations, and physical well-being on the line, but so much for my list: Cabrera and Ortiz have both been confirmed, but they’ll be joined by Vernon Wells, who placed 12th in my AL rankings. On the Senior Circuit side of the ledger, the only participants announced thus far are Corey Hart and Matt Holliday, who ranked 9th and 10th, respectively, on my NL list. Plenty of fireworks will be on display in Los Angeles of Anaheim next Monday night, so while we may not get to see only the creamiest of the crop, that hardly qualifies as a reason not to watch—unless, that is, you happen to be in the market for one.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Derby

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<< Previous Article
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