The latest episode of the Home Run Derby, the All-Star tradition that began back in 1985, will unfold in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Monday night beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
So to get you in the proper Derby state of mind, let's preview how things might unfold when the eight chosen sluggers take their cuts at an accommodating parade of batting-practice fastballs ...
K.C.'s Kauffman Stadium has played as a roughly league-average, run-scoring environment in recent seasons, but it does cut down on home-run numbers. This year, for instance, StatCorner tells us that Kauffman has reduced left-handed home-run rates by 27 percent and right-handed home-run rates by 15 percent. There are some sample-size concerns with those numbers, but it's also quite possible that Kauffman is genuinely less hostile toward righty mashers than their lefty counterparts. That's something to keep in mind.
Representing the National League will be Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen, who have combined for 67 homers this season. On the American League side, we have Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano (owner of the 2011 Derby belt-and-title), Prince Fielder and Mark Trumbo, who boast 84 spanks among them.
In light of the park data above, it's worth remembering that Kemp, McCutchen, Bautista and Trumbo are all right-handed hitters, while Gonzalez, Cano and Fielder are lefties. As for the switch-hitting Beltran, his career power numbers are similar from both sides of the plate, so it'll be interesting to see whether he goes lefty or righty on Monday night.
Insofar as the Derby is concerned, you can look at traditional power measures like slugging percentage and raw home-run totals, but it's also worthwhile to examine some batted-ball data. So let's take all the Derby participants and see how they fare, both for their careers and for 2012, in at-bats-per-home-run (AB/HR), fly-ball rate (FB%) and home-run/fly-ball percentage (HR/FB%). All data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference ...
|Hitter||Career AB/HR||Career FB%||Career HR/FB%||2012 AB/HR||2012 FB%||2012 HR/FB%|
Yes, Bautista disappointed in last year's Derby, but those are some awfully encouraging numbers for him. Ditto for Kemp, although he's coming off an injury to his left hamstring (at least it's not his drive leg at the plate), and his 2012 numbers span a sample of just 144 plate appearances. Trumbo's also looking like a "central casting" kind of Derby entrant, what with all those fly balls and all those fly balls that are leaving the park.
Combatants + venue
So would each participant's 2012 homers have all left the park if he had played all his games in Kauffman? Thanks to the yeoman's efforts of Hit Tracker Online, we can get a quick-and-dirty answer to that question ...
To be sure, these overlays aren't to be taken as gospel. That's mostly because estimations of home-run distances and landing spots entail some level of uncertainty. As well, these don't account for things like wind patterns and hitter visuals, which also influence homer rates. So consider these data points of a "for what it's worth" sort. Still, it's worth noting that two of the sluggers under consideration -- Bautista and Trumbo -- are tied for the major-league lead in what Hit Tracker classifies as "no doubt" home runs.
And all of this brings us to the ...
I'm going to say, with a decided lack of confidence and authority, that Trumbo trumps Bautista in the finals. I'll also non-monetarily wager that Kemp will make the best showing among NL hitters.
So, readers, how do you, after giving full weight to the numbers and your tested instincts, think the 2012 Home Run Derby will play out?